B.C. Human Rights Code changed, Human Rights Commission re-established

Revival of commission after 16 years changes human rights landscape in B.C.

B.C. Human Rights Code changed, Human Rights Commission re-established
The British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria, May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Light

On Nov. 1, 2018, the Government of British Columbia introduced Bill 50, Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2018, which contained significant changes to British Columbia’s Human Rights Code. The changes set out in the act largely follow the recommendations from the December 2017 report by Ravi Kahlon, Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism, that summarized the public’s perception of the state of human rights in British Columbia.

The act introduced two key changes to the human rights landscape in British Columbia, as follows:

  1. extending the limitation period for bringing a human rights claim
  2. recreating a human rights commission in British Columbia.

No material amendments were made during the three readings of the bill and the act was granted Royal Assent on Nov. 27, 2018. Although parts of the act will come into force by regulation of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, the two key changes noted above came into force on the date of Royal Assent.

Extension of limitation period

The limitation period for filing a human rights complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has been increased from six months to 12 months from the date of the alleged discriminatory incident(s).

Re-creation of a Human Rights Commission and Commissioner

British Columbia dismantled its original human rights commission in 2002. For 16 years, it has been the only province without a provincial organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights. The act has re-established a human rights commission in British Columbia. The commission will work concurrently with the tribunal, which will remain the body responsible for resolving human rights complaints in British Columbia.

An Independent Commissioner, who reports directly to the legislative assembly and will be aided by an advisory council, will bear the responsibility of educating British Columbians on human rights, as well as examining and addressing issues of discrimination. The act provides for the commissioner to hold office for five years with a possible term extension of up to five years. The commissioner will not serve an adjudicative role, which will remain with the tribunal, but will rather be responsible for:

  1. identifying and promoting the elimination of discriminatory practices, policies and programs
  2. developing resources, policies and guidelines to prevent and eliminate discriminatory practices, policies and programs
  3. publishing reports, making recommendations or using other means the commissioner considers appropriate to prevent or eliminate discriminatory practices, policies and programs
  4. developing and delivering public information and education about human rights
  5. undertaking, directing and supporting research respecting human rights
  6. examining the human rights implications of any policy, program or legislation, and making recommendations respecting any policy, program or legislation that the commissioner considers may be inconsistent with the code
  7. consulting and co-operating with individuals and organizations in order to promote and protect human rights
  8. establishing working groups for special assignments respecting human rights
  9. promoting compliance with international human rights obligations
  10. intervening in complaints on terms which are to be set by the tribunal or the court.

Practical implications for employers

First, employers are now subject to a longer period of uncertainty as to potential liability under the code. Where a risk of a human rights complaint is known or suspected, such as when an individual suggests that he or she has suffered discrimination or may bring a complaint, employers are advised to retain their records, evidence, and witness information for at least 12 months.

Second, the commissioner will have broad authority to examine and make recommendations regarding various human rights issues, including pay inequities, social barriers to employment, and workplace diversity. This may lead to further legislative changes which may have a direct impact on employers and their businesses.

Laura DeVries is an associate in the Labour and Employment Group with McCarthy Tetrault in Vancouver. She can be reached at (604) 643-5984 or [email protected].

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