MLAs approve motion to appoint Kasari Govender as B.C.'s new human rights commissioner

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      A high-profile feminist with expertise in constitutional, equality, and Aboriginal law will be B.C.'s newest officer of the legislature.

      Kasari Govender, executive director of West Coast LEAF, was approved in a vote of MLAs to become B.C.'s human rights commissioner.

      The B.C. NDP promised during the 2017 election campaign to restore the B.C. Human Rights Commission.

      Govender's appointment came 17 years after a former B.C. Liberal government led by Gordon Campbell abolished the commission.

      "Ms. Govender has an extensive background defending human rights," NDP MLA and search committee chair Sheila Malcolmson said in the legislature. "Committee members were impressed by her work with diverse communities, her commitment to Indigenous reconciliation and defending women's rights.

      "Combined with her collaborative leadership style and her strengths as an administrative manager, Ms. Govender has the skills, experience and qualities required to establish and carry out the mandate of this new independent office."

      The deputy chair of the legislature committee, Stephanie Cadieux, described Govender as "an exceptional candidate who brings a wealth of experience to this independent office".

      "She exemplifies leadership, collaboration and openness, qualities that I believe will serve her very well in the role," Cadieux said. "She has in-depth experience in human rights, constitutional and administrative law, and personally, I will say that I have admired her work over many years with West Coast LEAF, where she has earned recognition, I believe, as a leading voice for gender equity."

      As an officer of the legislature, Govender can only be dismissed with the support of two-thirds of MLAs.

      This gives her much stronger security of tenure than former chief commissioners of the B.C. Human Rights Commission, who could be fired at the whim of the attorney general or premier.

      B.C. is the only province in Canada without a human rights commission.

      This means that people who file complaints have no B.C. government body to approach for support before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

      In addition, it means that there is no B.C. government body with a mandate to enhance public understanding around human rights and racism, including structural racism in society.

      As the human rights commissioner, Govender will have the authority to study everything from the treatment of Aboriginal inmates in provincial prisons to whether the at-large voting system in Vancouver—which is a product of provincial legislation—discriminates against candidates with nonanglicized names. 

      One of the MLAs who lobbied longest for the restoration of the human rights commission has been New Democrat Raj Chouhan, who represents Burnaby-Edmonds.

      He initially chaired the search committee before Malcolmson moved into this role after winning the Nanaimo by-election.

      Chouhan extended his appreciation to the two B.C. Liberal members on the search committee, Cadieux and Greg Kyllo, for helping to ensure that the right person was chosen.

      "We were all very impressed with the experience, the credentials Ms. Govender had," Chouhan said in the legislature. "We are looking forward to working with her to make sure that British Columbia becomes a wonderful place, an inclusive place for everybody here in British Columbia."

      One person originally appointed to the committee, B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver, stepped down after the first meeting. He tweeted at the time that it was "unrealistic" to expect B.C. Greens to each sit on six or seven committees while the legislature is sitting.

      Weaver declared that he would be replaced by a B.C. Liberal, which would have given the party that eliminated the commission a majority on the search committee. But that never occurred as the two New Democrats and two B.C. Liberals reached a consensus on Govender's appointment.

      In a statement on the West Coast LEAF website, Govender promised to remain a donor and life-long supporter of the organization.

      In her post, she wrote: "Over the decade, the organization has more than tripled in budget, launched the Rise Women’s Legal Centre in partnership with UBC’s Allard School of Law, reached thousands of young people and post-secondary students across the province to engage in important conversations about consent, sued the Province over inadequate legal aid for women leaving violent relationships, became a go-to media resource on gender equality, expanded its mandate to include all people impacted by gender based discrimination, committed itself to the path of decolonization and reconciliation, and so much more."