Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission
"Fare" treatment for all citizens
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission participated in a news conference in June announcing the abolishment of the $17.00 fee charged to taxi riders with physical disabilities.
The decision to cancel the fare came after disability rights advocates raised the question about the two different rates which resulted in a review by the City of Saskatoon. City Council's decision ensures that all customers will be charged the same fare to take a taxi in the city.
"This is a great example of systemic advocacy at work," said Chief Commissioner David Arnot. "This approach reaches further than the individual complaint-based model where only one person benefits from changes to the system."
"It also demonstrates that problems can be solved without engaging our formal complaint processes and procedures. Dialogue should be first among many options before people turn to the Commission for resolution."
Arnot said many communities across the province and across the country should take a look and adopt the same policy where there are differential rates.
Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison said that although more needs to be done to assist citizens with disabilities, eliminating the differential taxi rate was a strong first step.
Words as weapons – challenging hate speech
In October, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the Commission's case against William Whatcott, who was found to have violated The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code by delivering hate-filled messages in flyers against homosexuals, a finding that was reversed by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in 2010.
"As Canadians, we understand that there is a justifiable and narrow limit on the freedom of expression when it has the potential to harm others in the community," said Chief Commissioner David Arnot in a statement delivered in the National Press Theatre. "In the case of public speech, where expression has the real potential to escalate and expose a target group to hate, we have a responsibility to act."
The Commission contends that Mr. Whatcott conveyed messages of hate when he distributed flyers in Regina and Saskatoon in 2001 and 2002 referring to gays and lesbians in a hateful manner and inciting discrimination against them.
The Commission argued that Mr. Whatcott's actions were in violation of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, which protects both the right to freedom of expression and the right of people to be free from discrimination and hate propaganda.
"We all have a right to free speech but this right comes with responsibility and reasonable limits. In the case of speech, we are free to be critical, controversial and even careless. But we cannot be hateful," said Arnot.
"No debate is furthered by hate expression; every debate can occur without hate expression."
The factum included submissions from several organizations supporting the Commission's position, including the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and the commissions of Alberta, Ontario, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon.
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has litigated only five cases relating to the dissemination of hate in the last 32 years and considers litigation a tool to be used sparingly and judiciously and only in the most extreme cases.
Accessible voting for Saskatchewan citizens
In Fall 2011, the Commission held discussions with Saskatchewan's Chief Electoral Officer regarding the accessibility needs of voters who are disabled.
Current provincial legislation addresses mainly the needs of people who are physically encumbered and who require special access to polling places, and those who are visually impaired who need help reading and marking their ballots.
Legislative changes to improve voter access and participation are needed and should address a broader range of limitations and corresponding accommodations for those who require them.
Some changes to improve voter access were introduced in time for the November 2011 provincial election. Both the Commission and Elections Saskatchewan will pursue other changes in the lead-up to the province's next general election in 2015.
Settlement and resolution
The total number of complaints by ground rose 17% from 220 to 258 in 2010. Nearly half of these files were complaints from persons with disabilities.
In spite of this increase, a growing number of complaints are achieving settlement at some point in the complaint process. Close to one-third (32%) of complaints received in 2010 were resolved through open dialogue and assistance from the Commission.
Commissioners bring new energy, fresh perspectivesL-R Hon. Don Morgan, Minister of Justice & Attorney General, Paul Favel, Jan Gitlin, Barry Wilcox,
David Arnot, Chief Commissioner.
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission welcomed three new Commissioners in July with the appointments of Paul Favel Q.C., Jan Gitlin and Barry Wilcox. Chief Commissioner, David Arnot, welcomed the appointments as an opportunity to bring fresh energy to the Commission's work.
"This is a period of renewal for the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission," said Arnot. "We're excited that these new Commissioners will bring new insights and perspectives to our table and assist in our broader efforts to revitalize and modernize the Commission for the people of Saskatchewan."
Originally from the Poundmaker Cree Nation near Cut Knife, Saskatchewan, Paul Favel is a highly regarded lawyer with McKercher LLP who has worked extensively within the First Nations community. He is currently a board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters Saskatoon and a member of the Canadian Bar Association. Paul was awarded a Queen's Counsel designation in 2010.
Jan Gitlin is a highly respected member of Saskatoon's Jewish community who is deeply committed to human rights protection and promotion. She co-chaired the Saskatoon Holocaust Committee for ten years. She has also worked tirelessly as a volunteer for the Saskatoon Museum of Human Rights. Jan has held various positions in the communications industry and currently works as a senior account executive with CTV Saskatchewan.
Barry Wilcox is a senior member of Prince Albert's legal community and has been a partner with Wilcox Zuk Chovin Law Office since 2008. A longstanding and respected member of the Prince Albert bar, Barry is known for his expertise in mediation and alternative dispute resolution. He has appeared before all three Saskatchewan Courts and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission on behalf of clients.
"These three community leaders bring a deep understanding of our province and the important role the Commission plays as an advocate for the promotion and protection of human rights," said Arnot. "They are honoured choices and we welcome their appointments."
A fourth and final Commissioner is expected to be appointed in early 2012.
Streamlining and modernizing complaint resolution
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code Amendment Act (Bill 160) was proclaimed on July 1, introducing a series of changes to the way the Commission will hear, deliberate and decide cases into the future. One of the most innovative changes made possible by Bill 160 was the elimination of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal.
"An ongoing challenge was the amount of time the Tribunal took to hear cases, deliberate and render a decision after the final hearing." explained Chief Commissioner David Arnot." While there may be valid explanations for why some decisions are delayed, these are seldom acceptable to those who have to wait."
In many instances, decisions were about matters that are critically important for those directly involved, Arnot observed. For a lot of people, the status of their job, their income or their housing situation hung in the balance as the Tribunal worked through its processes.
With the adoption of Bill 160, the role and function of the Human Rights Tribunal shifted to the Court of Queen's Bench in an effort to reduce the amount of time required to address complainant issues. This will result in a more timely, streamlined and efficient process where complaints will be heard by Court of Queen's Bench judges, who will relax rules of procedure and adopt a more informal hearing process if circumstances warrant.
Other features made possible by the new legislation include:
- Emphasis on case resolution through restorative justice, resorting to litigation only when necessary.
- Increased focus on systemic advocacy to address and resolve the human rights concerns of large groups of people.
- Directed mediation where either party to a complaint has rejected reasonable offer of settlement.
- The mandate to develop and introduce an educational program in K-12 classroom where Saskatchewan students can learn about the "3R's" of citizenship: rights, responsibilities and respect for differences.
New look for renewed mandate
The Commission recently adopted a new logo and visual identity – to reflect its renewed mandate and the cultural transformation now underway within the organization.
The Commission's new logo captures the meaning and focus of its work and, visually, sets it apart from other organizations working in the area of human rights protection and promotion.
Graphically, it represents two intersecting equal (=) symbols that form a shelter under which the basic human rights of every Saskatchewan citizen are protected. The lines also nod to the "four pillars" of the Commission's renewed mandate recently announced by Chief Commissioner, David Arnot.
The logo's colours represent the three levels of human rights legislation and jurisdiction that provide this protection.
The colours green and gold represent the Province of Saskatchewan and its Bill of Rights. Red represents Canada and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And, blue represents the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Together, these pieces of legislation define and protect the rights of every Saskatchewan citizen and inform our work everyday.
The new logo and visual identity was introduced in the Commission's 2010 Annual Report and its 2011 poster campaign.