Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse
The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (Commission of Human Rights and Youth Rights) is an independent body whose mission is to uphold the principles set out in the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
Last year, we celebrated our 35th anniversary and the coming into force of the Charter. It was an opportunity to reflect on the progress and application of human rights over these past three decades but also to take stock of the work that remains to be done in order to ensure that each and everyone’s fundamental rights are respected. We believe that economic and social rights remain the poor relations of the Charter and the legal guarantee of those rights should be considerably reinforced. It is a message that the Commission has repeatedly conveyed to the Québec Government during the past year.
It is with this in mind that we are continuing promoting, on a priority basis, the rights of the most vulnerable groups in society, including migrant workers, live-in caregivers, recent immigrants, the disabled and the elderly.
Moreover, we are committed to continue the fight against all forms of discrimination. The number of complaints is on the rise, especially in the work place. Disability or the use of a means to palliate a disability, represent 33% of all complaints while those based on race, colour, ethnic or national origin make up a quarter of the new files opened last year.
At a time when we are witnessing a real public finances crisis as the Québec Government moves to rationalize its expenses, it is important that the choices that are made continue to reflect the values of solidarity and respect for the rights of individuals that have driven Québec since the adoption of the Charter. It is a challenge that our Commission endeavours to meet every day to ensure the realization of equality for all.
President of the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse
Racial Profiling: A Major Concern
One of the expressions of discrimination is racial profiling which affects most particularly youth from racialized communities in Québec. In May 2011, our Commission released its Racial Profiling and Systemic Discrimination of Racialized Youth and addressed more than 90 recommendations to all levels of government, institutions and organizations which have the power to put a stop to this discrimination undermining the confidence of youth in our legal system.
Since the release of the report, we have fulfilled our commitments to ensure that there is a real follow-up to our recommendations. At our request, a number of government departments have taken part in an Inter-Ministerial Working Group and agreed to put in place a number of measures to counter racial profiling and systemic discrimination. We will soon publish their responses and present a picture of the situation one year on, especially as our report created high expectations among members of racialized communities and human rights groups in Québec.
Also, in March 2012 our Commission expressed disappointment as a result of the Ministère de la Sécurité publique’s answer (Public Security Department) to one of our main recommendations calling for the creation of an independent Special Investigations Bureau to investigate incidents involving police that result in death or serious injury.
The Québec Government instead opted to set up a Bureau of Civilian Observers all the while maintaining the existing practice of police investigating the police it its Bill 46. The Commission believes there needs to be a truly impartial, transparent and accountable mechanism to help restore the public’s confidence in such investigations.
Migrant workers facing systemic discrimination
The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, as part of its commitment to promote and defend the rights of vulnerable groups, recently published a ground-breaking report on systemic discrimination facing migrant workers in Québec, including temporary agricultural workers and live-in caregivers.
Our report clearly demonstrates that these workers are in a very vulnerable position although they are entitled to the protection of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms just as permanent residents or citizens are. In fact, the Québec Charter, contrary to human rights codes in other provinces, applies to anyone who is on Québec territory.
In 2010, almost 7,000 low-skilled migrant workers, most of them from Guatemala, Mexico and the Caribbean were employed primarily in Québec’s agricultural sector. Among these, about 400 live-in caregivers, mostly from the Philippines, worked in Québec families as nannies or domestic workers.
Our Commission is urging the Québec Government to change its immigration law and to establish a permanent immigration program. Moreover, we asked the Ministère de l’Immigration et des Communautés culturelles (Department of Immigration and Cultural Communities) to accept only workers who have a sectorial permit and to outlaw the obligation to live with the employer.
The Commission believes that this obligation can compromise several rights protected under the Charter, namely the right to privacy and the inviolability of the home. The constant physical presence of a live-in caregiver, for example, makes it also difficult to separate her private and professional life and can complicate, among other things, the calculation of overtime hours.
We have also produced with other government agencies, a video to explain to seasonal agricultural foreign workers that they have the same rights and obligations than other Québec workers. The 15-minute video entitled Trabajar en Québec (Working in Québec) is available in French and Spanish and is distributed in cooperation with employers and migrant workers support groups in the province. You can view it on our Website.
Towards Inclusive Education in Colleges
Working towards the full inclusion of disabled students in regular classes is a priority of our Commission. We have been increasingly speaking out on the issue and receiving more complaints from parents, which in turn, has led to an increase in the number of files brought before the courts.
We have recently released an important report on the duty to accommodate disabled students attending colleges (cégeps), including students who have disabilities which have been described as “emerging” such as learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity and mental health problems.
Between 2005 and 2009, the number of disabled students enrolled in a post-secondary program or training increased five-fold from 860 to 4,309 in the province. A large proportion of this increase was due to the enrolment of students with “emerging” disabilities. However, the laws regulating colleges in Québec (General and Vocational Colleges Act and the Act Respecting Private Education) do not contain any specific provisions obliging colleges to adapt their educational services for these students.
That is the reason the Commission chose to study the issue and to make a number of recommendations in order to examine how the accommodation practices already in place in some colleges might be better developed, but also to put an end to the discrimination faced by students who have an emerging disability.
Moreover in March 2012, our Commission joined 16 others interveners in advocating for equality rights of disabled students, special needs students and those with learning disabilities before the Supreme Court of Canada which heard the Moore v. British Columbia appeal.
This case will determine whether the Vancouver-North School Board and the British Columbia Education Department discriminated against a severely dyslexic student, Jeff Moore, when they failed to provide him with the specialized educational service he required. In 2005, the BC Human Rights Tribunal had ruled in favour of Jeff and his family, but the ruling was overturned five years later by the BC Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to rule before the end of the year.
Protecting the elderly from exploitation
The Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms protects elderly persons from all forms of exploitation. The number of complaints to the Commission continues to rise and last year they represented 10 % of all new files.
In order to better respond to requests for information and to investigate complaints more quickly, the Commission set-up two years ago, a specialized team of investigators working with a lawyer, who are able to intervene rapidly to ensure the safety of the elderly and to put a stop to any type of exploitation.
Our Commission produced a new leaflet to help seniors, family members and caregivers better understand the Commission’s role and how to file a complaint. We have also posted a new section on our Website offering information and helpful resources.
Moreover, we have worked with partners to develop new tools to help prevent the financial exploitation of the elderly such as new brochure entitled: Trust must be earned! produced by the Autorité des marchés financiers (financial regulatory agency), offering advice and pointers on how to choose a financial adviser and by helping write a new simplified model of power of attorney (in French only).