B.C. announces restoration of Human Rights Commission

Premier John Horgan was in Vancouver on Friday to time the announcement with Pride weekend

The provincial government will be restoring B.C.’s Human Rights Commission.

Premier John Horgan made the announcement in Vancouver’s Davie Village on Friday, Aug. 4 as the city’s Pride Festival got underway.

“It’s great to be here at a time of celebration but also at a time that we resolve to work together to fight inequality, to fight discrimination in all of its forms and work together as a community to ensure that all of our diversity is reflected everyday in our lives and our communities and in our province,” Horgan said.

“Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of physical ability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. It’s our responsibility, all of us, to ensure that our society is free from discrimination.”

Restoring the commission was part of the NDP’s platform in the last provincial election. B.C. became the only province in Canada without a human rights commission after it was scrapped by Premier Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government in 2002.

The government retained the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, an an independent, quasi-judicial body that “is responsible for accepting, screening, mediating, and adjudicating human rights complaints,” according to its website.

However, the tribunal is limited in its mandate and can not investigate alleged human rights violations. Critics point to this, as well its lack of education, advocacy and preventative work, as reasons to bring back the B.C. Human Rights Commission.

Attorney General David Eby said the Human Rights Tribunal has done a good job, but “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. We need a commission with the power to do more.”

Eby said an important part of the commission’s work will be to make sure that British Columbians everywhere can access human rights protections and that the education and outreach efforts that need to end racism and other forms of discrimination “exists, is active and successful.”

The attorney general will be working with Parliamentary Secretary for Sport and Multiculturalism Ravi Kahlon to restore the commission. Kahlon, who is the MLA for Delta North, will be speaking with human rights advocates, lawyers and other stakeholders to identify a time frame for consultations, determine the scope and the reach of the commission, and decide what model the commission will be based on.

“A human rights commission can be a very collaborative thing. It doesn’t have to be a police officer; it could be working with the community,” Kahlon told the Reporter. “I believe that most people have good intentions and sometimes systematic racism or homophobia is not an issue that people are doing on purpose. And so I believe that there is a collaborative way for us to go forward.”

Neither Kahlon, Eby nor Horgan would give a timeline for when the consultations will begin, how long they will take, or when British Columbians can expect to see the new commission take shape.

“It will not be an overnight process. We will take the time necessary to make sure that the commission that is designed is responsive to the needs of British Columbians,” Eby said. “I expect [Kahlon] to bring back that time frame for us around the consultations and the plan in the near-term, and we’ll have more information about that in the days to come.”

Kahlon told the Reporter that he thinks the consultations will be starting “fairly soon.”

“I suspect the attorney general will want an answer within a few months, and not necessarily in a year, so I would say it would be sooner rather than later,” he said. “But there has been a lot of interest from many groups who have been advocating for various issues to be involved in the consultation, and so we want to make sure that they have that space to be involved.”