Chapter I: Human Rights
In its 2002 report to the CERD Committee1, NARCC had this to say about the human rights
protection system in Canada:
Canada has an international reputation of being a promoter and protector of human
rights. But under that facade lies many problems, particularly for those individuals and groups who are vulnerable targets of discrimination.
On paper, Canada has a well-established human rights protection system. Our
Constitution contains a Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the "Charter"), which, among
other things, grants every individual in Canada equal protection and equal benefit before and under the law.2 The Canadian Charter applies to all laws and government actions.
Apart from the Charter, individual victims of discrimination could also seek protection
and redress under federal and provincial human rights laws.
[I]t is our position that the human rights system in Canada is both ineffective and
inadequate. The system itself in fact has become, in some instances, a barrier for people
facing racial discrimination and other forms of discrimination to access justice.
In December 1998 the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reminded
Canada of its obligation to ensure that its human rights machinery comports with its
treaty commitments, stating in its Concluding Observations on Canada's Report:
...enforcement machineries provided in human rights legislation need to be
reinforced to ensure that all human rights claims are not settled through
mediation and be promptly determined before a competent human rights tribunal,
with the provision of legal aid to vulnerable groups.3
In April 1991, the Human Rights Committee, in its concluding observations on Canada's
fourth report on its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
The Committee is concerned with the inadequacy of remedies for violations of
articles 2, 3 and 26 of the Covenant. [These are the anti-discrimination articles.]
The Committee recommends that the relevant human rights legislation be
amended so as to guarantee access to a competent tribunal and to an effective
remedy in all cases of discrimination.4
Since then, the Canadian human rights legislation has not been strengthened. On the
contrary, in some provinces including Ontario and British Columbia, there has been
serious set back in terms of progress and advancement of human rights. The change in
political government in both of these provinces, each with a distinctively anti-equity
agenda, has moved the provinces back at least 20 years in the area of human rights.
Unfortunately, these comments still ring true five years after the last report submitted by the
Canadian Government. The Government of Canada has taken no initiatives to implement any of
the recommendations put forward by Justice La Forest who conducted a comprehensive review
of the Canadian Human Rights system and produced a comprehensive report in 2000 entitled
“Promoting Equality”. Nor has the Government of Canada committed to substantially increase
funding to enable the human rights system to adequately handle its burdensome caseload.
More disturbingly, in some respects, the situation in Canada has become worse.
Cancellation of the Court Challenges Program
Canadians may well enjoy constitutionally entrenched Charter rights, but launching a Charter
challenge to enforce such rights is a luxury that few people could afford.
Among the least able to do so are the racialized communities.
As of September 25, 2006, the ability of members of these communities to launch Charter
challenge has been undercut even further. On that day, the Government of Canada killed the one
program that supports disadvantaged groups in their fight for equality.
Since 1989 the Court Challenges Program has been the key source of support for equity seeking
groups who dare to challenge the Canadian Government for discriminating against the most
vulnerable in our society. The Program made it possible for immigrants and refugees, racialized
communities, women, people with disability, gays and lesbians, and others from marginalized
communities, to not only read about their rights on paper, but to take action to enforce them.
The Government of Canada, by its own admission, particularly when it is appearing before the
various UN treaty bodies, including the CERD Committee, has often referred to the Court
Challenges Program to demonstrate how advanced the human rights protection system is in
Canada, and how committed that the Government of Canada is to the fundamental principles and
values enshrined in the Charter.
This is evidenced also in the Government’s 17th and 18th report where the Government once
again listed the Court Challenges Program as a shining example of measures taken by Canada to
provide “effective protection and remedies” for victims of racial discrimination.5
Yet the Government of Canada decided to eliminate all funding to the Court Challenges
Program, because in the words of the Chair of the Treasury Board, it does not make sense for the
Government to subsidize lawyers to challenge the Government's own laws in court. If minority
groups had problems enforcing their Charter rights before September 25, 2006, the difficulties
they are going to face will be that much greater after that fateful date.
In cancelling the Court Challenges Program, the Government of Canada has thus violated Article
6 of ICERD, which provides:
States Parties shall assure to everyone within their jurisdiction effective protection and
remedies, through the competent national tribunals and other State institutions, against
any acts of racial discrimination which violate his human rights and fundamental
freedoms contrary to this Convention, as well as the right to seek from such tribunals just
and adequate reparation or satisfaction for any damage suffered as a result of such
Cancellation of the Law Commission of Canada
On the very same day that the Government of Canada announced its cancellation of the Court
Challenges Program, it also announced that it would cancel all funding to the Law Commission
The Commission has gone through a number of changes as successive governments in power try
to curtail the influence of an agency that has dedicated itself to conducting high quality legal
research on how the law should best be used as a means for social change. At the time of its
cancellation, the Commission was looking at issues such as the changing workplace and its
impact on vulnerable workers (including immigrant and racialized workers) and the impact of
globalization on domestic laws. By cutting all funding to the Commission, the Government of
Canada has thus eliminated an important tool for many non-governmental organizations in the
social justice movement to engage in proactive measures to address racism and other forms of
5 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – Seventeenth and Eighteenth
Reports of Canada, at p.21
Community Response to 2007 CERD Report Canada – February 2007
discrimination. This decision of the Government of Canada is inconsistent with Article 2(1)(c)
of the ICERD, which states:
1. States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all
appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination
in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races, and to this end:
(c) Each State Party shall take effective measures to review governmental, national
and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations
which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever
Redress and Reparation
On a more positive note, we want to acknowledge the efforts by the Canadian Government to
address a long standing issue facing the Chinese Canadian community, namely, Redress for the
Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act. We commend the Government of Canada on having
finally agreed to provide an apology to the community for the historical injustice, and to provide
financial redress for the few surviving head tax payers and widows. It has taken the Government
of Canada 20 years to resolve this issue, and many head tax payers and widows had passed on
without ever seeing justice done.
We urge the Committee to call on the Government of Canada to continue its consultations with
the Chinese Canadian community and other communities who have suffered historical injustices
with a view to developing community based projects to educate all Canadians about the history
of Canada and to address contemporary forms of racism facing these communities