CASHRA - The Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies

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Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission - A Year of Firsts

It has been almost one year since the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) was featured on the CASHRA website and we are pleased with the achievements we have made since that time.

The beginning of 2013 marked a first for our Dispute Resolution (DR) team in that it signalled our first full year of working with our new restorative practices. The use of in-house resolution conferences and the circle style of communicating has proven to be quite effective. It provides parties with an opportunity to tell their story in a setting which allows those involved to explore the root causes of what brought them together in the first place. It also allows the parties to explore the possibilities for early settlement yet still allows our human rights officers to gather the information necessary in the event that the matter proceeds.

Operationally our new restorative processes have dramatically increase efficiencies. Where in the past some files have taken years to resolve or be heard by our tribunal style boards of inquiry it is now our policy to have the investigation work completed within 244 days. This has resulted in an average decrease in time required to complete an investigation of 210 days.

2013 was a first for a unique project initiated by our Race Relations, Equity and Inclusion (RREI) team. This was the consumer racial profiling report entitled "Working Together to Better Serve all Nova Scotians". This report was the first of its kind in Canada. It was an intensive study examining the experiences of Nova Scotians in the context of consumer transactions. We are now taking the information learned from the study and using it in an effort to assist consumers, retailers and service providers to develop better understanding and promote economic strength.

Some of the key findings, as taken directly from the report are:

In our survey, Aboriginal people and African Canadians more often reported being treated poorly by staff than did any other group. In fact, people from all racialized groups, including Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern people, reported being treated poorly by staff far more than did White people.

In the focus groups, several participants commented on being made to feel "lower class" or like "second-class citizens" when shopping. Aboriginal people, African Canadians, and Muslims had three things in common:

  • They were targets of offensive language.
  • They were treated as if they were physically threatening.
  • They were seen as potential thieves.

As a result the NSHRC has begun consultative work to help reduce consumer racial profiling. Our work will support people in learning how to recognize consumer racial profiling and to understand the harm it causes to those being profiled. This work will benefit the overall community as well as business owners.

Another first for RREI and for the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) was their collaboration, in conjunction with several other human rights stakeholders within Nova Scotia.

The NSHRC and the other stakeholders provided in class human rights education to the students during the spring of 2013. This education and the joint venture between the NSHRC and NSCAD led to the unique collection of poster art displayed at the CASHRA 2013 conference.

September 2012 marked a first for our legal team when it participated in its first restorative board of inquiry. This was significant in that it saw personal interaction between the parties and the Board Chair in the evidence taking process.

December 2012 saw the first board of inquiry adjudication where the board chair lead the questioning while all concerned sat in a circle.

In February 2013 the first restorative board of inquiry was held where counsel for a respondent participated. Commenting on the process, respondent's counsel said, "The particular [restorative] hearing process offered a very open and fair exchange of evidence." Also commenting on the evidence gathering process the board chair said, "I do not find myself any less informed than I would have been had the process, following traditional procedures, been carried out over days."

April 2013 saw a first with the completion of the Halifax Association of Black Firefighters v. Halifax Regional Municipality board of inquiry. This was the first time an emergency services group, the relevant unions, the respondent municipality and the NSHRC adopted restorative processes to not only resolve the issues at hand but also to create a restorative plan for the future which includes how investigations and discipline will be carried out.

Of interest is that, arising from this dispute resolution approach, the NSHRC has undertaken to engage with the diverse communities in Nova Scotia and work collaboratively with them to explore such issues as systemic discrimination. Our RREI team will be taking the lead on this aspect of what is expected to be a significant and complex project.

Finally, 2013 marked the first time in over 14 years that Nova Scotia has hosted the annual CASHRA conference. By all accounts it was a great success.

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CASHRA - The Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies