As we reported in an earlier blog post, on August 4, 2017, Premier John Horgan announced the B.C. government’s intent to re-establish the B.C. Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”), which was disbanded approximately 15 years ago.
The announcement potentially signalled a departure from the direct-access model currently in place in B.C., which sees human rights complaints made directly to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (the “Tribunal”). The direct-access model can be contrasted with the two-stage model in place in most other Canadian jurisdictions, which requires an investigation process with a human rights commission first, before being referred to a tribunal for adjudication.
As we noted in a subsequent blog post, the government launched a public engagement process on September 20, 2017, led by Parliamentary Secretary for Sport and Multiculturalism Ravi Kahlon, to gather stories, feedback, and information from the public to guide the re-establishment of the Commission. The engagement process, which included nearly 100 public meetings and consideration of nearly 70 formal written submissions, ended on November 17, 2017.
On December 10, 2017, the Parliamentary Secretary issued his report and recommendations to the Attorney General of B.C. regarding the re-establishment of the Commission (the “Report”). Entitled “A Human Rights Commission for the 21st Century: British Columbians Talk about Human Rights”, the Report sets out 25 recommendations on the creation, purpose, functions, powers, and priorities of the Commission, as well as recommendations for the Tribunal, the Human Rights Clinic, and the Attorney General.
The Parliamentary Secretary distils what he gathered from the public engagement process in the introduction to the Report:
The general consensus is that the new commission must be modern, efficient and effective. It should educate the public about human rights, promote equality, awareness and respect, and address systemic abuse. It should also complement not replace the current work of the BC Human Rights Tribunal and Human Rights Clinic. I have heard British Columbians say that B.C. should aspire to be the human rights leader by adopting innovative practices to ensure that individuals, no matter where they live, have equal access to justice and to the supports they need to turn human rights ideals into reality.
The Parliamentary Secretary identifies four key pillars upon which he believes a strong and independent human rights system in B.C. should be built:
- an independent human rights commission that promotes and protects human rights;
- a direct-access human rights tribunal with a dispute resolution mandate;
- a human rights clinic that provides specialized information, advocacy, and representation services focused on early resolution; and
- the Ministry of Attorney General with the responsibility and oversight of the B.C. Human Rights Code and the legislative framework necessary to protect persons from discrimination.
To highlight just five of the key recommendations pertaining to the Commission’s role, powers, and functions, the Report recommends that:
- the Commission should be independent of government by having the Human Rights Commissioner report directly to the legislature;
- the Commission’s primary function should be to educate British Columbians on human rights with the goal of fostering social change, including reducing discrimination and addressing systemic discrimination;
- the Commission should proactively promote and advocate for human rights, while the Tribunal should continue to serve as impartial adjudicator of human rights complaints;
- the Commission should hold governments to account through its research, investigation, policy development, and recommendation functions; and
- the Commission should have the power to call an inquiry on systemic instances of discrimination.
Further, the Report identifies several early priorities for the Commission:
- collaborate with and consult Indigenous groups to develop commission policies and practices that honour the principles set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
- undertake a study on gender as an identity requirement in public documents, and make recommendations on its necessity or where it should be eliminated; and
- examine the issue of foreign credentials, particularly whether immigrants and other newcomers to British Columbia are being discriminated against.
The full report is available online.
The government has indicated that the Attorney General will consider the recommendations and put forward his legislative proposal to Cabinet in 2018.