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December 10, 2022

International Human Rights Day: Taking stock of human rights in Canada

December 10 marks International Human Rights Day, a moment to commemorate the ongoing efforts to secure human rights for everyone.

At a time with growing polarization and divisiveness, upholding human rights remains critical to preserving and advancing dignity for people of all backgrounds, creeds, ethnicities, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, and other identifiable characteristics.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms cover a range of personal rights, including freedom of expression, assembly, democratic participation, freedom from discrimination, presumption of innocence in criminal proceedings, and the right to receive instruction in French or English, among others.

The nation’s federal and provincial human rights commissions are empowered under various human rights legislation to settle complaints of discrimination in employment and  in the provision of services.  Across the country, there have been hopeful examples of positive change.

The federal government has given the Canadian Human Rights Commission responsibility in enforcing pay equity, disability rights, and the right to housing, in addition to its historic role adjudicating complaints.

These represent a concrete evolution of our understanding of rights-holders and the role of institutions in protecting constitutional rights.

Additionally, various provincial human rights commissions are working to find collaborative opportunities to work with institutions to embed human rights within their services and programs. 

The Ontario Human Rights Commission, for instance, has partnered with the Peel Regional Police and the Peel Regional Police Services Board to implement a human rights framework that is legally binding.

However, despite some progress, there are worrying trends. In addition to evidence of growing hate, as reflected in police-reported hate crimes that have increased by 72% in the last year, there remain fears that the freedom of speech of some will be protected over the rights of others.

A recent decision at the Supreme Court of Canada involving a comedian who was mocking a young person living with disabilities has been rightfully criticized as providing far too much latitude for those who spread discriminatory ideas against some of the most vulnerable people in our society, contravening the right to dignity and freedom from discrimination.

Human rights must protect everyone, particularly those who are marginalized. As a society we must not permit one right to diminish other rights.

The CRRF looks forward to continuing to work collaboratively with communities, human rights commissions, and institutions, to help eradicate hate and discrimination and promote inclusive communities where human rights are not aspirational but a guarantee.

In case you missed it: Human rights related programming, surveys, and grants

The CRRF will be hosting several events including special curated tours of its Behind Racism: Challenging the Way We Think exhibit now showing at the Discovery Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The tours will be held December 14, 15, 16 and registration is free. Register here.

Additionally, the CRRF will be hosting a special film screening and panel discussion on December 14 centering on the contributions of former Senator Murray Sinclair to advancing truth and reconciliation in Canada.

The film by Alanis Obomsawin is titled “Honour to Senator Murray Sinclair” and will be followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker and other notable Indigenous leaders and allies, including those engaged in showcasing Indigenous talents, cultures and histories in Canada.

Reserve your virtual spot here.

Special survey on hate

One of the CRRF’s current priorities includes ensuring better support is in place to assist victims of hate. In order to strengthen the support systems in place for communities and individuals affected by hate in Quebec, the CRRF intends to build recommendations directly on the testimonies and suggestions of those directly impacted and it has launched a survey to gather feedback. Take the survey here (for residents of Quebec).

Funding closes soon

The CRRF demonstrates its ongoing commitment to human rights by directly empowering community leaders and organizations to deliver programming and events that are relevant to local context and needs. The National Anti-Racism Fund has delivered over $3.9 million dollars to 139 organizations to date. The youth and events streams will close on December 31, 2022.

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