The Manitoba Human Rights Commission
Keeping in step with the evolution of human rights is an ongoing challenge faced by every commission in Canada.
In Manitoba, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission continues to face these challenges head-on through the complaint system and our awareness and education programs.
At the forefront of the Commission's challenges is education on both physical and mental disabilities. Its initiatives include a new workshop, a publication for youth with disabilities, leadership in a mental health evaluation project and new guidelines on what is an animal assistant.
Commission Develops new Workshop in Response to Emerging Trend
The vast majority of human rights complaints originate in the workplace and complaints based on disability have represented the highest number over the past decade. This is true across the country.
A new emerging trend is the steady increase in the number of complaints filed on the basis of mental health issues.
Statistics reveal this upward trend. Between 2004 and 2006 complaints based on mental health issues averaged 25% of all disability complaints. By 2007, that percentage had risen to 29%; in 2010 it was 37%.
It is estimated that 1 in 5 Canadians will develop a mental illness at some time in their lives. Many more individuals such as family, friends and colleagues are also affected.
With the steady increase in the number of human rights complaints based on mental health issues, the Commission has developed a new workshop called Accommodation of Employees with Mental Health Issues.
The half-day session deals with such topics as: what a mental disability is under The Human Rights Code; what your obligations as an employer are if you reasonably believe that an employee may have a mental health issue; what information is needed from medical practitioners; what the obligations of both parties are; and the benefits of having a policy on reasonable accommodation.
The workshop instructors use real life situations to help the participants better understand the unique challenges faced by employers and supervisors when reasonably accommodating employees with mental health issues.
Those attending the new workshop found the information insightful and said that the combination of advice and practical information would help them establish a policy and deal more effectively with mental health issues in their workplaces.
For information on all the Commission's education programs please click here: http://www.gov.mb.ca/hrc/workshops.html.
Commission Leads Mental Health Evaluation Project
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission has been selected as the Lead Organization for a project evaluating the Province's mental health legislation. The project, established by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Law Advisory Committee, asked the Canadian Mental Health Association (Winnipeg) and the Public Interest Law Centre of Legal Aid Manitoba to develop a tool in order to evaluate mental health legislation. It is hoped that the information gathered in Manitoba, British Columbia and Nova Scotia will evaluate how well legislation and policies reflect the principles and rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Mental Disabilities.
Dianna Scarth, Executive Director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, says she is very pleased that the Commission was given the opportunity to participate in the project as the lead organization in Manitoba. "With the increase in human rights complaints over the decade focusing on mental health issues, we know that this is one of the most challenging and important human rights issues in Canada today," she says.
The Commission's staff involved in the project are investigators Tanya Buschau, Ryan Redpath and Heather Unger.
The Commission chose members from various organizations including government, community groups and those with real life experience to form the Pilot Evaluation Team. The members of this team used the evaluation tool to answer questions on the provincial Mental Health Act and related provincial policies. It is anticipated that this information will help researchers determine to what extent Human Rights protections set out in the international covenant, which Canada has signed and agreed to implement, are reflected in current mental health legislation, polices, and standards.
"Asking people to volunteer their time to read policies and legislation is usually not an easy process," says Tanya Buschau, "however the interest in this project has been high." Ms Buschau adds that people are eager to share their knowledge and experience in this field. "The feedback we are receiving has been outstanding," she says.
The Commission is in the process of gathering the participants' responses to the questions, which will be passed on to researchers to be analysed alongside feedback from the two other provinces involved in the project, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.
The research project report will be presented in its final form to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
New Rights of Youth Publication
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission is pleased to announce the 9th topic in the Rights of Youth series. This latest publication is Rights of Youth: Disabilities. It has easy to read, practical information for youth with disabilities. Its intention is to help students and other young people with disabilities to understand their rights and gives practical information on education, transportation, entertainment and employment.
The publication is a joint project of The Manitoba Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the Children's Advocate. To view the Rights of Youth: Disabilities click here.
Commission Releases a Fact Sheet, Guidelines and a Policy on Animal Assistants
The Manitoba Human Rights Board of Commissioners has approved new publications to help the public understand what is considered an animal assistant under The Human Rights Code. Along with releasing a guideline and a fact sheet, the Board also approved a policy on animal assistants.
The policy is intended to assist in the interpretation of the term "dog guide or other animal assistant" referred to in subsection 9(2)(l) of The Human Rights Code.
While a guide dog is specifically referenced in subsection 9(2)(1), the interpretation of "other animal assistant" is less clear. The Commission recognizes that the definition of a service animal remains an evolving issue in Canada and accordingly, has noted the direction taken by human rights agencies in Canada and in the United States, in applying the protections set out in The Code.
According to the fact sheet, which specifically refers to dogs, "a service dog is trained to assist a person with a disability. The work or tasks performed by the service dog must be directly related to its owner's physical or mental disability. Dogs that provide comfort and companionship, but do not perform tasks, are not considered to be service dogs." For the full documents, please visit our website: http://www.manitobahumanrights.ca
Human Rights Complaints based on Pregnancy Increasing
The increase in human rights complaints relating to mental health issues is not the only trend emerging. Surprisingly, the Commission has noted another noticeable upward trend in the number of complaints based on pregnancy in employment. In 2008, 36% of complaints based on sex were pregnancy related. In 2009, this increased to 67%. In 2010 the percentage was almost 50%. The trend is continuing in the first half of this year.
Two New Human Rights Courses Available in 2012
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission continues to make human rights education a priority and is constantly refreshing its existing workshops and offering new topics.
In the New Year, two new workshops will be added to the Commission's education programs: "Employment Equity" and "Rights and Responsibilities of Landlords and Condominium Corporations".
"Landlords, rental agencies and management companies have responsibilities to existing and potential tenants," says the Commission's Executive Director Dianna Scarth, adding "these decisions bring attention to human rights protections, but a more proactive approach is education to ensure that The Code is not contravened in the area of housing in the first place."
Also according to Ms Scarth, the fundamental purpose of human rights legislation is to protect the rights of all persons to be judged on their own merits and to have equality of opportunity. This requires that society recognize and restrict unreasonable discrimination against individuals including discrimination based on stereotypes. It also requires a recognition that past, as well as current policies, practices and systems have directly and indirectly discriminated against certain groups. In these cases disadvantage and inequality are, and have been, the result of past discrimination, both intentional and unintentional or systemic. In response to this reality, human rights legislation recognizes the need for employment equity and other special programs.
To Tweet or not to Tweet?
Looking to future, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission has set goals and objectives for reaching more people about their rights and responsibilities. The Commission will be looking into ways of integrating social networking into its communications strategy. This is an opportunity to reach a much broader and more diverse audience while also increasing the Commission's visibility among the public.
It is indisputable that social networking is now the preferred method of communication among youth, and educating youth about human rights and responsibilities continues to be an important component of the Commission's education programs.
You are invited to the Are we there yet? CASHRA 2012 Conference
The 2012 destination for the CASHRA Annual Meeting will be in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
On behalf of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission we are pleased to invite you and your families to visit our forever changing city.
In Winnipeg, change can mean coming home, like the Jets. Or it can be the building of the new state-of-the-art James Richardson International Airport; or constructing a dream stadium for the Blue Bombers.
The showcase of change will be, of course, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. As we wait with the rest of the world for this magnificent building to open, people in Winnipeg, much like anxious children, are looking forward to the destination and constantly asking "Are we there yet?". By the time you arrive in Winnipeg it will be close, so very close, and yet we will be responding with that dreaded answer, "almost there".
The same question and answer is often at the centre of discussions concerning the evolution of human rights.
So grab a hard hat, your imagination and inspiration and join us for a glimpse of what is to come.
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission