British Columbia to Reinstate Human Rights Commission

The provincial government recently announced plans to reinstate the British Columbia Human Rights Commission following a 15 year hiatus. British Columbia is the only province in Canada without a human rights commission.

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has been responsible for resolving complaints of discrimination in British Columbia since the Human Rights Commission was disbanded in 2002. The key distinction between a human rights commission and human rights tribunal is that a tribunal serves an adjudicative function (i.e., it acts like a court) whereas a commission generally has a broader mandate that includes education, investigations and complaint screening. For example, commissions frequently draft papers and conduct research that assist in policy development.

Not all human rights commissions are the same. Some commissions in Canada are involved in the adjudication process while others are not. For example, both Ontario and the federal government have a commission and tribunal. However, in Ontario, complaints of discrimination are filed directly with the Tribunal while the Commission works to promote the advancement of human rights. Federally, complaints are filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission – not the tribunal. The Commission may conduct an investigation and refer the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for formal adjudication if it believes the compliant has merit. Otherwise, the Commission will dismiss the complaint.

Complaints of discrimination in British Columbia are made directly to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. This is known as a direct access system. It is unknown whether reinstating the Human Rights Commission would return British Columbia to a two-step adjudication process or whether the Human Rights Commission would be an arm’s length organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights.

The government expects to commence a consultation process with stakeholders and the public in September. A bill introducing new legislation is expected in 2018.

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