The B.C. government has begun to restore B.C.’s Human Rights Commission, in addition to the Human Rights Tribunal that decides cases of discrimination brought forward by complainants.
“Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Attorney General David Eby, who presented legislation to establish an independent commissioner Thursday.
At a ceremony at the B.C. legislature, Eby said the restoration of the commission that was disbanded in 2002 comes at an appropriate time, with a “rising tide of hate” against ethnic and religious groups evident around the world.
A key task of the commission is “a public education function to reach out proactively to affected groups or individuals, but also to businesses, to community groups, to schools, to educate people about the importance of British Columbia being a welcoming place for everybody, where everybody has equality of opportunity,” Eby said.
Among the speakers was Jason Murray, chair of the B.C. Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. He said education is important to move society away from the kind of ethnic and religious hatred that led to the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27.
Another speaker was Sara Robinson, a member of the Saulteaux and Fort Nelson First Nations in northern B.C., and a member of Eby’s advisory committee on the project. She said the commission is an asset in helping Indigenous women gain equality.
“Here in Canada, for 116 years, colonial legislation discriminated against Indigenous women and girls, and that created patterns of devaluation and violence that continue today,” Robinson said. “And we remain eight times more likely than the average woman for a violent incident to end in our murder.”
Former B.C. Liberal attorney general Geoff Plant phased out the commission in 2002, firing former commissioner Mary-Woo Sims after a series of controversial decisions. They included awarding $30,000 for lost wages and hurt feelings to a store clerk who refused to put poinsettias on display because he believed it violated his religious beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.
The new commissioner is to be an independent officer of the B.C. legislature, similar to the auditor general and other officers who are selected by an all-party committee.