Government of Canada recognizes John P. Humphrey as a person of national historic significance

News release

Humphrey made important contributions to the advancement of international law and human rights

November 17, 2022            Gatineau, Quebec                         Parks Canada Agency

National historic designations reflect the rich and varied heritage of our country and provide opportunities for Canadians to learn more about our diverse history.

Today, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, announced the designation of John P. Humphrey as a person of national historic significance under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration.

John P. Humphrey (1905–1995) was a Canadian lawyer and university professor who played an important role in advancing human rights law. Humphrey was born in Hampton, New Brunswick, and went on to study and subsequently teach at McGill University in Montréal. There, he developed innovative courses in administrative, public, and international law, and became an outspoken advocate for peace and legal internationalism.

In 1946, Humphrey became the first director of the Human Rights Division within the United Nations (UN) Secretariat. With help from his staff, he prepared the 48-article “Secretariat Outline” and supporting documents for the UN Human Rights Commission, which laid the foundations for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, the Declaration gradually became part of customary law, inspired many international human rights conventions and declarations, and informed subsequent Canadian efforts to recognize and protect human rights.

After 20 years with the UN, Humphrey returned to Montréal, where he resumed teaching international law and organization at McGill, served on numerous international and national bodies, and continued to champion human rights by helping to establish such prominent organizations as Amnesty International Canada and Equitas – International Centre for Human Rights Education (formerly the Canadian Human Rights Foundation).

The Government of Canada, through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, recognizes significant persons, places, and events that have shaped our country as one way of helping Canadians connect with their past. By sharing these stories with Canadians, we hope to foster understanding and reflection on the diverse histories, cultures, legacies, and realities of Canada’s past and present.

The designation process under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration is largely driven by public nominations. To date, more than 2,200 designations have been made nationwide. To nominate a person, place or historic event in your community, please visit the Parks Canada website for more information:



“Canadians have been strong voices for the protection of human rights, but few individuals have contributed as much to advance the efforts as John P. Humphrey. His work contributed to the adoption of human rights initiatives around the world. John P. Humphrey has a noteworthy place in the history of Canada and is befitting of recognition as a person of national historic significance.”

The Honourable Steven Guilbeault
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada

“As a Canadian lawyer, scholar, and human rights activists, John P. Humphrey was instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947, which has served as a basis for drafting Canadian federal, provincial, and territorial laws that protect human rights. We are proud to honour Mr. Humphrey as a person of national historic significance for his prominent role in promoting human rights globally, as well as for being an integral part of Canada's constructive engagement in the world.”

The Honourable Mélanie Joly
Minister of Foreign Affairs

“John Humphrey believed strongly in the importance of human rights for all and the power of educating people about their rights. His commitment and vision have been foundational to the work of Equitas and continues to guide us today as we support human rights defenders across the world and with them, work towards greater social justice for all. We are thrilled that his contribution to Canadian history is being recognized and will act a reminder that defending human rights is the responsibility of all of us.”

Odette McCarthy
Executive Director, Equitas

Quick facts

  • John P. Humphrey received many honours, including the Order of Canada, the Ordre national du Québec, and the United Nations Human Rights Prize.

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered a milestone document in the history of human rights. According to the United Nations, it has been translated into more than 500 languages and is widely recognized as having inspired the adoption of more than 70 human rights treaties, applied today on a permanent basis at global and regional levels (all of which contain references to the Declaration in their preambles). Today, the international community commemorates its adoption on December 10 with the annual observance of Human Rights Day.

  • Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change regarding the national significance of persons, places, and events that have marked Canada’s history. Together with Parks Canada, the Board ensures that subjects of national historic significance are recognized under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration and these important stories are shared with Canadians.

  • Parks Canada is committed to working with Canadians in our efforts to tell broader, more inclusive stories in the places that it manages. In support of this goal, the Framework for History and Commemoration outlines a new, comprehensive, and engaging approach to sharing Canada’s history through diverse perspectives, including shedding light on tragic and difficult periods of Canada’s past.

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Kaitlin Power
Press Secretary 
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Media Relations
Parks Canada Agency

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