Human Rights, Politics and Parliament

Political action is always one of the best ways to start a discussion and to ensure the protection of human rights. As interns, we were able to witness this first hand during our visit to Parliament Hill last week.

Normally, as interns, we work out of PBI’s head office in Ottawa. On this day however, we were able to spend the day on Parliament Hill so that we could learn more about the connection between human rights and political action. To do this, we were very fortunate to start off our day by meeting with MP Wayne Marston, who serves as the human rights critic for the NDP.

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Us with NDP MP Wayne Marston.

We had a great time talking with Mr. Marston about a range of human rights issues in Canada and abroad. For example, we were able to discuss with him the decreasing role of Canada as a humanitarian peacekeeping actor in the world today as well as our current reputation internationally. We also touched upon the fact that there has been a steady increase in the number of Free Trade Agreements that Canada has signed in recent years and the negative impact this has had on human rights abroad. Mr. Marston also talked about his passion for human rights and how he and his party view human rights issues in their daily political work.

Mr. Marston was an energetic character who had a really interesting background. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Mr. Marston moved to Hamilton during his youth and quickly became involved in the labour movement there. This experience then quickly blossomed into an extensive career in various leadership roles where he would advocate for the protection of human rights at every turn. He then decided to take this passion for human rights to a federal level where he could make a bigger impact. Since 2006, he has been serving as an MP for his riding of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek.

It was really great to meet Mr. Marston and his staff and we thank him for taking the time to speak with us.


Us with Senator Mobina Jaffer.

After this meeting, we had a quick lunch where we discussed our upcoming intern project – the PBI Quiz night (click here for more info) - before heading to Parliament Hill itself where one of Toshio’s friends Nadia Charania, gave us a tour of the building. Currently, Nadia works for the office of Senator Mobina Jaffer, who we had the opportunity to meet and have a quick chat with as well. During our afternoon on the Hill, Nadia took us to the Senate - where we were actually able to listen to Senator Jaffer speak about the rights of garment factory workers in Bangladesh. She then took us to the House of Commons where we were able to see Question Period.  

Afterwards, we visited the Peace Tower, the Library of Parliament (which was the only building to not have burnt in the fire of 1916) and the tunnels which connect some of the buildings. We were also fortunate enough to visit some sites tourists rarely get to see such as John A. MacDonald’s office.

We can say that this was an amazing day and opportunity. Between meeting with political officials and seeing our government in action, we were able to learn more about Canada’s role in defending human rights and what our role in this process can be.

We highly recommend that if you have the opportunity, to go and experience Parliament Hill.

Written by Breanna Keener and Mianu Ortega (PBI-Interns)