Why Are Canadian Governments On The Wrong Side of Human Rights?

Donna Jodhan celebrates winning her human rights case against the Federal Government (Photo The Star)
Over and over Canadian governments at all levels are defending the indefensible

By Stephen Pate – The Federal Government passed the Constitution Act of 1982 with agreement from every Province but Quebec.

Featured image – Donna Jodhan celebrates winning her human rights case against the Federal Government. She is blind and wanted accessible websites for job applications with the government. (Photo: The Star)

No government agency or power is charged with ensuring the Charter is followed. Time and time again, ordinary citizens are forced to become their own cops and prosecutors bringing various governments and their agencies to court, even to the Supreme Court, to enforce the human rights in the Charter.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, no friend of the Charter, cancelled the Charter Challenges program that provided lawyers to help victims of human rights discrimination.

Governments at all levels resist human rights of Canadian, setting an example for big cash rich organizations to follow. Canadian taxpayers are paying the bill for human rights abuse since either the governments are hiring lawyers with our money to deny justice or the businesses are using the legal bills as tax deductions.

A few victims of human rights abuse win. Most just give up when the cost and effort get too high. It is truly justice denied.

What are our human rights?

The Act contains the CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS outlining various constitutional freedoms like
“(a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association“.

In Section 15, Canadians are granted specific human rights and equal protection. “15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

Human Rights laws with no enforcement

Canadians cannot be smug vis a vis the American protection of human rights or civil rights.  South of the border civil rights are policed and enforced by government agencies.

For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act is enforced by the EEOC and other Federal agencies. Those agencies have the power to investigate and prosecute under the law. Without enforcement the ADA is nothing but a piece of paper. With enforcement, it becomes the law of the land.

In Canada, citizens – the poor, weak, women, unemployed and disabled – must investigate and enforce the laws against intransigent governments at the Federal, Provincial and municipal level. It’s a slow and expensive process that few can afford. The result is that Canada is a human rights regressive country and those in power pay only pay lip service to the law.

The situation is so passive in Canada on enforcement that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal says human rights law is not serious like the criminal code but more like a traffic ticket.

The Canadian Human Rights system is stacked against the victim. Governments, agencies, crown corporations and businesses have taxpayer dollars to mount long and expensive legal battles to exhaust victims of human rights discrimination.  To even the casual observer, justice is not being done.

To make the situation even more difficult to administer, the federal Canadian Human Rights Tribunal only hears cases of human rights with the Federal Government, agencies crown corporations and corporations regulated by the federal government like the banks and telecoms.

Each province has its own human rights commission with laws, regulations, and procedures. Some provinces provide limited legal assistance to victims. Some like Prince Edward Island force the victim of human rights discrimination to hire their own lawyer, making the chance of self-prosecution even harder.

Cases when the government fought against human rights

There are thousands of cases where Canadian governments, agencies and authorities have fought for decades against human rights. Here are a few. For more examples, search CanLII by your jurisdiction.

Federal Government

“A blind Toronto woman, Donna Jodhan, is suing the federal government because she is unable to use the government’s website to apply for a job. She says that the inaccessibility of the website is discriminatory towards the blind and she’s hoping a victory in court will make the government provide equal access to services. ” tecvibes

When they lost, the Federal Government appealed the ruling but lost again in Canada (Attorney General) v. Jodhan, 2012 FCA 161 where the Federal Court of Appeal said the Harper Government (the Prime Minister likes to call it that) and “Treasury Board has a constitutional obligation to bring the government departments and agencies under its control into compliance with the Charter within a reasonable time period, such as 15 months.”

Provincial Government

The Province of British Columbia fought against providing education for children with disabilities but lost at the Supreme Court of Canada in Moore v. British Columbia (Education). 

Despite a ruling by the BC Human Rights Tribunal that Jeffery Moore, a boy with learning disabilities, deserved an education, the Province of BC fought against the ruling for a total of 18 years of litigation. Future children should get relief from the ruling. Jeffery graduated and was working. Only the tenacity of his parents kept the human rights battle going.

Municipal Government

An Acadian man spent 9 years in trying to get his French language human rights case heard by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in a battle with the City of Halifax.

In Halifax Regional Municipality v. Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, two levels of government duked it out until Halifax lost in the Supreme Court. As the Supreme Court said it was a supreme waste of time “Nearly nine years and three levels of court proceedings after Mr. Comeau filed his complaints, this proceeding has only reached the end of the beginning.  Only now can the board of inquiry appointed in November 2006 finally begin to address the substance of Mr. Comeau’s complaints and the objections by Halifax and the province to them.”

A few victims of human rights abuse win. Most just give up when the cost and effort get too high. It is truly justice denied.

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By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this article. Few people realize that no one is under any obligation to take proactive measures to realize human rights. No one has to DO anything unless they are forced. (the exception being the weak AODA)

    No one has to do anything, and if called to account the chances of the complainant having equal access to real justice are slim to none.

    Canadians have to fight tooth and nail for our ‘laws’ to be enforced. For many the cost is too high.

    No rights, no access to remedy the denial of those rights. It’s a mugs game.

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