Saturday, May 02, 2009

LibCon 2009: human rights and wrongs

Resolutions today! With two delegates permitted to debate the "pro" side and two the "con."

Resolution 124 in the Priority Policy Resolutions book proposed that two new grounds of discrimination be added to the Canadian Human Rights Act: "type of citizenship status" and "socioeconomic class." It also supported providing the Commission with the ability to follow up and enforce its rulings. It was a confusing resolution, it must be said, with many wrinkles, including making the CHRC accountable to Parliament, which (lawyer Jason Cherniak tells me) is impossible: a judicial body cannot be made accountable to a legislative one.

But the debate, as is often the case, was not about the resolution. It was about the very existence of human rights commissions.

Speakers for the negative had evidently been provided with talking points by the Conservative Party of Canada, wittering on about "abuses" and a "100% conviction rate" and whatnot. (No one is "convicted" under any human rights act, and the "100%," inaccurate even in context, refers exclusively to Section 13 complaints under the CHRA.) Some delegates may have reacted to that sort of thing: in any event, badly constructed as it was, the motion passed.

One delegate in favour was my old friend Wendy Robbins, presently the Coordinator of Women's Studies at the University of New Brunswick.
As an academic, she fought discrimination in the awarding of Canada Research Chairs, and a complaint from her and several other professors before the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2004 led to a mediated settlement in 2006. Yet the problem persists, she informed me: a CHRC with more enforcement power might have been able to resolve the matter more effectively.

Wouldn't "socioeconomic class" create difficulties, such as landlords being subject to complaints from tenants evicted for nonpayment of rent? In her view such a provision would obviously need further definition, but we should look at the problem more broadly. If Ford can suspend monthly car payments when a purchaser loses his or her job, she said, the state should be able to expand that principle to ensure that no one goes without shelter if they become unable to pay for it.

As for the resolution in its entirety, she agreed that there were many things wrong with it. But, as noted, it wasn't being debated.

Next post: One Member, One Vote...sort of

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