Milestones in Human Rights in Nova Scotia


Year Human Rights Achievement
1804 Joseph Howe (December 1804 – June 1873) is born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Howe gained early prominence as a defender of freedom of the press. Howe later became instrumental in helping Nova Scotia become the first British colony to win responsible government in 1848. Today, Howe is considered one of Nova Scotia's greatest and most-loved politicians.
1918 The Nova Scotia Franchise Act gives women the right to vote in Nova Scotia's provincial elections. The effects of Manitoba's decision to grant women the vote ripple all the way to the East. This right to vote was later accorded to visible minorities (1950’s) and Aboriginal peoples (1960’s).
1948 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is signed by the United Nations members. Canadian John Humphrey plays a large role in drafting the declaration, and Canada is among the signing nations.
The 1950s Changes begin to be made in gender rights and racial segregation. The work in this era lays the foundation for the civil rights era (the '60s).
1953 Nova Scotia adopts fair employment legislation.
1954 Legal segregation of Nova Scotia schools ends.
1955 The Fair Employment Practices Act which prohibits discrimination in regard to employment and membership in trade unions because of race, religion, creed, color, national or ethnic origin, comes into effect.
1956 Equal pay legislation is enacted provincially and federally. The law declared women should not be paid less than men because of their gender. This was legislated to ensure female employees received equal pay for equal work in the workplace.
1959 In Nova Scotia, the Fair Accommodations Act makes discrimination because of race, creed, colour, or nationality illegal. Restaurants, hotels, and other facilities open to the public can no longer refuse to serve someone on the basis of any of these grounds.
1960 Aboriginal people get the right to vote in federal elections.
The 1960s

The '60s is a period of social unrest and significant social, economic and political development, characterized as the climax of a period of social movement activism in Canada.

  • Prime Minister John Diefenbaker brings in the Canadian Bill of Rights.
  • Increased women’s activism leads to the establishment of The Royal Commission on the Status of Women (1967).  The Commission mandate includes ensuring equal opportunities for women in all aspects of Canadian society.
  • In Nova Scotia a group mobilizes to press for the rights of Blacks in Africville, eventually taking the name of the Halifax Advisory Committee on Human Relations.

The Halifax Advisory Committee on Human Relations is created. This is in addition to a human rights committee with the Halifax District Labour Council and the Cape Breton Labour Council.

An Interdepartmental Committee on Human Rights is also established within the Nova Scotia government.

1963 Nova Scotia passes its first Human Rights Act. The Act consolidates the province's human rights legislation into one Act. This Act would be enforced by a Human Rights Commission as of 1967.
1967 The government of Nova Scotia establishes the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) in 1967. Its explicit purpose is to challenge long-standing patterns of discrimination on racial, religious and ethnic grounds.
1977 The Status of Women Act is passed and Canadian Human Rights Act is legislated. This is a year after the adoption of the International Bill of Rights.
The 1980s In this era, for the first time emphasis is placed on training for teachers. A promise is made to increase emphasis on cross-cultural training for teachers, administrators and school staff.
1981 Proclamation-signing ceremony: Premier John Buchanan marks the 33rd anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights by declaring December 10 Human Rights Day in Nova Scotia.

Source of Income becomes a protected characteristic under the Nova Scotian Human Rights Act.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms is also added to the repatriated constitution. The Charter has had an immense impact on the social and political life of Canada, becoming useful in public policy-making through decisions on issues such as gay marriage, health care, pay equity and trade union rights

1984 Publishing of The Abella Report, which coins the term Employment Equity to describe the Canadian approach to dealing with employment disadvantage.  It confirms that almost a quarter-century of human rights law had helped some people, but many systemic barriers had not changed.
1984-1985 Human Rights Commission conducts public awareness initiatives. School-age children are taught fundamental tenets of fairness, respect, and justice, building firm foundations for adulthood.
1986 Mental Disability Act and The Canadian Human Rights Act undergo revisions, adding to the characteristics protection against discrimination on the basis of mental disability.

The Nova Scotian Pay Equity Act comes into force and regulates the public sector.

Blind Persons’ Rights Act is enacted, specifically articulating the duty to accommodate persons who are blind and their guide dogs.

The 1990s

The '90s place greater emphasis on the importance of more fair and diverse education and workplaces.

  • The Government introduces race relations training, which is offered to all government employees and is designed to increase awareness and sensitivity to employment equity and diversity in the workforce.
  • Emphasis is placed on services to support social assistance recipients’ transition to employment. On a yearly basis 50% of Nova Scotians receiving social assistance transition to employment.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Act undergoes major revisions, adding the protected characteristics:

Aboriginal Origin, Age, Family Status (the status of being in a parent and child relationship), Irrational Fear of Contracting an Illness (for example, to adequately protect people living with HIV/AIDS), Marital Status, Political Affiliation, Sex, Pregnancy, Sexual Harassment, Sex (Sexual Orientation).

1992 In a speech to the Halifax Rotary Club, the NSHRC Executive Director emphasizes the role of public education in presenting strategies for attitudinal and behavioural change.
1993 The College de l’Acadie offers French certificate and diploma programs in a post-secondary setting to the Acadian and Francophone regions of the province.
1994 Simon Thwaites, a soldier, is honorably discharged from the Canadian Armed Forces in 1994 because he is a homosexual and HIV carrier. Simon Thwaites was compensated for his wrongful dismissal from the Canadian Armed Forces.
1996 Sexual orientation is added as a ground for discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The Tripartite Agreement (1994) affirms the right of Mi’kmaq jurisdiction over on-reserve education in Nova Scotia, resulting in schools on reserves operating under the control of local bands. The Council on Mi’kmaq Education is created and a Mi’kmaq representative is appointed to each regional school board.

It is the first such agreement in Canada to transfer jurisdiction for education from the federal government of Canada to First Nations communities. Only one year later the Eskasoni High Tech High School opens.

1998 The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission obtains a regulation enhancing its enforcement powers by allowing the Human Rights Commission to register Board of Inquiry monetary orders with the Supreme Court.
1999 The Marshall decision of the Supreme Court of Canada affirms treaty rights of Mi’kmaq to fish commercially.
The 2000s

A shift from an industrial/manufacturing age into a technological/information age is reflected in Nova Scotia education and industry statistics; in 2006, 67% of Halifax residents held trade, college or university qualifications.

This high percentage of educated people places Halifax among the top five cities in Canada (re education). The shift to a technological age and the associated shift in skill set required, as well as the rise in immigration to Nova Scotia. emphasizes the need for employers to embrace diverse workplaces in an ever-evolving society.

2001 June 8 - Eskasoni’s Tuma Young becomes the first Mi’kmaq-speaking lawyer to be called to the Nova Scotia Bar.
2005 Canada is the fourth country to recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry.
2007 The Commission hosts an Aboriginal Forum to learn about the progress and concerns of First Nations people in the province. This leads to the development of an Aboriginal strategy for handling human rights issues.

A number of amendments are made to the Nova Scotian Human Rights Act.

  • Harassment is included as a prohibited form of discrimination; a definition of harassment is also included. In 2008 the Commission’s Race Relations and Affirmative Action Division is renamed Race Relations, Equity and Inclusion.
  • A one-year time limitation is introduced for claims of discrimination.
2009 July 1, 2009 - mandatory retirement is eliminated and no longer permitted under the Act.
2012 December 6, 2012 - Amendments on gender identity and gender expression are passed as law and added to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act to protect the rights of trans and gender diverse people.
2017 The Commission commemorates its 50th Anniversary.