EMERGING HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES IN 2010
Meaningful change in the human rights field often begins with increased awareness and understanding, and 2010 provided many opportunities for progress.
Difficult economic times have often caused disproportionate impact on groups that are already vulnerable. Commissions and other equality-seeking organizations defended the public interest in human rights cases, and raised issues for those who could not speak for themselves. Their efforts were noted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' which had as its 2010 Human Rights Day theme, "Human rights defenders who act to end discrimination".
On International Human Rights Day 2010, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) highlighted a number of current human rights issues, including:
- mental disability and mental health: considered by many to be the greatest workplace challenge in the years to come;
- aging and mandatory retirement;
- work-life balance and family status;
- First Nations and Aboriginal rights;
- racial and religious rights, especially as they relate to public security; and
- data and information available to measure human rights impacts on vulnerable groups
Media coverage of several high profile cases and landmark decisions on these topics had Canadians thinking and talking about emerging human rights issues and their impact on us as individuals, as communities, and as a nation.
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The Commission applauded Canada's endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The step symbolizes a commitment to equality, respect and cooperation with Aboriginal peoples. Now that the Declaration has been endorsed, the real work begins: making these rights a reality in the lives of Aboriginal peoples.
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is rapidly becoming one of the most ratified human rights treaties in the world, and the CHRC has been engaged with these issues since its drafting.
The Commission recently attended the Sixth World Conference on the Promotion of Mental Health and Prevention of Mental and Behavioural Disorders. The theme of this year's conference was "Addressing Imbalances: Promoting Equity in Mental Health".
Human Rights Commissions around the world: a Strong Community
The CHRC has had a successful three years as Chair of the International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions, establishing a strong governance structure for the organization. This year, the Commission will be submitting its application for re-accreditation as an A-Status body. This unique status provides the CHRC with independent standing and participation rights at the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
The Commission also continues to Chair the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (CF-NHRI) until May 2011. In September, the Commission produced the first edition of the Commonwealth Forum Newsletter.
THE 2010 DISCRIMINATION PREVENTION FORUM
This past November, leaders and decision makers from government, the private sector, Aboriginal and non-profit organizations across Canada came together for the Commission's Discrimination Prevention Forum. This year's Forum was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
This year, the Commission's National Aboriginal Initiative was a key partner. The theme "Circle of Awareness, Cycle of Growth" emphasized that knowledge and cultural sensitivity are key to fostering positive employee and customer experiences.
Speakers included leaders such as Former AFN Chief Phil Fontaine, Grand Chief Evans, Regional Chief Traverse, Commissioner James Wilson, Denise Thomas and Tewanee Joseph. The speakers provided thoughtful, and thought-provoking perspectives of human rights. They spoke about residential schools, the complex challenges faced by Aboriginal communities, First Nations role in the 2010 Olympics and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Forum's workshops and plenary sessions touched on a number of important human rights issues facing Canadians today. The themes included: mental health; challenges faced by aboriginal women; rights and responsibilities of youth in the workplace; removing barriers to the recruitment and advancement of aboriginal people; and legal updates on recent cases.
The entire final day of the Forum focused on the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. This recent legal change has extended human rights protections to many Aboriginal people who did not have it before. Forum panel members examined how best to interpret First Nations legal traditions and customary laws and existing human rights legal frameworks.
The Forum also provided the perfect opportunity to raise awareness about the Commission's Human Rights Maturity Model. The first of its kind in the world, the Maturity Model shows organizations how to create, sustain, and measure a workplace culture that encourages equality, dignity and respect for human rights.