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Manitoba Human Rights Agency

Changes to the Human Rights Code (Manitoba)

Maestro Alexander
Attorney General Andrew Swan of
Manitoba addresses delegates about
the changes to the Code at the 2012
CASHRA Conference in Winnipeg.

Twenty-five years after The Human Rights Code (Manitoba) was enacted, significant, ground breaking changes have taken place.

Amendments to The Code include adding social disadvantage and gender identity to the list of protected characteristics.

"Manitoba's human rights legislation was ahead of its time 25 years ago when protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation was added to The Code," said Justice Minister and Attorney General Andrew Swan. "These changes will build on that legacy and ensure the Commission has the tools it needs to effectively address current and emerging challenges."

According to the Chairperson of the Manitoba Human Rights Board of Commissioners Jerry Woods, the Government is taking a progressive approach by bringing in these changes. "Amending The Human Rights Code to prohibit unreasonable discrimination on the basis of social disadvantage is an important step towards meeting our obligations under international agreements, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights," said Mr. Woods.

Other Voices Regarding Changes to The Code

"The Manitoba Bar Association (MBA) believes there is a need for better legal protection for transgender Manitobans. Transgender Manitobans are a minority who can suffer discrimination," said Josh Weinstein, President, MBA.

Socially disadvantaged Manitobans should not face additional barriers when they are trying to get ahead," said Floyd Perras, Executive Director of Siloam Mission in Winnipeg. "We welcome these changes because we've seen first-hand the positive contributions made by people from all walks of life."

By adding social disadvantage, complaints can be filed based on discrimination relating to homelessness, inadequate housing, low levels of education, chronic low income, unemployment or underemployment.

"The Human Rights Code recognizes the individual worth and dignity of every member of the human family and the ground of social disadvantage will help the Commission address prejudice on that basis, and focus attention on poverty and homelessness in Manitoba," Mr. Wood said, and further explained that Governments, employers and others would be better able to develop special programs, such as training, designed to lessen the disadvantage experienced by some Manitobans.

Adding "gender identity" would make it unlawful to discriminate against a person in employment, housing or the provision of services on the basis of that person's actual or perceived gender identity.

"Many persons who are transgendered face discrimination and harassment in their daily lives," said Mr. Woods. "The Manitoba Human Rights Commission believes that specifically protecting persons from discrimination on the basis of gender identity is important to clarifying that such discrimination is contrary to The Human Rights Code."

Executive Director Dianna Scarth leaves the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

After almost 16 years at the helm of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, Dianna Scarth is moving on. Ms Scarth was known to embrace change, and this philosophy was reflected in the evolution of the Commission over the years.

One of her greatest challenges was battling misconceptions about the Commission when it came to systemic discrimination. "It is still assumed today by many that the Commission only deals with individual complaints, despite success after success in dealing with systemic complaints, which result in positive change for many people," she recently stated. "It is important to know that human rights legislation can be used as a tool to achieve systemic change."

The most well known human rights adjudication during Ms Scarth's years as Executive Director was the Pasternak Twins and their complaint against The Manitoba High School Sports Athletic Association. Ms Scarth supported the twins' right to play on their high school boys' hockey team, and always maintained that there was no substance to the floodgates argument suggesting that the success of the Pasternak case meant the demise of girls hockey. Ms Scarth has been quoted as saying, "This was not an easy road for them to take, and they deserve our admiration for their courage."

Ms Scarth became the executive director of the Commission in 1996. She introduced new ways of resolving complaints through mediation at the front end of the complaint process. She also introduced the Commission's Educational Programs for employers. The sessions continue to be successful today.

One of her greatest passions was the Commission's Youth Initiative, which includes annual youth conferences, youth publications, and a human rights website for students and teachers. According to Ms Scarth, the Commission realized that it wasn't enough to just talk to teachers and administrators. It needed a direct-line relationship with young people.

And finally, Ms Scarth is especially pleased that the long sought-after amendments to The Human Rights Code to include Gender Identity and Social Disadvantage as protected grounds from discrimination were proclaimed last June.

Youth Conferences targeting students in grades 7 to 9

Youth Conference
Some students travelled a long way to
attend the Winnipeg Conference in April
2012. Here students from Oscar Lathlin
Collegiate in The Pas work on their
banner project.

The University of Winnipeg will benefit from the knowledge and experience Ms Scarth brings to the field of human rights. She begins teaching there in September.

The first human rights youth conferences targeting Junior High students in April 2012 were such a huge success that the Commission will once again look the younger age group next year. For the past ten years prior to this, high school students had been invited to attend.

According to Pam Roberts, Investigator with the Commission and Co-Chair of the Youth Conference Team, the decision has been made to continue to offer the program to junior high students for the foreseeable future.

"Our goal," says Ms Roberts, "is to reach out to younger students and have a greater impact as they continue into their high school years."

2013 Youth Conferences feature very special guests

Youth Conference: Teacher Comments
"The kids had a great time...and our banner is hanging proudly at the front entrance of the school for everyone to see and of course a lot of the younger students are asking about it." Colleen Small, Holland Elementary School

"WOW!! Thank you so much for such an amazing day in Shilo. The workshops were of relevance to what we need to be reminded of on a daily basis and the importance of treating ALL fairly and equitably." Tammy Ballingall, Baldur School

"The day was fantastic! I really appreciated your enthusiasm and great way with kids. Loved it!" Shauna Price, Forrest Elementary School

The last time Dr. Samantha Nutt was the guest speaker at a Manitoba Human Rights Youth Conference was in 2008 when she concluded her talk with, "This is our world, your world, my world. It is not about charity. It's about our common humanity. It's your legacy, your choices." Students rose to their feet in appreciation.

"We have had many great speakers at our conferences," says Lorraine Lambert, Co-Chair of the Commission's Youth Conference Committee, "but I don't think I have ever seen so many students completely spell-bound as they were when Dr. Nutt spoke about her work, life experiences and philosophy."

There is no doubt that she is a remarkable and motivational person and the Human Rights Commission Youth Committee members are very happy to have her back to inspire a new group of students.

And if you think Dr. Nutt can excite young people, music can do even more; especially the music of local pop/soul singer Flo. According to an article in Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine, Flo believes in the power of music to lift people up and motivate them.

Students will be able to see and hear her sing her anti-bully anthem "Hateless" or the inspiring "Just Believe in Me" at the 2013 Conferences in Winnipeg and Shilo. According to Ms Lambert, "Flo is almost as excited to perform at our conference as we are to have her."

You can watch Flo's video "Hateless" here:

The 2013 Action Changes Everything (ACE) Human Rights Youth Conferences will take place in April and will also feature activity based human rights workshops and also will give students the opportunity to showcase the great human rights and social justice initiatives their schools have completed.

The Manitoba human Rights Commission is now on Facebook

MHRC facebook

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