It is with great pride that I present my first Annual Report to Parliament as Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. It is an incredible honour to lead such an important national institution.
Since my appointment in March 2015, it has been a priority to understand what Canadians expect from the Commission and to understand the needs of victims of discrimination—the very people who rely on the Commission.
I met with Cabinet Ministers, Agents of Parliament, academics, NGOs, law societies, First Nations community leaders, advocacy groups, employers, provincial and territorial human rights commissions, and several community organizations that work directly with people living in vulnerable circumstances. By the end of 2015, I had met with over 65 organizations and hundreds of individuals across Canada. It was also as important for me to get to know Commission employees and hear what they had to say.
“Now more than ever, inclusion, equality and respect must guide our values and all aspects of our daily lives.”
Everyone I spoke with was clear on what the Commission should be doing to protect and promote human rights in Canada. We must be the national voice on human rights in this country and work with partners to ensure we are heard. We must speak out when human rights are threatened. We must act in the public interest and operate independently from government. We must ensure that Canadians living in vulnerable circumstances can use the law to fight for their rights. We have a duty to make full use of our powers under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which includes initiating discrimination complaints on behalf of those who cannot do it themselves.
I was also told that operating at arm’s length of government is not enough. It is essential that the Commission is perceived as independent, especially in the eyes of people in vulnerable circumstances. When you consider that half the complaints we receive involve the government, the Commission’s independence must be crystal clear. Trust is fundamental to an effective system.
Time and again I heard that in 2015, intolerance, prejudice and discrimination still exist. Thousands of our fellow citizens are still marginalized here in Canada. Too many do not have a voice.
There were troubling incidents over the past year. A mosque was burned. Muslim women were assaulted because of what they were wearing. News sites shut down comment boards because they were brimming with racism aimed at Indigenous peoples.
Persons with disabilities have to fight for equality every day. Correctional facilities still use solitary confinement to deal with offenders with mental health issues. Transgender Canadians still face discrimination, hostility and violence even when accessing essential services. First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities are still reeling from decades of neglect and inequality in receiving basic services. And the reality of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is a situation that must be urgently addressed.
We must not take our human rights for granted. Human rights are universal and the foundation of any democratic society. Here, just as in any other country in the world, our rights are at risk when we are complacent. Now more than ever, inclusion, equality and respect must guide our values and all aspects of our daily lives.
I was told that people are counting on the Commission to support victims of discrimination and to promote human rights in Canada as universal values. I have heard them loud and clear. Together, with the full engagement of the Commission team, we have begun to change the way we work. Everyone has the will to be agents of change and to make a difference. Their expertise, commitment, and passion for human rights are driving the important changes taking place at the Commission. These changes put people first so that we can better meet the expectations of Canadians.
Canada has a long history of being a leader in human rights. We have been instrumental in the development of international conventions and declarations intended to ensure the protection of human rights at home and abroad.
For the most part, Canadians are caring and compassionate people. However, we have seen a serious erosion of human rights in Canada in recent years. We are all accomplices to injustice if we remain silent and indifferent. We must work together to restore the values of mutual respect, tolerance and dignity that have for so long defined and enriched this country. We all share a responsibility to once again make Canada a world leader in human rights.
We must all advocate for human rights and speak out as one voice in the face of discrimination. We are stronger and richer for our differences. We must all work together if we want to say: My Canada includes everyone.
Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.