The Alberta Human Rights Commission: fostering equality and reducing discrimination
As the statutory agency responsible for human rights in Alberta, the Alberta Human Rights Commission (the Commission) works to fulfil its two-fold mandate: to foster equality and reduce discrimination. It meets this mandate through the resolution and settlement of complaints of discrimination in areas that fall under provincial legislation, through the adjudication of complaints by human rights tribunals, and through education and community engagement initiatives.
The Alberta Human Rights Act (Act) protects Albertans from discrimination in specified areas such as employment, services and tenancy, and on specified grounds such as disability, gender, race, and sexual orientation. The Act establishes the Commission as an independent commission, which reports through the Minister of Culture and Community Spirit.
In early 2009, the Government of Alberta initiated a review of Alberta's human rights legislation and policy framework, and subsequently proposed amendments to Alberta's human rights legislation. These amendments took effect on October 1, 2009, with one exception, which took effect on September 1, 2010.
The amendments include a change in the name of the Act (previously the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act) as well as the name of the Commission (previously the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission). Other amendments are detailed on the Commission website.
The Commission carries out its mandate under the leadership of the Honourable D. Blair Mason, Q.C., Chief of the Commission and Tribunals (the Chief).
Commission's complaint resolution and settlement process
The Commission responds to numerous inquiries each day from people who believe they may have experienced discrimination, who are responding to a human rights issue, or who are seeking more information about human rights in Alberta.
The Commission accepts approximately 800 complaints each year. The majority of complaints fall in the area of employment. Physical disability and gender are consistently the two most commonly cited grounds. Visit the Commission website for further statistics.
The director and staff of the Commission are responsible for the resolution of these complaints using the tools provided in the Act: conciliation, investigation, dismissal, and discontinuance.
The majority of complaints - 97% in 2008-09, for example - are dealt with through the Commission's complaint resolution processes. The remaining files are closed through the tribunal process. The Commission's complaint resolution duties are separate and independent from the work of the tribunals.
The independent role of the tribunals
The recent amendments to the Act provide greater clarity about the separate and independent work of the Chief and the tribunals in adjudicating complaints, from the administrative work of the director and his or her staff. For example, the title Chief Commissioner is now Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, and human rights panels have been renamed human rights tribunals.
In keeping with the need to demonstrate clear separation in the work of the two parts of the Commission, the Honourable D. Blair Mason, Q.C. has established a new office in Calgary for the Chief and members of the Commission. The office includes a hearing room for the exclusive use of the tribunals.
Another recent amendment to the Act will assist in ensuring the efficient handling of complaints at the Chief and tribunal level. This amendment gives the Chief the authority to delegate appeals of decisions made by the director to dismiss or discontinue complaints to members of the Commission.
A recent Order in Council appointment will also help ensure the efficient handling of complaints. For the first time, a full-time member of the Commission has been appointed in addition to the Chief, who also serves full-time. In addition to these two full-time members, there are currently five part-time members of the Commission. Click here to read the biographies of members if the Commission:
Visit the Commission's website to review decisions made by Alberta's human rights tribunals (formerly human rights panels) since 1997.
Education and community engagement initiatives
The Commission has an active education program which helps to meet its mandate to foster equality and reduce discrimination. The Commission is a valuable source of information and education for Albertans and Alberta communities and organizations that want information about human rights law and about building communities and organizations free from discrimination.
Educational resources such as the Commission website and publications and educational programs such as workshops, displays and consultations with organizations are primary tools for awareness-building and education. The Commission website is a key information channel for the Commission and website visits average 23,000 a month. There are 3,500 subscribers to the Commission's electronic newsletter, the Alberta Human Rights Information Service (AHRIS), which provides Commission news and related information. Click here to subscribe to AHRIS.
Responding to needs
The Commission's education programs and services respond to what Albertans tell us and what we learn from our own research and the research of others about the human rights issues facing Albertans.
For example, because the majority of inquires made to the Commission are related to workplaces, the Commission has an active program of customized workshops to meet the needs of organizations that request them, as well as workshops for the public. Approximately 100 workshops are offered each year, attracting approximately 2000 participants.
The Commission's educational resources respond to stakeholder needs and are typically developed in consultation with them, to ensure that the resources address their concerns. For example, the Commission's plain language publication Human rights in Alberta, and the recent publication, Obtaining and Responding to Medical Information in the Workplace were developed with input from an external advisory group of experts, representing the target audiences of those publications.
Human Rights in Alberta is the first publication of its kind in Canada. It provides plain language information about Alberta's human rights law and about the services offered by the Alberta Commission, to adults with low literacy skills and to those for who English is not a first language. The educational resource features artwork, stories and photos to make the information easy to understand, and is available in an audio version.
Strategic partnerships: building welcoming and inclusive communities
In addition to helping Albertans understand their rights and responsibilities under human rights law through the above services, the Commission actively engages in community initiatives and partnerships on the local, provincial, and national levels. These partnership initiatives help build workplaces and communities that are able to combat racism and discrimination and are welcoming and inclusive.
For example, the Commission is a champion of the Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination in Alberta, and is also founding partner in a multi-year partnership with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to help build the capacity of municipalities to be welcoming and inclusive and to combat racism and discrimination. The Alberta Hate Crimes Committee is another multi-agency partnership initiative in which the Commission is actively involved. For more information on the Commission's partnership initiatives, visit http://www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca/about/partnerships.asp
The Alberta commission is an active member of CASHRA and has valued the learning and sharing opportunities provided by the network. The Alberta Commission has led the Public Education and Community Engagement (PEACE) committee for three years, and in 2008 led the sub-committee responsible for developing the CASHRA interactive youth website, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Commission also participated on the working group that established the new CASHRA website and welcomes the opportunities the website is providing to allow commissions to share and promote their work.
CASHRA 2011 coming to Alberta!
Alberta is looking forward to hosting the next CASHRA conference in Calgary, Alberta on the week of June 13th, 2011. You can look forward to conference announcements on the CASHRA website in the coming weeks and months.
For additional information about the Commission's programs and services, visit: www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca