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BC Human Rights Commission revived What is the commission and what will it mean for trans rights?

A photo of the green peaks of the BC Legislature buildings, with a grey sky in the background.

The history of the BC Human Rights Commission is a choppy one. First formed in 1973, the commission was abolished eleven years later. It was then revived only to be abolished in 2002. BC now has a Tribunal that addresses individual human rights complaints, but the province is not proactively addressing issues of wide-scale discrimination

Good news! The current provincial NDP government has announced it will reinstate the BC Human Rights Commission. British Columbia is the only province in Canada without a commission. Note that gender identity in British Columbia was protected in 2016 – eighteen years after the then-commission (led by chief commissioner at the time Mary Woo Sims) recommended it be protected in 1998.

By addressing human-rights violations beyond individual cases, the larger societal issues such as inequalities for transgender people, Indigenous people, people with disabilities and many others, can be more broadly addressed, thus reducing marginalization.

Once the BC Human Rights Commission is reinstated, it could work widely across the province to prevent discrimination through education, initiate inquiries on broad systemic issues, develop guidelines, and promote human rights compliance — all of which are greatly needed.

“BC has lost a lot of ground in human rights since the commission folded,” said Woo Sims in a phone interview. “Where would BC be today if the work of the commission hadn’t been interrupted?”

The current government is demonstrating that human rights must be more of a priority in BC, as Attorney General David Eby, assigned Parliamentary Secretary for Sport and Multiculturalism Ravi Kahlon to lead a public consultation on reinstating the commission.

This past fall, Kahlon met with community groups, organizations, and a diverse range of people to develop a set of priorities for the new commission.

The report (.pdf) had 25 recommendations on the reinstatement, goals and powers of the new BC Human Rights Commission. It also identified three key recommendations as early priorities for the commission, one of which included the following:

“…To take on the study of gender as an identity requirement in public documents and make recommendations on its necessity or where it should be eliminated.”

Sometime this year, the NDP government is expected to propose legislation to form a BC Human Rights Commission. Will this new commission be independent like the Office of the Ombudsman so that it is much less vulnerable? Will it provide the people of BC with tools to address and prevent large-scale discrimination? Will the revitalized commission address how the government collects, releases, and displays information about people’s gender, gender identity, and gender history?

We’ll soon find out!

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