Things I’d love to see in a reinstated BC Human Rights Commission

The BC Human Rights Commission (BCHRC) was disbanded by the BC Liberal Government in 2002 and replaced with a Human Rights Tribunal amid complaints about a clogged system and public opinion that the Commission was handling outlandish cases such as the protection of transgender rights. It is being reinstated by the BC NDP Government in 2018.

BC needs an adequately–funded and accessible human rights commission which monitors problems and intervenes bindingly to address systemic issues at institutional, policy, and legislative levels. The commission would maintain and operate a low-barrier human rights tribunal for British Columbians to lodge complaints the commission has not already noticed.

I have been advocating for the protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation at municipal, provincial, and federal levels of Government in Canada ever since coming out as transgender some years ago.

I am the Chair of the Trans Alliance Society. I am a past member of the City of Vancouver LGBTQ2+ advisory committee, past executive member and Chair of the Vancouver School Board District Parent Advisory Committee, and have served as advisor to or sit on advisory boards and committees for organizations including the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Canada Blood Services, Vancouver Police Department, Vancouver Pride Society, QMUNITY and the WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre. I am also a Vice-President of the BC New Democratic Party.

I am an educator on the topic of inclusion and anti-oppression and have given non-partisan human-rights and inclusion advice to lawmakers of every political party that has governed in BC or federally in Canada. I am proud of my contributions that led to the passing the BC and Federal law changes that extend explicit protection against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.

I have participated in a number of BC Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT) complaints and am currently engaged in two complaints under the tribunal, both as the complainant. I have also provided peer support to assist persons with a complaint to navigate the tribunal process.

Due In part to my high public profile in this context, I have had the chance to receive the testimony of many persons negatively affected by discrimination on a number of grounds and hope to represent what I have learned in the process. As a transgender woman, I also have first-hand experience with discrimination, stigma, hate, and their consequences.

1. Keep the Tribunal accessible with low barriers.

The BCHRC must not act as a gatekeeper to the BCHRT, yet must oversee it.

A key benefit of the BC Human Rights Tribunal lies in its accessibility to British Columbians. The application process is simple and accessible and quite transparent, albeit intimidating.

I feel very strongly that access to the tribunal should remain unchanged other than some additional functionality provided by the BC Human Rights Commission that facilitates the decision whether to proceed with a complaint. The commission should make available a BCHRT navigator to complainants in order to assist uninitiated persons with the process. This role would be to provide information and guidance about the next steps without providing legal interpretation and to offer information to make the process less intimidating.

It is my strong perception that many valid and important complaints to the BCHRT do not occur because the complainant experiences intimidation.

2. Make the cases proceeding to tribunal accessible as needed via Commission involvement

The BCHRC should provide financial or logistical support for those cases which proceed to the tribunal and which the BCHRC recognizes to be important. Proceeding to the tribunal is an expensive process and a sad reality is that only cases which involve well-funded complainants or which involve complaints of interest to funding organization or law firm interested in the outcome get to tribunal effectively. The BCHRC should also support cases past tribunal into the supreme, appellate courts if the Commission recognizes the importance of doing so. Complainants with valid cases should not be forced to abandon their rights over finances.

3. Ensure the Advocacy role of the Commission.

The mandate of the BCHRC is to eliminate discrimination, not to remain neutral. The BCHRC must act as the champion of those discriminated against. Towards that goal. the BCHRC must have the mandate to address discrimination that has been brought to its attention by others.

This is particularly important when the request comes from individuals who are unable to complain in their own name in a public manner. When complainants are under-resourced but the Commission recognizes a need to do so, the Commission should be able to take a case forward in the public interest.

4. Ensure the Commission is adequately resourced

The previous BCHRC was reportedly bogged down to the point that it undermined the human rights system due to the inability for a complaint to be heard. Without a timely remedy, there is no justice.

5. Ensure the Commission and Tribunal reflects the people who need to access it

The tribunal and the commission need to answer the needs of persons who face discrimination and its decisions need to be informed by the knowledge and experience of those communities. It is critical that its membership is comprised of persons with direct knowledge of discrimination and stigma.

6. Ensure the Commission orders are binding and deadline for implementation

The BC Human Rights Commision must have the ability to make binding rulings which must be implemented within a certain timeline.

7. Give the Commission the authority to implement interim authority

So that its binding orders are respected, interim orders must be available until the legislation can be put into place.

8. Scope of Commission

The scope of the mandate of the BCHRC needs to be all institutions, policies, procedures, and laws in BC that affect the respect of our human rights or harm the ability of British Columbians to live their lives to the fullest because of an inherent aspect of their identity or person. This scope includes policies about documentation or procedures, the need for changes to the law to address unforeseen issues, and the policies of any organization operating within our Province.

9. Vision

When envisioning a functional and effective BC Human Rights Commission, I see an adequately funded and accessible institution which monitors problems related to human rights and proactively bindingly intervenes at policy and legislative levels throughout the province when inadequacies are detected.

I see this institution providing a low-barrier access to remedy through the BC Human Rights Tribunal so that every citizen is able to make a complaint through a tribunal even if the Commission as an institution was unaware of a problem. Those facing Injustice must always have a path for resolution.

Based on my own experience and observations, Had a BC Human Rights Commission been in place and effective when the Trans community needed our Province’s help, a significant number of lives of transgender, two-spirit, and nonbinary persons would have been saved and many, many people would be in a better situation today than they are.

The case of transgender persons in British Columbia illustrates clearly the gaps in our current and past situations. Because since 2002 there was no institution assuring oversight of the individual human rights cases coming forward and because there was no institution with binding authority to address these cases at a systems level, successive Governments failed to respond to the plight of transgender persons.

For decades, individuals were forced to endure profound injustices of all kinds because the discrimination they faced over their gender identity or gender expression. The transgender community was made to wait until enough provable cases surfaced with individuals who were willing to put forward in order to make a case for advocacy to change the BC Human Rights Code. Those individuals complained at significant personal cost to themselves.

It is profoundly unjust to allow people to be harmed and then ask them to face an unsympathetic public opinion on their own in order to help improve the situation for their community.

Had the BC Human Rights Commission been in place, the commission would have recognized a pattern of discrimination earlier and would have acted, ordering Government to enact the protections that we finally won in 2016 in BC and in 2017 federally in all Canada. I very much look forward to seeing an effective and binding BC Human Rights Commission reinstated in the new year that will provide an accessible remedy to human-rights injustices for all British Columbians independant of their means.

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