View Point

Commentary on new developments in human rights law published in the Human Rights Digest newsletter.

In her 2011 June Status Report, the Auditor General of Canada, Sheila Fraser, reported that there is no progress towards improving conditions on First Nations reserves in Canada. The report shows that despite 10 years of Auditor General’s recommendations “services available on reserves are often not comparable to those provided off reserves by provinces and municipalities. Conditions on reserves have remained poor". Ms. Fraser concluded that “change is needed if First Nations are to experience more meaningful outcomes from the services they receive.”

Just about a week later, on June 18, the protections of the Canadian Human Rights Act finally became available to First Nations and other Aboriginal people, giving them the same human rights protections as everyone else in Canada. Since 1977, s. 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act barred human rights complaints from being filed against either the federal government or Band Councils when they were acting under the Indian Act. While this bar was intended to be temporary, it lasted until 2008, and even when it was finally removed by legislation, because of a three-year transition period, the Act did not fully apply until a week ago.

The question is: will human rights protections help First Nations people to prod the federal government into action? As the Auditor General points out, there is no improvement, indeed conditions may be worse. Real, sustained, and effective measures are needed to address the shamefully poor level and quality of basic services that First Nations people receive on reserves.

David Langtry, Acting Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, writing in The Globe and Mail, argues that the Canadian Human Rights Act can and should be pivotal in changing the “chronic disparities in funding for health, education and social services for more than 700,000 First Nations”. These chronic disparities — the same ones noted by the Auditor General — are, he says the product of “entrenched discriminatory policies". Human rights legislation should be a motivator for the Government of Canada. Having bound itself by law not to discriminate against First Nations people on reserve, specifically with respect to the provision of services, the Government should be, finally, swinging into action.

Instead, we are forced to witness government hypocrisy. On the one hand, in a news release the government called the legislation which repealed s. 67 "another step by this Government to empower First Nations individuals and…a significant step to improving their lives". On the other hand, the Government fights like a mad dog when a complaint is filed alleging that the government discriminates in the funding it provides for child welfare services for First Nations people. (First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada v. Canada (Attorney General) (No. 2) (2011), CHRR Doc. 11-3017, 2011 CHRT 4).

Far from being motivated to act by its own human rights law, the Government is signalling that any victories that come from it will have to be fought for by First Nations people, every step of the way. The Government likes the sentiment of the Act apparently, but resents its use.

At least, it is encouraging to see that First Nations people have the Canadian Human Rights Commission on their side, ready to advocate for them, and apparently ready to take up the legal cudgels, when necessary.


“The mirthless sitting in adjudication over the mirth-makers.”

This is Rex Murphy’s characterization, in a Globe and Mail column, of Lorna Pardy’s complaint that she was discriminated against by Guy Earle during an 'open mic' "comedy" show in Vancouver. Murphy understands this complaint as further evidence of Canada’s "human rights insanity".

It’s true that reading the Tribunal’s decision on the Pardy case (CHRR Doc. 11-0101) does render one mirthless. It is difficult to imagine laughing in response to comments like: "Do you have a strap-on? You can take your girlfriend home and fuck her in the ass". Or: "Are you on the rag; is that why you're being such a fucking cunt?" Who laughs when they are called: "stupid fucking dyke cunts?" If these comments are funny, then it’s probably true that human rights laws, and the adjudicators of them, lack humour.

A number of the people who were witnesses did not seem to find Mr. Earle’s comments funny either. They testified before the Tribunal that some people who were in the restaurant that night got up and left, and others, including some performers, went over to Ms. Pardy’s table and apologized to her for Earle’s conduct.

Earle claimed in his defence that "it was his job as host to engage anyone he judged as potentially disruptive, and quiet them". But, as the Tribunal pointed out there were measures well short of repeated, demeaning insults that could have been used to maintain order, if that had been the issue.

The Tribunal did not find that maintaining order was the issue. Although the complaint has been referred to as “the case of the heckled comic”, the evidence was that Mr. Earle started the comments about Ms. Pardy and her companions; she did not provoke or invite them.

She did respond. When he came down off the stage and angrily approached the table where she and her friends were sitting, Ms. Pardy told him "not to come near them" and threw a glass of water in his face. This happened twice. The Tribunal does not excuse this, but does not find that Ms. Pardy’s responses justify the facts of Earle’s conduct.

He made two sets of comments from the stage directed at Ms. Pardy and her friends, which insulted and denigrated them because of their sex and sexual orientation. He then cornered Ms. Pardy off stage, physically intimidated and verbally abused her, referring to her as a "fucking stupid dyke", grabbed and broke her sunglasses, and threw them on the floor.

Guy Earle says he will appeal the Tribunal’s ruling that his conduct was discriminatory. If he does, it will be interesting to see how the case fares in court. A lot of people will feel that even though comics need some latitude, Earle crossed a line, one that is worth holding. In this case, Earle’s sexist and homophobic insults were not funny, and not justified as a means of keeping order. They created an atmosphere of discrimination and intimidation for women in a neighbourhood restaurant where they expected to be treated with respect.


The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s decision (First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada v. Canada (Attorney General) (No. 3), CHRR Doc. 11-3017) to dismiss the complaint of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society ("FNCFCS") without a full hearing is an alarming one. It is common knowledge that child welfare services on reserves are deficient, and programs that reduce the risk of removal of children from their families are lacking. The Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations say that funding provided by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (“INAC”) is patently inadequate. They compare INAC’s funding for child welfare to the funding provinces provide to children living off reserve.

Shirish Chotalia determined that this complaint failed at the preliminary stage on the comparator issue. She found that in order to show “adverse differentiation” the Canadian Human Rights Act requires a comparison be made. But, Ms. Chotalia ruled, the Act does not allow a comparison between two different service providers with two different recipient groups. Federal funding goes to on-reserve First Nations children. Provincial funding goes to children who live off-reserve. These two cannot be compared. On this ground, she dismissed the complaint without a hearing.

Ms. Chotalia’s decision certainly reflects the usual way that comparisons have been made in human rights cases. Typically, the comparison is between different levels of service provided to different groups by the same service provider.

However, now that s. 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act has been repealed and on-reserve First Nations people can finally make complaints against the federal government, some new thinking is required. It is necessary to recognize that Indians living on reserve are in a unique, and uniquely disadvantaged, position. In complaints against the federal government, what comparisons can they make?

In its recent decision in Withler v. Canada (Attorney General), 2011 SCC 12, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that sometimes comparator group analysis can sink a case for the wrong reasons. The SCC reiterated that the focus of an equality inquiry is the actual impact of a law to determine whether it perpetuates disadvantage. If this reasoning applies here, the comparison with provincial funding was pertinent, as it clearly demonstrated that there is a standard for child welfare services set by other governments that the federal government falls below. As such, the comparison was a way of exposing inequity, of showing that on-reserve children carry a burden that others do not.

Most importantly, however, Ms. Chotalia’s approach puts First Nations people who live on reserve in an impossible position. Because of the history of colonization, they have a unique and exclusive relationship with the federal government. By denying that any comparison is possible between levels of service provided by the federal government to those living on reserve and by provincial governments to other Canadians, the Tribunal grants a kind of immunity to the federal government with respect to its treatment of First Nations people. Ms. Chotalia’s ruling seems to mean that on-reserve First Nations people can receive poorer services than other Canadians, but this cannot be challenged as discriminatory. It has broad implications for the fairness and adequacy of on-reserve policing, health, and education.

The complainants and the Canadian Human Rights Commission have announced that they will appeal this decision. Hopefully, some brave, new thinking will emerge.


In Reference Re The Marriage Act, 1995 (Sask.), CHRR Doc. 11-3000, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that, if it were amended to permit marriage commissioners to refuse to perform same-sex marriages for religious reasons, the Marriage Act would be unconstitutional. The Government of Saskatchewan asked the Court’s opinion on proposed amendments in the wake of a successful human rights complaint (67 C.H.R.R. D/339) against marriage commissioner Orville Nichols, who refused to perform a marriage between two men, and a constitutional challenge commenced by Orville Nichols and other marriage commissioners alleging that the Government’s requirement that they solemnize same-sex marriages is a breach of their right to freedom of religion under s. 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Court of Appeal issued two concurring judgments. Both found that the proposed amendments would violate the s. 15 equality rights of gay men and lesbians and could not be justified under s. 1 of the Charter. But there is an interesting difference in reasoning between the majority and minority judges.

The majority says that the objective of the amendments is to accommodate the religious beliefs of marriage commissioners. It finds that this is a “pressing and substantial objective” as required by the first step of the Oakes test. The majority goes on to rule that the amendments would not minimally impair the rights of gay men and lesbians, nor would the benefits to the commissioners outweigh the harmful effects, and so the amendments cannot be justified under s. 1.

Taking a different approach, the minority writes that in Charter cases that turn on a s. 1 justification, examination of whether the objective of the legislation is “pressing and substantial” has become truncated. So long as the legislation in question reflects some legitimate governmental concern, courts have been content to pass on to the next questions.

But the minority judges want to scrutinize the objective. They say that the objective of the proposed legislation is not to accommodate marriage commissioners but, more specifically, to permit them to refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies for religious reasons. They question the validity of that goal.

Marriage commissioners are appointed to perform non-religious marriages; the requirement to do so does not limit or restrict their religious beliefs. They are not required to engage in the action that they consider sinful (same-sex marriage). They object that it is sinful for others to engage in such activity. The interference with the religious beliefs of marriage commissioners may be considered trivial, because their actual religious beliefs and conduct are not directly threatened.

The minority also asks why it is important to protect the right of marriage commissioners to refuse to perform civil same-sex marriage because they do not, on religious grounds, approve of them. The same argument could be invoked by anyone running a restaurant or offering an apartment for rent. No one else is permitted by law to refuse to provide a public service to same-sex couples because they do not approve of their relationship on religious grounds.

The right to act on religious beliefs is limited when it infringes on the rights of others. In the view of the minority judges, the legislative objective of the Government’s proposed amendments is not of sufficient importance to justify infringing the rights of gay men and lesbians.


Every jurisdiction in Canada has human rights tribunals, with accessible informal hearing procedures, to adjudicate discrimination complaints at first instance. This is in keeping with the informal adjudicatory justice systems in place across Canada for all sorts of protective regulatory statutes. A few months ago the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Conway, 2010 SCC 22 expressed confidence in all such adjudicatory bodies by giving them full jurisdiction under the Charter of Rights unless their governing statutes explicitly said otherwise. Quebec experimented with and then abandoned the notion that the courts were a more appropriate forum for human rights inquiries. In the name of access to justice, some jurisdictions have allowed direct access to human rights tribunals; eliminating the "gate keeper" function of the human rights commission in determining which complaints “merit” a hearing. However, Saskatchewan is not attuned to any aspect of this state of administrative affairs; a different and distant drummer appeals to its ear. On November 29, 2010, Justice Minister Don Morgan introduced Bill 160.

Bill 160 scraps the Human Rights Tribunal along with its informal rules of evidence in favour of the Court of Queen’s Bench governed by The Queen’s Bench Rules of Court. To be clear, lawyers, and no one else get to play in this court and under these voluminous rules. Bill 160 leaves a little bit of discretionary space for a party to appear before the court “with the assistance of a third party other than counsel … if the court considers it appropriate in the circumstances and subject to any conditions that the court considers necessary”. Just how much more accessible this discretionary exception may make the high court remains to be seen. Hearings will be held only at judicial centres; whereas the human rights tribunals travelled to where the complaint arose; however remote the location. And, not only is the gate-keeping function retained, two extra new grounds for dismissal of a complaint are given to the Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. And, for good measure, such a dismissal decision is to be absolutely final; unlike the status quo where a dismissal decision is subject to review by the Human Rights Tribunal.

Bill 160 invites an ironic reading as it also makes consequential amendments to The Labour Standards Act which do march to the common Canadian drummer of establishing informal administrative adjudicatory mechanisms for the hearing of complaints under regulatory legislation. This begs the question why the different and distant drummer for human rights complaints? A report entitled Workplace Dispute Resolution Project, published November 2, 2010, by the British Columbia Law Institute, notes — in response to the notion that the B.C. human rights tribunal ought to be scrapped in favour of an omnibus workplace tribunal — that such a drastic step ought to be undertaken only after the publication of a study paper and a full consultation process. By the way, none of the last five full external reviews of human rights processes in Canada have seen any merit in abandoning human rights tribunal systems in favour of high courts! 


Is adverse effects being shunted aside in the analysis of discrimination? A recent judgment from the Ontario Court of Appeal in Ontario (Disability Support Program) v. Tranchemontagne (CHRR Doc. 10-3523) arouses this concern.

The Court ruled that the Ontario Disability Support Program (“ODSP”) violated the Code because it denied benefits to people whose sole disability was alcoholism or drug addiction. This is a positive outcome, but there are troubling aspects of the Court’s discussion of the test for a prima facie case.

There are new pressures to reformulate what is required to prove discrimination. First, because it has become more difficult to show that the duty to accommodate has been met, those defending themselves against complaints are making new challenges to the steps in the discrimination analysis that precede the duty to accommodate stage. Second, there is a need to find some consistency between tests for discrimination under s. 15 of the Charter under human rights legislation, particularly when a program or benefit is at issue that could be challenged under either one.

The center of the concern seems to be ensuring that before one gets to statutory defences or to s. 1 of the Charter, a complainant has been required to show not just a distinction on a prohibited ground but a substantive harm that is related to the ground. It is hard to take exception to this. But adjudicators and courts keep wrestling with what is required to establish the substantive harm.

In McGill University Health Centre (59 C.H.R.R. D/259), Justice Abella wrote that at the heart of the definition of discrimination is an understanding that a workplace practice or requirement must not disadvantage an individual “by attributing stereotypical or arbitrary characteristics”. This fostered subsequent claims that there is now a separate requirement in human rights law to show that adverse treatment was based on arbitrariness or stereotypical presumptions. The B.C. Court of Appeal in Armstrong (67 C.H.R.R. D/332) rejected this claim.

But in Tranchemontagne the Ontario C.A. says: “the prima facie case test involves ... demonstrating a distinction that creates a disadvantage by perpetuating prejudice or stereotyping”.

The problem is that fixing on stereotyping or prejudice takes us backwards, back to motivation and intention. One may argue that stereotypes of some kind are always present in discrimination cases. That may be so, but they are often so deeply buried in the structure of workplaces or services as to be indiscernible. Was Via Rail’s purchase of new train coaches that were not fully accessible based on a stereotype of train travelers as able-bodied (59 C.H.R.R. D/276)? Was Simpsons- Sears’ requirement that employees work Friday evenings and Saturdays based on a stereotype of religious observance as always occurring on Sundays ("O'Malley", 7 C.H.R.R. D/3102)? Maybe, but certainly Via Rail and Simpsons-Sears thought that they were making decisions based on objective criteria about expense and scheduling needs.

It is crucial not to push aside the wisdom of 25 years of human rights doctrine. In O’Malley the Supreme Court said that a rule, neutral on its face and honestly made, can have discriminatory effects. It is the result or the effect of an act that is important in determining whether discrimination has occurred. Nothing has altered the fundamentality of this principle.


The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal just issued a new decision (Johnstone v. Canada Border Services Agency, CHRR Doc. 10-3507) on family status discrimination that is incisive and helpful.  The ruling, if implemented by Canadian employers, could make a big difference to the lives of parents with young children, especially women.

To date adjudicators have been slow, if not reluctant, to require employers to accommodate the needs of parents with young children when they conflict with workplace rules.  Women with children now participate in the Canadian workforce in record numbers, and women are still the ones principally responsible for child care. But the duty to accommodate has not yet been applied with care and rigour to work/life balance issues.

Fiona Johnstone worked full-time at Canada Border Services Agency ("CBSA") on rotating shifts until she had two young children. The shifts were irregular and unpredictable. After the children were born, Ms. Johnstone needed accommodation in her shift schedule so that she could arrange for child care. But the CBSA had an unwritten policy that workers who could not work the variable shift schedule because of child care could only work part-time or take unpaid leave. The CBSA refused to accommodate Ms. Johnstone so that she could work full-time, maintain her pension benefits and opportunities for promotion and training, and arrange child care.

The Tribunal rejected both the CBSA’s interpretation of family status protection and “the Campbell River approach” that was set out by the B.C. Court of Appeal in 2004 (50 C.H.R.R. D/140). The CBSA argued that employees who need accommodation for child care responsibilities are not protected by human rights legislation.  Parents of young children, according to the CBSA, “make their own choices”. "Family status" only protects workers from discrimination based on the "status" of being a parent, not from adverse effects because of the actual responsibility that being a parent entails. 

But the Tribunal disagreed, finding that the ground "family status" does protect workers from discrimination because of the needs and obligations they have as parents.  The Tribunal also rejected the “Campbell River approach” which requires not just a showing that a work requirement interferes with a parental obligation, but that it seriously interferes. Ms. Johnstone should not have to tolerate some undefined amount of discrimination before gaining protection.

There has been bad faith and institutional foot-dragging here. The CBSA, and earlier departments that performed the same function, were required after the 1993 decision in Brown (19 C.H.R.R. D/39)to develop a policy of accommodation for family status. A model policy was developed, then buried and never implemented, and instead an unwritten, discriminatory policy was followed. Seventeen years later, the Tribunal has ordered the CBSA, again, to develop written policies on family status.

If conflicts between work rules and parental obligations were individually assessed, and if parental obligations to young children were accommodated by employers in a timely way, as the Tribunal rulingrequires, Johnstone could be as important to advancing women’s equality in the workplace as the early rulings on pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment.  But CBSA has already appealed, and this one seems destined for the Supreme Court of Canada.


Earlier this year, we asked whether it was time to go into worry mode about Canada’s human rights institutions. We now answer that question with an unequivocal “yes”.

Here are the developments that cause concern:

  • As previously reported, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Justice proposes to dismantle the Human Rights Tribunal and send complaints directly to the courts. The legal amendments necessary to abolish the Tribunal and reroute complaints have not yet been introduced in the Legislature, but they are actively under consideration. If Saskatchewan sends complaints to the courts, it will be a significant blow to the infrastructure of human rights institutions in Canada, and it will put more obstacles in the path of those who need to use their rights. 
  • The B.C. Law Institute has been asked by the Ministry of Labour to conduct “research and analysis in relation to workplace dispute resolution mechanisms in British Columbia”. The disputes in question include human rights employment complaints. The request from the Ministry follows publication by Peter Gall, an employer-side lawyer at Heenan Blaikie, of a paper claiming that labour adjudicators should have “not just the authority to deal with allegations of human rights violations in the workplace, but the exclusive jurisdiction to do so”. Mr. Gall, who regularly represents the Government of British Columbia in labour matters, is calling for a specialized workplace tribunal to displace the Human Rights Tribunal entirely on employment issues, and for other human rights complaints to be sent to the courts.
  • At the same time, Heather MacNaughton, the widely respected Chair of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, was not re-appointed. So human rights watchers now speculate that British Columbia also plans to dismantle its Tribunal.
  • As noted in last month’s Digest, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, in Canada (Attorney General) v. Mowat, will argue at the Supreme Court of Canada, that the Canadian Tribunal should be able to award compensation for legal costs. The unfortunate result, if the Canadian Human Rights Commission is successful, is that human rights complaints will be viewed increasingly as strictly private, that is, as claims that are devoid of any public policy dimension. This is contrary to the view embedded in Canadian human rights jurisprudence: namely, that a human rights proceeding cannot be equated with a lis between parties in a court, because the ultimate goal is the promotion of human rights for the benefit of the community as a whole. See, for example, La Forest J., Scowby v. Glendinning (1986), 8 C.H.R.R. D/3677 (S.C.C.).

    The Canadian Human Rights Commission is making the case for Mowat getting costs from the respondent because she successfully proved that she was discriminated against. Instead, it should be making the case for the Commission having sufficient resources to ensure that all complainants get publicly funded representation before the Tribunal. There is no certainty of success in a human rights complaint. The public interest in the elimination of discrimination is not served when Canadians cannot afford to take the risk of seeking vindication of their rights.

The effect of shutting down Tribunals, sending human rights complainants to courts, and using legal costs as a substitute for public access, will be to weaken Canada’s system of human rights laws and discourage Canadians from using them.


The Supreme Court of Canada has granted leave to appeal from the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in Canada (Attorney General) v. Mowat (CHRR Doc. 09-2970) overturned a remedial award by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRR Doc. 06-757) to Donna Mowat for legal costs. This appeal will allow the Supreme Court to engage with the effects of the Commission’s decision not to represent human rights complainants.

Donna Mowat is a former Master Corporal with the Canadian Forces. In 1998 she filed a complaint alleging sex discrimination and sexual harassment. The Commission did not appear, and Mowat retained counsel. She was only partially successful. The Tribunal awarded her $4,000 for injury to dignity, and $47,000 for legal costs.

The Attorney General of Canada appealed on the grounds that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to award legal costs. TheCanadian Human Rights Act permits awards for “expenses incurred”, but “legal costs”, the Attorney General argued, are not included in this more general term.

The Court of Appeal took note of the reasons given by the Tribunal for awarding costs. Since the Commission no longer represents complainants, they must represent themselves in complex matters, or hire a lawyer. And, even if Parliament did not intend the Tribunal to award costs when the Commission represented all complainants, it surely did not mean to restrict the power to award costs when Commission counsel does not represent them.

Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal ruled that the decision about whether the Tribunal can make an award for legal costs is Parliament’s to make.

This is an important case for members of disadvantaged groups.  Access to the use of legal rights is severely curtailed at the moment. But are awards of costs the best way to fix this fundamental access problem?

On the one hand, Mowat’s claim for an award of legal costs is sympathetic. Challenging the Canadian Forces, with all its resources, Mowat could not effectively exercise her right to be free from discrimination unless she engaged legal counsel. However, if she, and others like her, have to bear the cost of legal representation, without any possibility of compensation, they cannot afford to exercise their rights. On the other hand, approval from the SCC for an award of costs will signal acceptance that human rights complaints are merely disputes between private parties, where parties should pay their own costs, or obtain costs from each other when they are successful.

This private law approach can provide only a very unsatisfactory “fix”. Complainants will never receive compensation for their full legal costs. They will not know at the outset whether they will receive reimbursement, and will be discouraged from proceeding.

The most important loss here, however, is the loss of the understanding that human rights claimants are not simply acting in their own interests. They are also serving the public, community interest in identifying and eliminating discriminatory practices.

Human rights legislation is fundamental public policy; upholding that public policy is of concern to everyone. To remove publicly-funded counsel from complainants, and to treat them as though they have mere private interests, weakens human rights law at its roots.


On April 16, 2010, the Globe and Mail wrote about David Arnot’s recent recommendation that the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal be eliminated and all human rights complaints be sent to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

According to the Globe and Mail, Arnot, Saskatchewan’s Chief Commissioner and a judge himself, “raises legitimate concerns about the resources and abilities of the tribunals. Tribunal members tend to be political appointees without the security of tenure. This, combined with an accompanying lack of legal resources and expertise, shortchanges the system and erodes public confidence….Putting cases directly in the hands of experienced judges would immediately boost the credibility of the human rights process in all provinces”.

These arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. Tribunal members, of course, are political appointees, as are chief commissioners, judges, ombudspersons, and auditors-general. Do tribunal members have adequate security of tenure to be considered independent? The requirements for considering a Tribunal independent and impartial were thoroughly canvassed in Bell Canada v. C.T.E.A. (46 C.H.R.R. D/495). In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal was independent because its members had fixed terms and their remuneration was not determined by their performance on the Tribunal. What is necessary to ensure that a Tribunal is independent and impartial is settled law. Saskatchewan’s system complies with the criteria set out by the Supreme Court of Canada.

If it is true that the Tribunal lacks legal resources or expertise, who is responsible? The Government of Saskatchewan controls the appointments and allocates the resources. If Saskatchewan does not have an effective Tribunal right now, and this claim may be spurious, the Government has only itself to blame. At different times, governments of different political stripes have sabotaged their own human rights institutions – by starving them of resources, by appointing people to commission or tribunal positions who lack courage or commitment. It is an old political trick of governments to turn on watch-dog institutions that they have themselves deliberately undermined, declare them dysfunctional, and eliminate them.

Putting cases directly in the hands of “experienced” judges is a bad idea, for a number of reasons. First, as University of Saskatchewan professor Ken Norman has pointed out in his op ed piece in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, compared with a Tribunal member who hears only human rights cases, a judge will simply never acquire the same level of specialized expertise — thus, “experienced” is a misnomer.

Second, how are human rights complainants going to deal with courts? At this point the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission represents complainants at adjudication. The B.C. experience is that going to adjudication without legal representation means losing. The 2006-2007 Annual Report of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal noted that in every case where the respondent had legal representation and the complainant did not, the complainant lost. That is, before a tribunal. How much more difficult will it be for complainants to take human rights cases to court without legal representation? Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan is dealing with this as though it is a minor, not a central issue. But access to justice for human rights complainants is at risk all over Canada, and now certainly in Saskatchewan.


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