Global body reviewing Canada's human-rights credentials over discrimination complaint

OTTAWA — A global human-rights alliance affiliated with the United Nations says it is reviewing the Canadian Human Rights Commission's compliance with international principles.

The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions says it is deciding whether the Canadian agency still deserves an "A" rating, which allows it to participate in bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council.

The accreditation review comes after a coalition of human-rights organizations submitted a complaint about anti-Black discrimination within the commission.

"With this international review, the Canadian government is now on notice," said Nicholas Marcus Thompson, the executive director of the Black Class Action Secretariat.

"It cannot claim to be a global leader in human rights while discriminating against its own right here at home."

A coalition of federal unions and organizations representing some 700,000 employees filed the complaint earlier this year, saying that the Canadian Human Rights Commission is violating global law for its treatment of Black employees.

The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions received the request, and wrote in a report the information "raises concerns about the continued compliance of the CHRC with the Paris Principles, including its ability to conduct its mandate in an efficient manner and its perceived credibility in tackling systemic human rights violations."

Because of that, it is initiating a "special review."

A December Senate report on anti-Black racism in the commission found a "crisis of confidence" in the body and questioned its ability to respond to human-rights complaints in a "fair and equitable manner."

The study was prompted by grievances against the commission about its treatment of Black and racialized employees.

Senators found some employees were harmed by their employer, and the report noted that workplace discrimination can have significant and lasting effects.

"It is never acceptable, yet it is a daily fact of life for many Black and racialized people in Canada," the report said.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission said in a statement it continues to operate with its "A" status, and that special reviews are meant to address concerns in a timely manner.

"We fully support the GANHRI accreditation process and believe that all (National Human Rights Institutions) must be accountable for demonstrating their ongoing compliance with the Paris Principles when concerns are raised by civil society," the commission said.

"We welcome the subcommittee’s special review and look forward to providing them with information about our work addressing systemic anti-Black racism within our organization as an employer, in our complaints handling function, and in our advocacy role as Canada’s National Human Rights Institution."

The coalition, meanwhile, wants Canada to move to a direct-access model at the commission, and to expedite reforms to the Employment Equity Act.

Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan, who released the Employment Equity Act Review Task Force's final report late last year, said his government would work toward recognizing Black and LGBTQ+ people in two new designated groups under the act.

Legislation to that effect has not yet been introduced, but a spokesperson for his office said O'Regan is continuing to meet with communities to inform it.

"We look forward to tabling government legislation that is comprehensive of the needs of marginalized communities across Canada, and knocks down the barriers that prevent people from achieving their full potential in the workplace," they said in a statement.

The coalition also wants Canada to appoint a Black equity commissioner to serve as an independent officer of Parliament.

Thompson said that office must have the power to police the Canadian public service, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and all levels of government.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2024.

Alessia Passafiume, The Canadian Press