On August 4, 2017, the newly elected NDP government announced that they will “re-establish a human rights commission to fight inequality and discrimination in all its forms.”
The British Human Rights Commission was established under BC’s Human Rights Code. It was responsible for “accepting, screening, mediating and adjudicating human rights complaints. The British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal was solely an adjudicative body. However, in 2002, the sitting Liberal government abolished the Commission as well as the BC Human Rights Advisory Council as a cost-saving measure while expanding the responsibilities of the Tribunal, making it a complaint-driven Tribunal.
British Columbia became the only province in Canada without a human rights commission.
Need for a human rights commission
Recently, the Attorney General David Eby indicated that the current human rights tribunal did a good job of hearing and resolving disputes, however, “that model relies on people taking the initiative and having the ability to go file a claim and wait the long period of time it takes to have a decision rendered and then to enforce it,” he said.
The reason there is a need for a commission is the increase necessity to educate about human rights, to prevent discrimination from taking place and to support people in addressing systemic discrimination, which a tribunal cannot do.
For example, in the area of employment, the Ontario Human Rights Commission publishes interpretative policies related to prohibited grounds of discrimination and duties (disability, duty to accommodate, etc.) that advises both employers and employees of their obligations and rights.
I also hope that BC follows the Ontario model where complainants can go directly to a tribunal with the help of a legal center, while the commission does the proactive work of promoting human rights and educating organizations and individuals.
Process to re-establish BC’s Human Rights Commission
Before we see a commission re-established in British Columbia, the government will hold public consultations led by Parliamentary Secretary Ravi Kahlon.
According to the government, “the consultation process will include both online and face-to-face meetings with British Columbians, stakeholders and human rights experts, and will seek to learn what a renewed human rights commission could look like. The consultation is expected to start this September and continue through the autumn months, with legislation expected to follow in 2018.”
We will follow up with another blog post when consultations are underway and recommendations are submitted to the government in a final report.