Canadian Human Rights Commission

The Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Tribunal Panel were established under the 1977 Canadian Human Rights Act to investigate and resolve individual complaints about discriminatory employment practices. It is mandated to promote equal opportunities and access to government services to all, including women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities. The tribunal may review the directions given by the commission to an employer on the subject of employment equity and choose to affirm, rescind or amend that body's direction. The commission is responsible for implementing education and discrimination prevention programs, while issues such as accommodation for environmental sensitivities in the workplace and combating hate on the Internet are newer areas of commission inquiry.

From 1988 to 1997 the Canadian Human Rights Commission received 7450 signed complaints, apart from those regarding pay equity, and made final decisions on 6550: two-thirds of the complaints were not proceeded with or were dismissed, and about 6% of the cases were sent on to the Human Rights Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body, for inquiry. In July 1998 the tribunal ordered the federal government to recompense some 200 000 past and present public service workers who had been underpaid as the result of discriminatory practices. Both the commission and the tribunal attempt when possible to settle complaints through mediation. In 2005-06 settlements were reached for 23 of the 35 mediations undertaken by the tribunal. Mediation and conciliation have gained in importance with rising demands. Between 2003 and 2005 the tribunal received the highest-ever number of new complaints, representing a 174% increase in cases over the average of 44.7 cases per year during the preceding 7 years.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission consists of up to a maximum of 8 commissioners appointed by governor in council, including a chief commissioner with deputy minister status and a staff of approximately 170 in offices throughout the country. An independent agency reporting to Parliament through the minister of justice, the commission's jurisdiction applies to federal government departments and agencies and Crown corporations, as well as to businesses under federal jurisdiction, such as banks, airlines, broadcasting organizations and interprovincial transportation companies. In February 2003 a new branch - the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Services Branch - was created to provide mediation and conciliation expertise and encourage complainants to consider ADR; the ADR Services Branch works independently from the complaint process, investigations or litigation.

A National Aboriginal Program was established in September 2006 to strengthen the Canadian Human Rights Commission's engagement with the Aboriginal community and in preparation for the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which was announced in December 2006. The program seeks to build capacity at the grassroots level through the dissemination of information and dialogue with community groups, developing opportunities to redress rights violations including through traditional dispute resolution techniques. Improving access of Aboriginal peoples and communities to commission processes and programs are prime objectives.

A September 1998 Report of the Auditor-General of Canada to the House of Commons claimed that inefficiencies in the complaints process left almost half of the 900 open cases in 1997 unresolved one year after the signing of the complaint. In 2001 a review by the Canadian Human Rights Commission of its 24 years of operation concluded that, with an annual caseload of approximately 600 signed complaints and up to 2 years required to investigate a complaint, there was insufficient capacity to service both increasing demands and a sizeable backlog of complaints. Reform of the complaint process began in the fall of 2002. Although pre-investigation mediation was made a formal step in the complaint process in 2000, the commission envisioned greater use of ADR as an alternative to investigation and litigation where appropriate. In addition, the Treasury Board approved temporary resources of $570 000 per year for 4 years starting in 2002-03 to eliminate part of the commission's backlog. Other priorities for reform have included greater engagement with the public interest and improved management practices.

See also Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.