Saskatchewan to eliminate human rights tribunal

More cases will be solved through alternative dispute resolution, with courts providing a backstop
||Last Updated: 12/07/2010

Saskatchewan is amending its Human Rights Code in an effort to make the complaints process more timely and flexible, according to Justice Minister Don Morgan.

The changes will allow the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission to resolve more complaints through the use of alternate dispute resolution processes, while decreasing the use of litigation, the province said.

The amendments include eliminating the Human Rights Tribunal and transferring its powers to the Court of Queen's Bench. The court will only hear cases when all other avenues of resolution have proved unable to address the issues.

"The tribunal has played an important role in the human rights process since it was established in 2001," Morgan said. "Unfortunately, it is not always seen as being independent from the commission. We believe this change will both strengthen confidence in the process and help reduce the lengthy timelines within the current process."

In March 2010, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission revealed its Four Pillar Strategic Business Plan through which it intends to position itself as a best practice model for other jurisdictions. The commission has already begun to shift its focus in support of the four pillars which are:

•efficient and effective investigation and prosecution gatekeeping for complaints of discrimination

•increased focus on mediation and other forms of dispute resolution

•systemic advocacy for complaints that affect multiple persons or groups

• preventative civics education on both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

In order to achieve these goals, some amendments to the code are required, the province said.

"One of our goals is to address inefficiency, complexity, and excessive delay in the complaints resolution process and modernizing the system will address these issues," chief commissioner judge David Arnot said. "More broadly, we are also looking to play a greater role in promoting both citizenship rights and responsibilities in Saskatchewan classrooms."

The bill introduced on Nov. 29 permits the chief commissioner to direct the parties to mediation before holding a hearing, in addition to dismissing a complaint where a reasonable offer of settlement is made by the respondent, and the complainant refuses to settle. The bill will also allow the commission to seek more information from the complainant upfront to ensure the complaint has merit before commencing the complaint resolution process.

Finally, the bill will reduce the limitation period in the code from two years to one year. Reducing the limitation period will increase efficiency and fairness for all parties. It will make investigations easier and timelier — bringing the code in line with most other provinces and with federal human rights legislation, the province said. The chief commissioner will be able to extend the limitation period in special situations where considered appropriate.

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