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BC HUMAN RIGHTS INFORMATION
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Liberals shake up human-rights tribunal
Straight.com - by Charlie Smith - July 15, 2010
The chair, Heather MacNaughton, will lose her post, causing some to
worry about more changes to come
By Charlie Smith
B.C. has lost human-rights protections, according to advocate
The B.C. government has declined to reappoint the chair of the B.C.
Human Rights Tribunal, Heather MacNaughton, as well as another
tribunal member, Judith Parrack. This has some human-rights experts
concerned about what this means for the future of the nine-member
quasi-judicial body, which issues legally binding decisions.
MacNaughton wasn’t available for comment, but hers and Parrack’s
departures were confirmed to the Georgia Straight by Bill Black, an
internationally renowned human-rights expert and professor emeritus
at the UBC law school. Their terms end on July 31.
“I think Heather did a superb job,” Black said by phone.
MacNaughton, a former chair of the Ontario Human Rights Board of
Inquiry, was appointed chair of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in
2000. When then–attorney general Geoff Plant abolished the B.C.
Human Rights Commission in 2003, MacNaughton created a model by
which complainants could go directly to the tribunal.
“She made the direct-access model work—where you don’t go through a
commission—as well as it’s capable of working,” Black said. “She
insisted on a merit process of hiring tribunal members.”
Parrack, a former lawyer with the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy
Centre, was appointed to the tribunal in 2004.
On June 30, the British Columbia Law Institute announced that the
Ministry of Labour had asked it to conduct legal research into
workplace dispute-resolution mechanisms in B.C. Currently, the B.C.
Human Rights Tribunal can issue rulings when employees file
discrimination complaints against their employers.
Less than two weeks later, on July 12, the B.C. government posted an
advertisement for a new part-time chair of the tribunal on the Web
site of the Board Resourcing and Development Office. Black pointed
out that hiring part-time chairs for human-rights tribunals hasn’t
worked very well in other provinces.
“People don’t get the expertise,” he said. “Sometimes there can be
Vancouver lawyer Lindsay Lyster resigned from the tribunal in March.
In a phone interview with the Straight, she said there is “a great
deal of uncertainty” about how human-rights cases will be dealt with
in the future.
“I think the public should be asking questions,” Lyster stated.
“What are the government’s intentions with respect to the future of
the protection of human rights in this province? What mechanisms do
they intend to have in place to ensure that people have access to
justice in the form of human rights? I have no idea what the answers
to these questions might be. But what I do know is those questions
need to be asked because the things that I am seeing are disturbing
Shelagh Day, senior editor of the Canadian Human Rights Reporter,
told the Straight by phone that the B.C. Liberal government has
already done a “lot of damage to human-rights institutions in this
province” by abolishing the B.C. Human Rights Commission. “I’m very
concerned about what’s happening to human-rights complainants and
what will happen to them in the future in terms of legal
representation,” Day said.
Attorney General Mike de Jong did not return a phone call from the
Straight by deadline. The B.C. Law Institute declined the Straight’s
request for an interview on what its review of workplace
dispute-resolution mechanisms might involve.
Former attorney general Plant, who is on the institute’s board,
works at the Vancouver law firm Heenan Blaikie. One of his partners
in the firm, lawyer Peter Gall, has coauthored a paper calling for a
new tribunal that would deal with labour relations, human rights,
and employment standards.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Gall said that such a
tribunal would be more efficient because it would eliminate overlap
in the jurisdictions of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, the B.C.
Labour Relations Board, and the Employment Standards Tribunal.
“I’m just heartened that the government is—at least to the extent of
sending it out for comment [through the B.C. Law Institute]—looking
at this,” Gall said. “I don’t know whether they’ll ever do
When asked if he ever raises the issue with Plant at his law firm,
Gall replied, “I pound away at him all the time. I say to him,
‘Geoff, why didn’t you do this when you were the attorney general?’
He said he had enough on his plate.”
Day said she disagrees with Gall’s proposal because human-rights
tribunal members bring a very different perspective than labour
adjudicators, who she said are mainly concerned with “labour peace”.
Black said he thinks it’s a “bad idea” to create a “super-tribunal”
to deal with human rights, labour relations, and employment
standards. He pointed out that members of human-rights tribunals
have expertise in this area, which might not necessarily be the case
with a labour arbitrator.
“In a labour model, you have two strong advocates on either side:
the union and the employer,” Black added. “And that isn’t true in
human rights. In other words, how would an individual who thought
they were being discriminated against by an employer be able to take
on that kind of thing?”
He also pointed out that people who aren’t represented by a lawyer,
whether they are complainants or small-business respondents, have a
far smaller chance of winning. He also worries about what would
happen to human-rights complaints that don’t deal with employment,
such as those that involve housing and public services.
“I don’t like dividing responsibility for human rights,” Black said.
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