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Put 'Gender Identity' in Canadian HR Act: Review Panel
Significant changes recommended to federal protection law

A report issued yesterday by a government commissioned independent review panel recommends adding gender or sexual identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The recommendation to protect transgendered people was one of 165 made by the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel in its report entitled Promoting Equality:  A New Vision.  The panel was established in April 1999 by federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan in order to examine and analyze the Canadian Human Rights Act and the policies and practices of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The Panel's recommendations address a number of issues ranging from the human rights process to additional protections.

At the present time discrimination based on race; national or ethnic origin; colour; religion; age; sex; sexual orientation; marital and family status; disability; and conviction of a criminal offence - for which a pardon has been granted - are included in the Act.

Commenting on the recommended inclusion of gender or sexual identity former Supreme Court Justice Gerard La Forest.- who led the Panel - said in a press conference, "We find a small number affected, but grievously."

The report also recommends extending protections to the poor and First Nations people.

"The Canadian Human Rights Act should protect the economically disadvantaged against discrimination," said the Panel.  "The most disadvantaged people in our society are the poor," added Mr. La Forest.

The vulnerability of poor people in Canadian society would be addressed through the creation of a non-discrimination ground called 'social condition.'  The Panel recommended elements of Quebec's human rights legislation be used as a model for it.

The Senate passed a bill in 1998 to add such a provision to the Human Rights Act but it was defeated in the House of Commons a year later.

The Panel also discussed how 23-years of experience in enforcing the Act's provisions has led to a somewhat different view of how discrimination in this country occurs..

"The reason we are calling for a complete change reflects the evolution of human rights in Canada," stated Mr. La Forest.  "At the beginning most people thought of discrimination as direct or flagrant  ... [t]oday we know that discrimination is principally systemic."

Companies with more than 5 employees would be required to create committees with union and employee representation in order to resolve complaints and monitor the organization's human rights situation.
 
 
That insidious and often-masked method of discrimination used to be illustrated with the example of police forces refusing to hire women as officers due to height requirements.  Ostensibly not against women, that system-wide rule effectively discriminated against them none-the-less.

The shift from a case-by-case to a systemic approach had been recommended by groups such as the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE), and the Canadian Ethnocultural Council, according to the National Post.

The Panel also recommended other changes to the processing of human rights complaints and the relative roles of the Commission and the Tribunal.  The federal law applies to organizations which operate in more than one province.

In addition, companies with more than 5 employees would be required to create committees with union and employee representation in order to resolve complaints and monitor the organization's human rights situation.

Michelle Falardeau-Ramsay, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, told the Canadian Press that she welcomed the review and was pleased with the proposals.

"I hope something will be done and there will be legislation that will follow," she said in a CP interview.  "I hope it won't be forgotten," she added.

Federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan issued a statement saying the federal government will review the Panel's recommendations in detail.