CASHRA - The Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies

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News Release

New Brunswick Human Rights Commission

30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

12 April 2012

Media Contact: Francis Young, human rights officer, New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, 1-888-471-2233.

FREDERICTON (GNB) – The following statement was issued today by Randy Dickinson, chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, on the occasion of Equality Day, April 17:

On April 17, we will be celebrating Equality Day to mark the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is certainly one of Canada's most important legal documents.

It is no exaggeration to say that the charter profoundly transformed human rights in Canada. Until the charter was added to Canada's constitution, human rights was a fairly minor and narrow area of Canadian law. Although there were human rights legislation and commissions throughout Canada, most of them were designed to address equality rights exclusively.

Many civil liberties and legal rights, such as freedom of speech and the right to a lawyer, were either not protected in any written law at all or were protected only by the Canadian Bill of Rights of 1960. This somewhat ineffective federal law demonstrated that human rights would not be taken seriously unless they were included in the constitution, as they were in the United States and several other leading countries.

The idea of a constitutionally entrenched charter of rights gained traction although it was a very controversial idea in some quarters. There were dire warnings about the potential negative legal consequences and much opposition was generated to such a proposed charter of rights. For a time, it looked hopeless that Canadians would ever be able to agree on a charter.

However, after much discussion and different draft versions, compromises were reached and the current Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms emerged and was adopted in 1982. Looking back 30 years later, we can confidently say that it has transformed Canada's legal system for the better. For the first time, many of the rights that we take for granted, such as the right to move to another province and the presumption of innocence, became protected in the constitution. Some of its novel features have been copied in the human rights charters of other countries. Arguably, the charter has allowed Canadian human rights law to leapfrog its American counterpart, which has been struggling to keep up ever since.

Given its powerful and wide-ranging impact, the charter is a surprisingly short and readable document. It has only 34 sections, running about seven pages. It includes fundamental freedoms (e.g. freedom of religion), democratic rights (e.g., the right to vote), mobility rights, several legal rights (e.g., protection against search and seizure), equality rights, and language rights (e.g., the right of New Brunswickers to receive government services in French or English).

Like many other laws, the New Brunswick Human Rights Act was directly impacted by the charter. It was due to the charter that our act was amended in 1985 to prohibit discrimination based on mental disability, which is now part of the second most frequent ground of complaint which relates to disability. It was also largely due to case law under the charter that sexual orientation was added to the Human Rights Act in 1992.

One of the keys to the charter's effectiveness was the Court Challenges Program, which funded equality and language rights test cases in the courts. The program was basically eliminated by the federal government in 2006, and its absence has exposed the charter's main weakness. The charter is enforced by the courts and not by any government agency. In practice you need a lawyer to enforce your charter rights and the court litigation process can be both long and expensive.

A major advantage of anti-discrimination laws such as the Human Rights Act is that they are enforced by human rights commissions. You do not need a lawyer to proceed with a complaint. The other benefit is that they apply to both the private and public sectors, while the charter applies only to laws and other government activities. Most of the complaints received by the Human Rights Commission are filed against businesses that have allegedly discriminated against their employees or customers.

As a result, there is little duplication between the charter and human rights acts. In a way, they are complementary since human rights acts partially remedy one of the charter's weaknesses which was the omission of most social and economic rights. There is no charter right to health care or employment, for example. On the other hand, human rights acts are mainly concerned with basic economic and social rights such as equal access to employment, housing and public services like education and health care.

Thirty years later, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has become a Canadian institution and a part of what makes Canada what it is. It is a source of pride for Canadians and, like Medicare, hockey and the Canadian flag, it is one of the symbols that define Canada to Canadians and the world.

On its 30th anniversary, I invite New Brunswickers to read the charter and become familiar with its clauses, its impact and its history. There are a couple of websites where you can find out about Canada's most important legal document.

LINKS:

Quebec Human Rights Commission

For immediate release

Québec must revise its immigration law and programs to put an end to the systemic discrimination of migrant workers, says the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse

Montreal, February 20, 2012 - The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse is urging the Québec government to change its immigration law and programs to put an end to the systemic discrimination of migrant workers.

In an opinion released today, the Commission concludes that live-in caregivers, seasonal agricultural workers and other foreign temporary low-skilled workers are victims of systemic discrimination on the basis of their ethnic or national origin, race, social condition, language and in the case of live-in caregivers, their sex.

"Our opinion clearly demonstrates the severe vulnerability in which migrant workers find themselves," said Gaétan Cousineau, president of the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. "They are entitled to the protection of the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms just as permanent residents and citizens. Migrant workers are part of our social fabric and contribute to the economic life of Québec," he added.

In 2010, almost 7,000 low-skilled migrant workers, most of them from Guatemala, Mexico and the Caribbean were employed primarily in Québec's agricultural sector. Among these, about 400 live-in caregivers, mostly from the Philippines, worked in Quebec families as nannies or domestic workers.

The Commission believes the vulnerable situation of temporary foreign workers exerts a downward pressure on the working conditions of all employees in these sectors. Without ready access to migrant workers, many Québec employers would be forced to improve unsatisfactory working conditions for these kinds of jobs.

The Québec government should set up a permanent immigration program and thus limit the use of migrant workers, according to the Commission. Moreover, it recommends to the Ministère de l'Immigration et des Communautés culturelles that only workers who have a sectorial permit be accepted and to outlaw the obligation to live with the employer. This obligation can compromise several rights protected under the Charter, namely the right to privacy and the inviolability of the home. The constant physical presence of live-in caregivers makes it also difficult for them to separate their private and professional lives and can complicate, among other things, the calculation of overtime hours.

Because of their immigration status, migrant workers are forced to hold a work permit restricted to a single job and a single employer and compels them to live with their employer. Not only does this restrict their freedom of establishment and their access to the family class program, but it infringes on their right to freedom and their right to fair and reasonable conditions of employment which have proper regard for their health, safety and physical well-being.

As migrant worker have difficulty in establishing residence, they are also excluded from the protection of social programs and do not have a right, in particular, to legal aid, social assistance, public education (at the discretion of local school boards) and to immigration support programs, including French-language classes, although most of them are Spanish or English- speaking.

The opinion explains that: "A better knowledge of French would nevertheless help them get higher marks in the selection grid applied to self-employed workers."

Moreover, in some circumstances, migrant workers are excluded from certain provisions of the Labour Code, the Act respecting labour standards and the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases. As a result, they do not have the right to the same working conditions enjoyed by Québec workers who are hired for the same jobs, in particular as they relate to paid hours of overtime and paid time off.

In order to prevent abuses, the Commission also recommends that the government establish a better system to supervise agencies who recruit migrant workers all the while offering these workers protection when they are threatened to be returned to their country of origin, as a result of a conflict with an employer or if they file a complaint. The Commission believes that there should be an independent mechanism where migrant workers could be heard in cases of repatriation following a decision by the employer, the consulate of the country of origin or the Canadian Border Services Agency.

Since 2005, the Commission has intervened on many occasions in favour of migrant workers through human rights educational activities, cooperation and by representations to various forums and since 2008, has been working with the Comité interministériel permanent sur la protection des travailleurs étrangers temporaires peu spécialisés.

The opinion La discrimination systémique à l'égard des travailleuses et de travailleurs
migrants is available at www.cdpdj.qc.ca. An English-language summary is also
available.

Contact:
Julie Lajoye
514 873-5146 or 1 800 361-6477 ext. 230
julie.lajoye@cdpdj.qc.ca

News Release

New Brunswick Human Rights Commission

Manitoba human Rights Commission targets young people for its Facebook page and Y Rights Conference

27 February 2012

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission is hoping you will "like" it when it launches its Facebook page on Monday February 13, 2012.

MHRC - Facebook

"Social media like Facebook is really more like a conversation and for that reason alone the Commission thinks it is a great way to communicate," says Dianna Scarth Executive Director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

One of the first things the Commission wants to talk about on its Facebook page is its 11th annual youth conferences, which will be taking place in April. The Facebook page will not only feature youth conference updates and human rights projects, it will also highlight dates of historical human rights events, news and videos made here in Manitoba and around the world. "Although the page will initially focus on youth, there will be lots of postings of interest to any age group," says Ms Scarth, adding that the goals of the Commission are to connect people who have similar human rights interests and provide relevant information to teachers, students and the general public.

Looking for younger participants at youth conferences

For the past ten years the Manitoba Human Rights Commission has hosted annual youth conferences for senior students around the Province. Things, however, are about to change.

MHRC - Youth Graphic

"Teachers have often told us that students in the middle years would enjoy and benefit from our conferences and we have listened," says Dianna Scarth Executive Director of the Commission. As a result, for the first time the engaging and highly interactive youth conferences will be offered to students in grades 7, 8 and 9.

According to Ms Scarth, younger students are becoming more engaged in human rights than ever before and are involved in many human rights projects.

The Y Rights Conference will reflect that growing involvement and the popular workshops are either being re-designed for a younger audience or new ones are being planned.

New this year is the game Million Dollar Rights Game. All the questions deal with human rights and the students have the same choices as the contestants on the TV game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire: ask the audience, 50:50 and phone a friend.

The Y Rights Conference is being held in mid April in Winnipeg and in Shilo for students in rural Manitoba. Before the conferences, a pilot project will take place at River Heights School in Winnipeg. In February the new and revised workshops will be delivered to the grade seven students.

"The Commission was approached by teachers at River Heights School giving us the perfect opportunity to pilot our new workshops," says Ms. Scarth.

News Release

New Brunswick Human Rights Commission
New Brunswick Human Rights Commission

World Day for Social Justice

30 January 2012

FREDERICTON (CNB) – The following statement was issued by the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission to mark the World Day for Social Justice:

“Social justice is more than an ethical imperative; it is a foundation for national stability and global prosperity. Equal opportunity, solidarity and respect for human rights -- these are essential to unlocking the full productive potential of nations and peoples.”

This statement by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Feb. 20, 2011, sums up eloquently why in 2008 the UN adopted a resolution declaring Feb. 20 as the World Day of Social Justice.

The UN resolution recognized that social development and social justice are essential for peace and security, and in turn peace, security and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms are essential to social development and social justice. The resolution recognized that, while globalization opens up new opportunities to improve living standards, several challenges remain, such as financial crises, insecurity, poverty, exclusion and inequality. The UN declared the World Day for Social Justice to support efforts to eradicate poverty and to promote full employment and decent work, gender equality and access to social well-being and justice for all.

The Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movements this year reminded us that the yearning for social justice is very much still alive today, and full employment, decent work, gender equality, social well-being and justice for all, and the eradication of poverty are far from being achieved.

The work of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission opposing discrimination and harassment and promoting equality is a small but essential condition toward the achievement of these ideals. We know that decent workplaces free of harassment are more productive and that accommodating workers with a disability and hiring employees based on merit and not on gender stereotypes allow us to reduce unemployment and poverty.

The addition of social condition as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Human Rights Act in 2005 allowed the commission to address an additional aspect of social development. Social condition basically refers to a disadvantage arising from a person's source of income, occupation or level of education. A complaint could be filed if, for example, a landlord refused to rent an apartment to anyone on income assistance, or an employer excludes applicants without a high school diploma for positions where it is unnecessary.

It takes an entire society to achieve social justice. Politicians, labour unions, churches, businesses, non-governmental associations and ordinary individuals all have a role to play and they all deserve our gratitude whenever they advance social justice. One person that we would like to highlight is Mrs. Émilienne Basque of Tracadie-Sheila, who devoted her life to combat poverty and advance the rights of various disadvantaged people in New Brunswick. In recognition of this, the commission presented her with the 2011 New Brunswick Human Rights Award last September.

On the World Day for Social Justice, we encourage New Brunswickers to keep striving for and working towards the eradication of poverty and towards full employment and decent work, gender equality and access to social well-being and justice for all.

Past Commission Resources

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CASHRA - The Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies