Human rights no longer protected

Once a month, North Okanagan Labour Council President David Doran writes a column about labour issues in Kelowna's Capital News newspaper. Here's his column for June, 2002:

In Canada, we enjoy some of the best human rights protections in the world. Perhaps it is because we have these protections that we have begun to take these rights for granted.

We tend to forget that the best human rights laws on the books are meaningless unless ordinary people can have their complaints fully investigated and human-rights laws are properly enforced.

On May 30. the government of British Columbia introduced legislation to repeal British Columbia's independent voice of human rights, the B.C. Human Rights Commission.

If passed, the legislation will make B.C. unlike any other jurisdiction in Canada. We will become the only province that does not fulfill Canada's international obligation to provide an independent government agency with the ability to act as a watchdog over the fundamental right of all people to be treated with dignity and without discrimination.

In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the Paris Principles, which provide minimum standards on the status and advisory role of human rights commissions.

Canada made a significant contribution to that document and urged the UN to adopt it. Bill 53 does not meet those minimum standards.

The provincial government says that Bill 53 will create an efficient streamlined process for human rights complaints. It won't.

It will leave the Human Rights Tribunal, which only adjudicates complaints, as the only human rights agency in existence.

By doing away with the current Human Rights Commission - which receives complaints of discrimination, investigates them and then either dismisses them, resolves them through mediation or refers them to the Tribunal for adjudication - all complaints would be adjudicated whether they have merit or not. The government also says that Bill 53 will create a more accessible system. It won't do that, either.

Human rights complaints will not be investigated and the new system would impose a six-month time limit for filing a complaint (the current rules state that complaints must be filed within a year).

Also, complaints filed by individuals, but have an impact on other individuals in similar situations - in other words, complaints of a systemic discrimination - will be nearly impossible to deal with. Bill 53 will leave citizens without a public body to investigate whether there is merit to their complaints and without an agency to defend the public interest in a case of discrimination.

By providing the Tribunal with the power to award costs against a complainant, the new system will discourage the most vulnerable in our society from coming forward with their complaints. Women, aboriginal people, people with disabilities, members of visible minorities, the poor, transgendered people and those living with AIDS or HIV - to name a few - will be most adversely impacted.

British Columbians may enjoy some of the best human rights protections in the world, but those protections are now under attack.

We have to stop taking our human rights for granted. We have only until September 15 to let our government know our views about Bill 53.


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