Discussion Topic 2 – The Commission’s Role



Thank you for the feedback provided so far on Discussion Topic 1, the question will remain open for the duration of the engagement. I read with interest all of the comments: including from Angelika, who feels there is hiring discrimination against parents of small children due to child care availability; from Madhavee, who no longer laughs it off when someone says racism doesn’t exist; and from Jake, who feels excluded, bullied and abused. These stories, and many others, paint a picture of the need for a re-established B.C. Human Rights Commission.
 
I’d like us to imagine now what our commission can achieve. A primary role of human rights commissions in Canada and around the world is to educate the public about human rights. Other roles include hosting public dialogue, making recommendations to government, conducting human rights audits, and investigating root causes of discrimination.
 
Some specific examples in Canada: the Alberta Human Rights Commission hosts a series of public forums on topics such as human rights in employment and understanding gender identity and gender expression in the workplace. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has hired an independent expert to examine police street check data related to persons of African descent. And the Ontario Human Rights Commission is calling for an end to solitary confinement in prisons.
 
What roles do you think the B.C. Human Rights Commission should take on?
 
– Ravi Kahlon, Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism & Sport
 

 

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73 responses to “Discussion Topic 2 – The Commission’s Role

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    [-] Sarah

    The Human Rights Commission should take on the role of educating public sectors on disability accommodation and disabled persons’ rights. From personal experience, I can say that university professors and faculty are severely under trained in this area and often discriminate against students (whether aware of it or not). Disability services offices/departments (if such services are even available at the university) are doing front-line work with little assistance from outside bodies; the staff are overworked and their offices are overburdened. More and more students are put on waitlists for free, public learning disability testing, and the bureaucratic steps involved to receive disability accommodations at university is unfair as most students often don’t have the funds or necessary aids to complete testing, paperwork, etc. Unfortunately, I could go on.

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    [-] Tiffany

    The Commission can play a leading role in advancing education and awareness of human rights protection and issues across the province. Increased resources to support earlier resolution for parties would also be beneficial.

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    [-] Ali

    The commission has to do more than just reach out to minorities during the consultation phase. They need to provide services to those people most likely that will need this service. Things like simplifying the complaint process, having it available in different languages, creating relationships with community leaders. I personally know the middle eastern community and they would not come forward with a complaint no matter how aggregators because the right person has to give that information to them. We need to include more minorities (I’m not sure how many are already included) in the decision making process and have either law students or legal experts that can talk to these communities comfortably. I completed my undergraduate thesis on Muslims and the criminal justice system and found most people don’t trust the government. That is why we need to have intermediaries to connect the two sides. Of the 500 people that are in my network I would say 80% would not go through with the process if people like my self would not help them out with it. Having those community presentations and brochures can make a real difference.

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    [-] Maria

    I would also like to see a Commission that is properly resourced to serve it’s mandate. Long waits to have cases settled should be avoided.

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    [-] Corey

    I think the new Commission should allow a two year timeline for complaints to be filed. It was one year before the Liberals came in, but even that isn’t always enough time. As others have already pointed out, sometimes it takes time to come up with the courage to complain. Or you may not realize you have a right to complain before the six month period is up. In some cases, it can take a lot of time to gather all the evidence and build a case. You can’t just walk into a Human Rights office and say “I was discriminated against.” You obviously and naturally, need to have evidence, and that can take time to gather.

    Also, I’d like to see the Commission spend a lot of time addressinb bullying in schools. I was bullied a lot from grade 1 to grade 11 and while I was good at school (most subjects), the teasing and bullying made it very difficult. I often got in trouble for reacting to a bully, while the perpetrator got off scot free. The Human Rights Commission needs to protect kids under 19 as well. Please keep this in mind.

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    [-] Corey

    I had a human rights lawyer tell me once that it took cases a lot longer to be heard when we used to have a Hunan Rights Commission because the case went to the Commission first and then they would bring it forward to the Tribunal, if they felt they were grounds to do so. I would like to see the process shortened considerably, so that if I’m discriminated against and need to make a complaint to the Commission, that my case will be heard and settled in a few months, not a few years. Also, there should be no costs to an individual filing a human rights complaint, as many of us don’t have money to pay for these types of things. That’s what we pay taxes for.

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    [-] Lawrence

    Freedom of speech is a primary right in a free society and is enshrined in our Canadian constitution. In its mission to prevent discrimination against various sub-groups of citizens, the BC Human Rights Commission must take care to not overstep its authority and infringe on all citizens’ fundamental right of freedom of speech. It may seem desirable to some bureaucrats, do-gooders or social engineers to ignore this fundamental freedom and attempt to impose an over-reaching new made-up “right” for certain classes of citizens to not feel insulted or have their feelings hurt, our society’s need for the protection of individual freedom of speech is far more important. Too often, provincial human rights commission’s have overstepped the boundaries of our constitutional rights and attempted to impose unreasonable limits on individual freedom of expression, simply because they feel that would make for a “nicer” society. But the criminalization of somewhat offensive speech is a slippery slope to a limitation of free speech that, in the end, would harm our society much more than help it. To encourage people in identifiable sub-groups to see themselves increasingly as “victims”, by inviting them to file complaints if they think their sensitive feelings have somehow been hurt by someone’s free speech, is to incentivize an increasing limitation on free speech that will hurt out public discourse and contravene individual Canadians’ constitutional right to freedom of expression. We already have reasonable provincial laws on libel, slander and defamation which provide standards of behaviour in terms of speech, whereby aggrieved people can take legal action for redress, apologies, and compensation. The Human Rights Commission must avoid the temptation to exceed its authority in attempting to give itself and members of citizen sub-groups improper “rights” that have no place in our province. Thank you.

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    [-] Gordon

    The BC Mental Health Act (MHA). The BC MHA needs to spell out that MHA detainees have the same Canadian Charter Rights as every other Canadian citizen.
    The basic Right to challenge the validity of their detention Sect 10 call to lawyer; it does not matter if someone is suspected of stealing a loaf of bread, or they are suspected of having a mental illness which needs to be assessed, both are human beings in Canada, and both have a Charter Right to equal protection of the law, anything less is discrimination against the mentally ill, or those being treated as being mentally ill.

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    [-] Anne-Marie

    I hope that the Commission can be a leader in education and their work in sharing knowledge, skills and best practices can help prevent discrimination and harassment before it occurs, rather than be reactionary. The Commission should have a far reach, for example, going into schools to teach young people about their rights and responsibilities under the Code. I also hope the Commission’s education can be used to successfully remediate situations where discrimination and harassment have occurred, including with education and training for respondents whose conduct has been found to violate the Code so the pattern doesn’t continue with someone or somewhere else.

    The Commission should be a voice that listens to the community and can make recommendations to government about changes needed in the BC Human Rights Code, be that the addition of more protected groups, through work as intervenor status in significant cases and/or about changes needed to the procedures (e.g. length of time to file a complaint – see below). How do you write a complaint? What information is needed to “prove” you were harassed? The Commission could help with education about the complaints process, and particularly that targeted to groups protected under the Code.

    Most importantly, the Commission should be able to bring forward concerns to the Tribunal (like a third party complainant or as an intervenor) to address systemic discrimination and harassment, and other cases of significant interest, in BC.

    The Ontario Human Rights Commission does a lot of really good work. I would look to them as one model of what BC can, and should do.

    One fundamental problem in BC is with our Code itself. When Gordon Campbell came into office, he shortened the time limit for making a complaint from one year to six months from the incident, or last incident in a series of incidents, that form the basis of the complaint. It takes a great deal of strength, courage and often risk to bring forward a complaint against an individual or organization who has power over your employment, housing, education or other service you access. I did human rights work in the university setting for decades and saw first hand the effect of this change. Students, for example, often wait until their course is completed and marks are submitted before they feel safe enough to come forward with their concern. If the course runs, as many do, from September-April, and the discriminatory conduct or comment happened near the beginning of term, the student is already out of time by the time final grades are in. (For this and other reasons, we kept the time limit in our organizational policy as one year, despite the changes made to the Code.) The six month time limit acts as a deterrent to people being able to seek redress through the Tribunal. It often takes some time to realize that what is happening to someone is actually discriminatory or harassing, that there are legal provisions that exist to help remediate the situation, to learn how to access those procedures (esp for groups who may be further marginalized such as those who may not be fluent in English, those who are homeless etc) and then to assess the risk and work up the nerve to file a complaint. By then, it’s often too late. (This last point cannot be over-stated. Just look as the #metoo campaign and why people don’t speak up right away, if ever.) I worry about all the people in this province who would have legitimate complaints, were it not for this restrictive time limit effectively barring them from accessing the procedures, and thus whose complaints remain unheard and unresolved.

    There is lots more I could say – how systemic issues like the lack of childcare contribute to discrimination against new parents; how unconscious bias (or conscious, for that matter) affects young people, queer families, trans and gender variant people, people on assistance etc from accessing rental housing in such a tight housing market; how our Code does not include socio-economic status or class (except as source of income in tenancy) where other jurisdictions do….

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    [-] Kim

    Cystic Fibrosis Canada believes that the BC Human Rights Commission should play a role in determining whether or not BC Pharmacare is providing equitable access to medicines for people with CF.

    For example, currently, the BC government reimburses Kalydeco for people with the R117H gene mutation, but will not reimburse for the ten other genetic mutations that Health Canada has approved. Kalydeco is a disease-modifying therapy that has proven to improve lung function, increase weight, and mitigate exacerbations and hospitalizations.

    Why should one group of people with CF get access to this life-changing medicine while other groups don’t? Is this genetic discrimination?

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    [-] Jennifer

    Make a recommendation to protect the rights of those who breastfeed and pump milk by making it an offence to interfere with breastfeeding/pumping parents.

    You have a wonderful opportunity to support new parents and babies here. While breastfeeding in public is a human right, it is common knowledge that many parents are still discriminated against when they do. New parents are not a group that usually has resources to fight for their rights, leading to unchecked discrimination and a common lack of community support for this right. The example of Michelle Poirier’s fight to breastfeed and pump in the workplace, and the fact it took 6 years for her complaint to be resolved, is indicative of the difficulty new parents face in enforcing their rights.

    Get a group of parents together and discuss breastfeeding and you’ll get a plethora of stories ranging from being asked to cover up or head into the bathroom stall to being called disgusting while nursing on a bus. Currently, parents have very little recourse unless they choose to pursue a human rights complaint. These experiences are traumatizing for many and create anxiety around breastfeeding. Many are fearful of breastfeeding or pumping in public because of an expectation of confrontation or embarrassment. This has a direct link to the rates of breastfeeding and impedes babies’ access to human milk.

    I encourage you to spend a little time in the comments section of a breastfeeding and pumping in public social media post or news story;, you’ll get a good understanding of the types of things people say and familiarize yourself with a world all too familiar to parents. Parents need this support, and making it an offence to interfere with breastfeeding or pumping in public would signal an important cultural milestone that, even if not enforced with prosecutions, would improve the support we offer to breastfeeding parents as a community.

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    [-] Irene

    I found getting assistance as to whom I can speak to was very difficult. While the province has endless listings of phone numbers each one exists for specific reasons. When i called about who can help me move up the wait list for surgery there was no one. I went to my local mla office. I would like to receive the same opportunity health wise as those who live in the lower mainland. I have already been on the wait list a couple of years. The idea of waiting another two to three years is appalling because my health is deteriorating while I wait. Please let me know how to move up the list. I cannot afford living in Vancouver and paying for upkeep here while I am away. I am on fixed income.

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    [-] Peggy

    I just stumbled across this website and I’m sorry I didn’t see it earlier.

    I feel the new commission could contribute significantly to educating people about their rights. Specifically, I would like to see the commission work with children and teens. My own teen son is so discouraged about the injustices that he both sees and experiences as a youth and the fact that he is powerless to do anything about them. Why is 18 the age at which young people are allowed to vote? It’s too late – kids already feel so disenfranchised and cynical by that age, it’s a major struggle to bring them back into the fold of civic engagement. I know the commission can’t change the voting age, but what could you do to help young people to understand their rights and what tools could you give them that might help them feel a bit empowered until they have the right to vote? Also, please recommend to the government that we lower the voting age!!
    I would also like to see the BC commission carve out a special role for itself in encouraging implementation of the parts of the UNDRIP that BC could in fact act on. This could be especially relevant to how Indigenous children in care are treated, and most especially, the ones that age out of the system and occupy that transition period where they’re not quite ready to be on their own but the system forces them ahead.
    I would also like to see a new commission promote environmental rights. People in the province are already having these discussions, what with the pipelines, Site C, climate change and BC, and the usual issues with logging, mining and fish-farming. How can a human rights framework help us to understand these issues in a more meaningful way?
    Finally, I would love to see a program that promotes the rights of people who are drug addicted and otherwise very vulnerable. Understanding harm reduction programs within the framework of human rights is how we are going to get through this crisis. There are many groups, ranging from business people to law enforcement and security officers, even to municipal governments, who need help understanding the human rights of people with addictions. This is a place where the commission could carry out a great investigation into the root causes of this discrimination and the repercussions of it which affects all of society.
    Very glad to see this initiative. Please don’t heed the people who think this is a waste of money.

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