GUEST COMMENT: Tribunal makes a difference

Human rights movements around the globe have been pivotal in supporting open, democratic societies.

By Shirley Bond

Human rights movements around the globe have been pivotal in supporting open, democratic societies where individuals can lead safe, happy and fulfilled lives.

The movements have been critical in building societies, including  B.C.’s, that aspire to eliminate discrimination against individuals because of their race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disabilities, sex, sexual orientation or political belief.

Human rights movements have opened employment doors, helped people put roofs over their heads, and curbed exposure to hateful comments and ideas.

Ten years ago, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, as we now know it, was created and the new direct access model – the first of its kind in Canada – strengthened our dispute resolution mechanisms for ensuring that the rights of individuals are protected.

Under the direct access model, human rights complaints go directly to the tribunal, which handles the complaint from start to finish. This process is efficient and accountable.

When reflecting on the services offered by the tribunal, it’s important to understand how it works and what it represents. The tribunal is an independent, quasi-judicial body responsible for screening, mediating and adjudicating human rights complaints in a manner consistent with the purposes as stated in the Human Rights Code.

Its commitment and innovation in providing services to British Columbians is reflected in the number of cases the tribunal addresses annually. In 2011-12, it received almost 1,100 new cases and responded to more than 10,000 telephone and e-mail enquiries.

The most common types of human rights complaints concerned discrimination on the basis of disability (35 per cent), ethnicity (26 per cent), sex and sexual harassment (14 per cent), family and marital status (nine per cent) and age (six per cent).

The tribunal’s commitment to continuous improvement helps to make services to British Columbian’s even better. In recent years, the tribunal has streamlined the way complaints are resolved and results of this reform have been remarkable.

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the direct access model implemented through changes to the Human Rights Code that were brought into force in March 2003, I ask all British Columbians to reflect on how fortunate we are to live in an open and tolerant society, and how important it remains for citizens around the globe to keep challenging the status quo in jurisdictions that don’t have effective human rights protection.

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Shirley Bond is B.C. Minister of Justice and Attorney General.