B.C. Premier John Horgan announced earlier this month that the province will reinstate its Human Rights Commission.
Like Ontario, B.C. currently has a system where individuals can file complaints directly with the human rights tribunal. Human rights tribunals are adjudicative bodies that address individuals’ concerns in a complaint-driven process involving adversarial proceedings.
The B.C. Human Rights Commission was disbanded by the Liberal government in 2002 as a cost-cutting measure, making B.C. the only province in Canada without a Commission. Critics have noted that this move put the onus on individuals in British Columbia, who may not know their rights or be equipped to advance complaints, to identify and report human rights issues.
Commissions in other provinces, including Ontario, are tasked with promoting human rights through research, policy development, public education, advocacy, and litigation in certain circumstances. They typically target systemic issues of discrimination at the societal level; for example, the Ontario Human Rights Commission recently published a research and consultation report on racial profiling in Ontario.
The B.C. government has initiated a consultation process to determine what the composition and function of the new commission should be. Consultation is expected to begin in September 2017, with new legislation to follow in 2018.
This development signals a renewed willingness by the provincial NDP government in British Columbia to invest resources in promoting human rights.
This may be a positive development in many ways. However, if British Columbia’s new commission were structured similarly to Ontario’s, employers in both provinces should be aware that absent legislation making them so – the policies, guidelines, and position papers published by human rights commissions are not law, and are not binding on the tribunals or the courts.
While such resources can sometimes be helpful, they often make recommendations that go above and beyond what legislation requires. As such, it may be prudent to have your organization’s policies and practices reviewed by a lawyer with expertise in human rights law, to ensure that you are compliant with the legal requirements in your province.