B.C. Liberals shake up human-rights tribunal

The chair, Heather MacNaughton, will lose her post, causing some to worry about more changes to come

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      The B.C. government has declined to reappoint the chair of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, Heather MacNaughton, as well as another tribunal member, Judith Parrack. This has some human-rights experts concerned about what this means for the future of the nine-member quasi-judicial body, which issues legally binding decisions.

      MacNaughton wasn’t available for comment, but hers and Parrack’s departures were confirmed to the Georgia Straight by Bill Black, an internationally renowned human-rights expert and professor emeritus at the UBC law school. Their terms end on July 31.

      “I think Heather did a superb job,” Black said by phone.

      MacNaughton, a former chair of the Ontario Human Rights Board of Inquiry, was appointed chair of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in 2000. When then–attorney general Geoff Plant abolished the B.C. Human Rights Commission in 2003, MacNaughton created a model by which complainants could go directly to the tribunal.

      “She made the direct-access model work—where you don’t go through a commission—as well as it’s capable of working,” Black said. “She insisted on a merit process of hiring tribunal members.”

      Parrack, a former lawyer with the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, was appointed to the tribunal in 2004.

      On June 30, the British Columbia Law Institute announced that the Ministry of Labour had asked it to conduct legal research into workplace dispute-resolution mechanisms in B.C. Currently, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal can issue rulings when employees file discrimination complaints against their employers.

      Less than two weeks later, on July 12, the B.C. government posted an advertisement for a new part-time chair of the tribunal on the Web site of the Board Resourcing and Development Office. Black pointed out that hiring part-time chairs for human-rights tribunals hasn’t worked very well in other provinces.

      “People don’t get the expertise,” he said. “Sometimes there can be major turnover.”

      Vancouver lawyer Lindsay Lyster resigned from the tribunal in March. In a phone interview with the Straight, she said there is “a great deal of uncertainty” about how human-rights cases will be dealt with in the future.

      “I think the public should be asking questions,” Lyster stated. “What are the government’s intentions with respect to the future of the protection of human rights in this province? What mechanisms do they intend to have in place to ensure that people have access to justice in the form of human rights? I have no idea what the answers to these questions might be. But what I do know is those questions need to be asked because the things that I am seeing are disturbing to me.”

      Shelagh Day, senior editor of the Canadian Human Rights Reporter, told the Straight by phone that the B.C. Liberal government has already done a “lot of damage to human-rights institutions in this province” by abolishing the B.C. Human Rights Commission. “I’m very concerned about what’s happening to human-rights complainants and what will happen to them in the future in terms of legal representation,” Day said.

      Attorney General Mike de Jong did not return a phone call from the Straight by deadline. The B.C. Law Institute declined the Straight’s request for an interview on what its review of workplace dispute-resolution mechanisms might involve.

      Former attorney general Plant, who is on the institute’s board, works at the Vancouver law firm Heenan Blaikie. One of his partners in the firm, lawyer Peter Gall, has coauthored a paper calling for a new tribunal that would deal with labour relations, human rights, and employment standards.

      In a phone interview with the Straight, Gall said that such a tribunal would be more efficient because it would eliminate overlap in the jurisdictions of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, the B.C. Labour Relations Board, and the Employment Standards Tribunal.

      “I’m just heartened that the government is—at least to the extent of sending it out for comment [through the B.C. Law Institute]—looking at this,” Gall said. “I don’t know whether they’ll ever do anything.”

      When asked if he ever raises the issue with Plant at his law firm, Gall replied, “I pound away at him all the time. I say to him, ”˜Geoff, why didn’t you do this when you were the attorney general?’ He said he had enough on his plate.”

      Day said she disagrees with Gall’s proposal because human-rights tribunal members bring a very different perspective than labour adjudicators, who she said are mainly concerned with “labour peace”.

      Black said he thinks it’s a “bad idea” to create a “super-tribunal” to deal with human rights, labour relations, and employment standards. He pointed out that members of human-rights tribunals have expertise in this area, which might not necessarily be the case with a labour arbitrator.

      “In a labour model, you have two strong advocates on either side: the union and the employer,” Black added. “And that isn’t true in human rights. In other words, how would an individual who thought they were being discriminated against by an employer be able to take on that kind of thing?”

      He also pointed out that people who aren’t represented by a lawyer, whether they are complainants or small-business respondents, have a far smaller chance of winning. He also worries about what would happen to human-rights complaints that don’t deal with employment, such as those that involve housing and public services.

      “I don’t like dividing responsibility for human rights,” Black said.



      C H Ingoldby

      Jul 15, 2010 at 4:35am

      I note that in this entire article there is not a single mention of the serious allegations that these 'Human Rights' bodies are actually used to erode and encroach upon real Human Rights. That they are unaccountable, inconsistent and make up law as they go along. These bodies have been used to censor and bully.

      The only linkage they have with Human Rights is their name. They should be abolished.


      Jul 15, 2010 at 7:34am

      Once more the LIbERalS are rigging the outcome. They did the same thing with BC Elections. They know the next 2+ years of their reign is in peril and the Mining and Lumber industries want more control over labour. Why not do this and get what they want before they lose control.


      Jul 15, 2010 at 9:33am

      I seriously hope that the BC Human Rights 'tribunal' is destroyed. It is an attack on our rights as Canadians, with absolutely zero accountability.

      This kind of stuff belongs in the courts, not in front of an unaccountable tribunal.

      Benjamin Gray

      Jul 15, 2010 at 12:18pm

      Camero, learn how to spell. Liars not Liers. The Liberals are not lying in wait for an ambush (LOOK UP LIER YOU TWIT)

      The New Democrazy Party will have you think they are better than the Liberals, they aren't. Camero talks about Mining and Lumber wanting more control over labour, he's wrong, they don't want to be taxed to death like the BC NDP like to do. Take a look at how low the income tax is, once NDP is elected it'll rise twofold.


      Jul 15, 2010 at 1:21pm

      C H Ingoldby & Peter summed it up pretty well.

      These illegal kangaroo courts are being used to destroy the few legitimate civil liberties and human rights we have left.

      Please read "Shakedown" by Ezra Levant before forming an opinion on Human Rights Tribunals. The biggest problem is uneducated people supporting them because the name sounds very moral and 'socially just'

      I beg of you, it's just one little book, just go to the library and read it. I guarantee that no matter your political ideology you will find it absolutely shocking how corrupt these things are.

      Can we all just put down the right-wing/left-wing pom-poms for a few hours and educate ourselves?


      Jul 15, 2010 at 1:48pm

      I attended the Guy Earle hearing (and published the blog guyearletrial.blogspot.com) and witnessed firsthand the backwardness and absurdity of the Tribunal. Everything they touch, everything they do turns into a tragic comedy of corruptness and shame for Canadians.


      Jul 15, 2010 at 3:37pm

      Geeeze toucheee aint we Benjiii! Jouse can bbet dem der guys aint gonna bee taxes with the LIbERalS in da driverss chair are dey! End dey aint gonna have any Horstpitalz to go to when dey get da trotz are dey. Not gonna ave any of dem der teaching pleces where dey can learn ow to spick perphect langage like me are dey cuz der aint gonna b ee any greenbacks in da bank is der! Big biz will gets the whole enchalada. Wats goonna be left for us Banjiii? Nada..... ahole!

      Aaron Ekman

      Jul 15, 2010 at 4:28pm

      Any proposed structure from Peter Gall's law firm equals bad news for working folks.

      The tribunal is set up to balance the relations between the strong and the weak. Consequently, the strong despise it.

      It's telling which side the BC Liberals are on through their efforts to destroy the institutions in this province which adjudicate human rights.


      Jul 15, 2010 at 4:33pm

      People who want to disband human rights legislation simply wnat to turn back the clock, to about 1910.
      Rod Smelser

      Small business owner

      Jul 15, 2010 at 5:16pm

      God bless the liberals! I am a business owner and I cannot run my business effectively, there are no human rights for business owners in BC!!! I must keep marginal workers employed for fear of repercussion of the labor board, it’s a complete joke on the side of employees that shows no regard for employer rights as it stands now, the rules are far too complicated to even begin to try to follow for the average small business owner, business knows full well that in order to get productivity we need to treat our good workers with dignity and respect that goes without saying in all aspects of life, but the labor laws that are too unrealistic and that depress business must be changed. Believe me you would never fully understand what I am talking about unless you have been dragged though a depressing 1 year long labor board dispute by an employee that was destroying your business and seems to have all the rights in the world despite the fact that he is malicious and can cause untold heartache and pain to the business owner. Thank you liberals GOD BLESS YOU!!!