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Freedom from discrimination remains an elusive goal for Aboriginal people in Canada: CHRC Report
September 15, 2014 – Ottawa, Ontario – Canadian Human Rights Commission
The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) has published a Special Report to Parliament on the impacts of Bill C-21 — legislation that allowed Aboriginal people in Canada to enjoy full protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) for the first time.
The CHRC reports that since Bill C-21 took effect in 2008, hundreds of Aboriginal people have made use of the CHRA as a legal tool to counter discrimination. The CHRC has received more than 500 complaints against the federal government or First Nations governments from Aboriginal people and First Nations groups. About two-thirds of the complaints allege discrimination by the federal government and about one-third allege discrimination by First Nation governments. Several of these complaints raise important and complex legal issues and are still before the courts.
Despite progress in making use of this legal recourse, however, many Aboriginal people continue to experience barriers to human rights justice. Poverty, lack of awareness, and fear of retaliation for bringing a complaint are among the factors inhibiting access. Furthermore, significant numbers of complaints brought to the CHRC are abandoned before they can be fully investigated or resolved. Lack of trust in government and the justice system is thought to be among the factors responsible for this outcome.
- Section 67 of the CHRA of 1977 excluded all matters under the Indian Act, a law that governs daily life for hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal people in more than 600 First Nations communities, from human rights scrutiny. The exclusion, although meant to be temporary, lasted more than three decades.
- In 2008, Parliament passed Bill C-21, repealing section 67 of the CHRA. Bill C-21 extended full human rights protections to Aboriginal people governed by the Indian Act for the first time.
- The CHRC receives, investigates, and resolves complaints of discrimination under federal jurisdiction. When warranted, it refers complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to decide whether discrimination has occurred, and order appropriate remedies.
- Since 2008, Aboriginal people and First Nations groups have brought over 500 discrimination complaints to the CHRC:
- 344 of the complaints allege discrimination by First Nations governments and 173 allege discrimination by the federal government.
- The CHRC has referred 29 complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, and has resolved or mediated more than 60 others.
- 61% of complaints against First Nation governments and 36% of complaints against the federal government were abandoned before they could be dealt with by the CHRC.
- The sudden, dramatic influx of over 500 complaints brought to the CHRC by Aboriginal people since 2008 is the most salient impact of repeal. Some complaints would previously have been shielded by Section 67, others would not. Yet because confusion about the exclusion of the Indian Act was widespread prior to 2008, many people governed by the Indian Act believed they had no access whatsoever to the CHRA. Increased awareness since 2008 is almost certainly a factor in producing the influx. Therefore the CHRC counts all such complaints together. A more granular breakdown of the data is available on request, however.
“The treatment of Aboriginal people remains one of Canada’s most pressing human rights issues. The Canadian Human Rights Act is an important part of the solution, but it is going to require a larger, societal change and a concerted effort at all levels of government to begin to address the human rights barriers facing Aboriginal people today.”
— David Langtry, Acting Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission
- Special Report to Parliament on the Impacts of Bill C-21 (An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act)
- CHRC National Aboriginal Initiative
- Report on the Equality Rights of Aboriginal People (June 2013)
- Now a Matter of Rights: Extending Full Human Rights Protection to First Nations (Special Report to Parliament 2011)
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