Why bringing back BC’s Human Rights Commission is critically important

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(Photo credit: Peter Kim, Premier John Horgan at NDP press conference, August 2017)

Fifteen years ago, BC’s new Liberal government dealt a debilitating blow to justice and equality when it decided to scrap the BC Human Rights Commission. Our province became the only one in Canada without an independent body dedicated to eliminating systemic discrimination and upholding BC’s Human Rights Code.

Earlier this month, the BC NDP announced its intention to fulfill their election promise to revive the Commission.

“Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of physical ability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” ~ Premier John Horgan

The BC Human Rights Tribunal is responsible for adjudicating human rights complaints brought under the BC Human Rights Code. Whereas the BC Human Rights Commission will work to address systemic patterns of discrimination and prevent violations before they happen. A Human Rights Commission’s mandate would likely include education.

Housing Justice for all.

That could include approaching employers, landlords, service providers, and the general public to inform them of both their rights and obligations under BC’s Human Rights Code.  Proactively educating the public can help eliminate misunderstandings about human rights obligations, and could potentially spare marginalized individuals the stress and costs associated with long and complicated tribunal hearings. A Human Rights Commission can also establish guidelines that would help employers, government bodies, service providers, and landlords understand their obligations to the public.

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(Photo credit: Peter Kim, Premier John Horgan with NDP MLAs at press conference in Vancouver's West End, August 2017)

Under the current BC Human Rights Tribunal system, adjudicators must remain impartial and focus only on the facts of a specific case. Complaints at Tribunal hearings are reduced to disputes between parties with no broader, systemic significance. Engrained within the DNA of a Human Rights Commission is the mandate to end discrimination in all areas protected by BC’s Human Rights Code. In service of that goal, a commission has the power to launch comprehensive inquiries and reviews to investigate systemic human rights abuses. These can lead to legally binding recommendations or changes in policy that would apply to everyone in the province. Such investigations would have wide-ranging impacts and serve as a powerful disincentive for future breaches of the Code.

By committing to restoring BC’s Human Rights Commission, the new provincial government took an encouraging step in the right direction. But this is just a start. The aforementioned benefits can only be realized if the government makes a concerted effort to resource and implement a body with enforceable powers. The provincial NDP, under BC’s new Parliamentary Secretary of Sport and Multiculturalism, Ravi Kahlon, is readying to engage the public and collect input on the needs and vision for such a human rights framework. We’re hopeful they will take seriously the concerns and needs of communities one could argue have been neglected for 15 years.

To share your views on the work of the Commission, you can contact Mr. Kahlon at ravi.kahlon.MLA@leg.bc.ca.