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Province of British Columbia Tables Amendments to the Human Rights Code

On November 1, 2018, the British Columbia Government tabled Bill 50, Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2018.  The Bill would amend the Human Rights Code to reflect the recommendations contained in the December 2017 report of the Parliamentary Secretary of Sport and Multiculturalism, “A Human Rights Commission for the 21st Century: British Columbians Talk About Human Rights”. The Bill passed second reading on November 8, 2018.

The two key components of the Bill are to:

(i) extend the time limit to file a human rights complaint from six months to twelve months; and

(ii) appoint a Human Rights Commissioner.

According to the Bill, the Human Rights Commissioner’s term of office would be for five years with a provision for one additional term, also up to five years. The Commissioner would be responsible for promoting and protecting human rights, including by doing any of the following:

  • Identifying, and promoting the elimination of, discriminatory practices, policies and programs;
  • Developing resources, policies and guidelines to prevent and eliminate discriminatory practices, policies and programs;
  • Publishing reports, making recommendations or using other means the Commissioner considers appropriate to prevent or eliminate discriminatory practices, policies and programs;
  • Developing and delivering public information and education about human rights;
  • Undertaking, directing and supporting research respecting human rights;
  • Examining the human rights implications of any policy, program or legislation, and making recommendations respecting any policy, program or legislation that the Commissioner may consider to be inconsistent with the Code;
  • Consulting and cooperating with individuals and organizations in order to promote and protect human rights;
  • Establishing working groups for special assignments respecting human rights;
  • Promoting compliance with international human rights obligations; and
  • Intervening in complaints and in any proceedings in any court.

Although the Commissioner would not have the power to file a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal, the Bill provides that the Commissioner may assist a person or group of persons with any aspect of a complaint. 

The Bill has a number of provisions for inquiries and special reports. The Commissioner would have the power to conduct a public inquiry into a matter that, in the Commissioner’s opinion, would promote or protect human rights and make a report at the conclusion of the inquiry including recommendations. In addition, the Bill provides that the Legislative Assembly or any of its committees could at any time refer a matter to the Commissioner for inquiry and report. The Commissioner could also at any time make a special report to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly respecting the exercise of the Commissioner’s powers or performance of the Commissioner’s duties; research that has been undertaken, directed or supported by the Commissioner; or human rights in British Columbia. 

In addition to a Human Rights Commissioner, the Bill provides for establishment of a Human Rights Advisory Council to advise the Commissioner on issues respecting human rights. 

The Province of BC has not had a Human Rights Commission since 2002 so the Bill would entail a fundamental change to the human rights system in the province. Additionally, the extension of the limitation period for filing a complaint from six to twelve months will decrease employers’ ability to know of potential employment liabilities in a timely fashion. The Bill has already passed its second reading and no significant changes are anticipated to its terms. We will keep you informed of the Bill’s progress.

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Lawson Lundell's Labour and Employment Law Blog provides updates on the most recent legal developments impacting the Canadian workplace and offers practical tips for employers. We cover a range of topics, including labour relations, employment law, collective bargaining, human rights, employment standards, employment equity, workers' compensation, business immigration, privacy, occupational health and safety and pensions and employee benefits. 

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