CASHRA Statement to Meeting of Federal, Provincial and Territorial Human Rights Ministers

Nov 10, 2020

Christine Hanson, chair of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA) delivered the following statement today, Nov. 10, to the meeting of Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Human Rights Ministers.

Thank you very much. Hello everyone, Honourable ministers and guests.

Thank you to Marie-Claude Landry [Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commissioner], a fierce human rights defender, leader, colleague and friend.

I too would like to acknowledge the traditional territories we all gather from today, and how respect for Indigenous and treaty rights is more important than ever in carrying out human rights justice.

I echo the words of Chief Commissioner Landry on the need for concrete action to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on already marginalized Canadians and on the need to confront systemic racism, intolerance and hate in our country.

On both fronts, the collection of disaggregated data, including race-based data, is imperative to the way forward for all jurisdictions in Canada.  This will require more coordination and clearer protocols for these efforts to truly inform the decision-making process.

Our country finds itself in an unprecedented point in our history.

As Chair of CASHRA, I am aware every single day of the impact that COVID-19 is having on people across Canada, and on human rights commissions across the country.

Barriers to equality have been thrust into the spotlight. And the need for swift human rights justice is in high demand.

Over the past 8 months, Canada’s provincial and territorial commissions — already resource-strapped — have been stretched even thinner responding to the surge of pandemic-related inquiries and complaints.

  • From workplace issues around the accommodation of people with disabilities;
  • To family status accommodation issues due to employees having to juggle their work with caring for loved-ones or home-schooling their kids;
  • Outbreaks in long-term care as well as provincial correctional facilities;
  • Small-business owners and frontline workers now among some of our most vulnerable populations;
  • And of course, the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on racialized Canadians…
    • from systemic and structural forms of anti-Black racism,
    • to the hate and violence against Asian Canadians since the outbreak,
    • to the incidents of anti-Indigenous racism we are seeing in my home province of Nova Scotia, as well as in disturbing incidents of overt anti-Indigenous racism in healthcare in different parts of the country.

Our role, as human rights commissions, is to help ensure that all levels of government continue to take concrete action in the face of these injustices, and work towards the implementation of Canada’s domestic and international human rights obligations, including at the provincial, territorial and local levels.

Across private businesses and provincially-run sectors, our role is also to ensure that justice can be swift for people who are experiencing barriers and systemic racism in their daily lives.

  • in healthcare and long-term care,
  • in education,
  • in employment and customer service,
  • in affordable housing — an urgent and multi-jurisdictional issue,
  • And lastly, in the justice system

Canada’s justice system is a barrier for Indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and other racialized persons

That’s the plain truth.

We need an overhaul and a dismantling of the systemic racism found at every step of our justice system:

  • from racial profiling on our streets,
  • to the disproportionate number of Black and Indigenous people who are killed in encounters with police,
  • to the need for more diversity in our court system — from litigators to judges,
  • to sentencing criteria, and
  • to the over-representation of racialized and Indigenous people in our prisons, who are now grappling with COVID outbreaks.

Clearly, there is a lot of work ahead of us.

Canada’s human rights mandates are grounded in the Paris Principles — a global declaration to protect, promote and monitor human rights through independent human rights institutions.  This means that Canada and its provinces and territories must allocate the necessary tangible resources to fulfil these internationally recognized commitments. These mandates have always been carried out by small but dedicated groups of public servants. Now, as a result of COVID, the capacity to carry out this important work is at risk.

Canada’s human rights capacity needs a considerable and sustainable boost — in every jurisdiction.  We need a recommitment to human rights institutions, in the capacity of commissions to provide human rights education, inform public policy making, and to address complaints of systemic discrimination.

Our hope is that we can count on your support in this.

So that together, we can help Canada “build back better.”

Either way, you can count on our hard work and dedication in doing what we can to promote and protect a diverse and inclusive Canada for all.

Thank you.


A French-language version can be found on the CASHRA website.