Our provincial government should re-introduce the B.C. Human Rights Commission. Such a commission can help tackle human rights violations and raise awareness of human rights issues in our province. All other provinces, except B.C., have a human rights commission. Until 2002, we also had a commission.
The commission could help address various issues, such as the plight of foreign workers and students who are abused in the workplace. It can raise awareness and oppose gender-based dress code discrimination that negatively affects women, as the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has done with its policy paper. It can call for and apply pressure on the provincial government for a public inquiry into the 2012 sawmill explosions, in which four people lost their lives and more than 40 people were injured.
Furthermore, a human rights commission can advocate against the injustices suffered by homeless individuals and people facing poverty.
A commission can play a vital role in educating the public on important issues and building support for societal and legislative change. There is great need for advocacy on human rights issues so they are highlighted and progress can be made. A commission can also launch inquiries, intervene in a legal capacity in tribunal and court applications, and carry out investigations, as the OHRC does.
In “Strengthening Human Rights: Why British Columbia Needs a Human Rights Commission,” the authors Gwen Brodsky and Shelagh Day note that the Human Rights Commission can also perform roles in researching important issues, reviewing legislation and creating “guidelines and policies” to help employers comply with law.
While B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal deals with specific complaints between parties, the addition of a human rights commission would help educate people and take action on “broader issues in which the whole community has a stake” and “undertake inquiries into broad systemic issues.”
Previously, when B.C. had a human rights commission, there were some criticisms of its effectiveness, such as the time in which a complaint is dealt with. The government also wanted to cut its expenditures.
The authors write that: “We do not propose that the decision to remove the gate-keeper function from the Commission be revisited.”
Therefore, if a B.C. Human Rights Commission is re-introduced, it can take into account concerns that might have arisen before, introduce improvements and take on a new form that focuses on the positive aspects.
The report also states it is important the commission that is created is independent and that the appointment process for commissioners reflects this.
While progress has been made in addressing and helping to end discrimination, we still have a lot of work to do. A human rights commission in British Columbia would help in the mission towards ensuring that every person is respected and treated fairly.
Japreet Lehal is a Simon Fraser University graduate pursing a law degree.