The Yukon Human Rights Commission finds itself in a “perceived conflict of interest,” says director Heather MacFadgen.
The commission is funded by the Justice Department.
But Justice also represents the government departments that have human rights complaints filed against them.
And this needs to change, said MacFadgen.
The commission must be arm’s length from government, like it is in most other jurisdictions across Canada, she said.
Addressing this funding conflict was one of 25 recommendations made by the nonpartisan Select Committee on Human Rights this fall.
Some of these changes can be “quick fixes,” while others “will take a longer time to effect,” according to the 19-page committee report by Justice Minister Marian Horne, NDP MLA Steve Cardiff and Liberal MLA Don Inverarity.
The funding conflict could have been addressed during the fall sitting, said MacFadgen.
It would have been a simple fix — just mirror the funding requirements for the ombudsman, who gets funding from the Yukon legislative assembly — an impartial source, she said.
“You just take the language from the ombudsman’s act and pop it in — we’re talking a few sentences,” added MacFadgen.
“When we do make changes we’ll make sure they’re done correctly, with time,” said Horne in the legislature, when asked about Human Rights funding changes.
“Any changes that are made will be done very carefully and with forethought.”
But the recommendations by Horne, Cardiff and Inverarity, talk about “quick fixes,” said MacFadgen.
There are concerns the Human Rights Commission “is not independent enough from government to fulfill its mandate,” said Inverarity in the house.
“We are very careful the Human Rights Commission is indeed independent and at arm’s length from the Justice Department,” said Horne.
The next day, Inverarity questioned Horne again — “Will the minister find an alternative budget authority for the Human Rights Commission so they can be truly independent and arm’s length from government?”
Patrick Rouble, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, responded.
There are conflict resolution officers in government, he said.
“The government has also instituted the harassment prevention office … people who have an issue in their workplace can raise it through that office.”
People can also work with “the union to issue grievances in the workplace,” said Rouble.
The perceived lack of impartiality is not the only problem with the Yukon’s Human Rights Act.
“It’s a very old act,” said MacFadgen.
And it discriminates against youth under 16 when it comes to issues around sexual orientation, she said.
It also refers to those struggling with mental challenges as “retards.”
These issues could be easily fixed.
It’s just a matter of deleting the definitions, said MacFadgen.
“Deleting something from an act is fairly straightforward,” she said.
All it takes is an amendment saying it’s deleted and some re-numbering.
“I did speak to (Horne) informally about this,” said MacFadgen.
“I said, ‘I really hope we can do something this sitting,’ and she said, ‘I can tell you right now it’s not going to happen.’”
Horne said it was “because there are a number of steps including translation and so on,” said MacFadgen.
“But it doesn’t take long to say in French, as well as in English, ‘Such and such will be deleted.’”
MacFadgen is disappointed.
“We don’t have the efficiency tools that would help us make the act work better for Yukoners,” she said.
And the commission’s workload is the highest it’s ever been.
Despite this workload, the commission put “a lot of resources” into the public hearings held by the select committee.
The commission applied for additional government funding to attend the hearings and work on its own report.
“We did get a little bit of help from the Law Foundation,” said MacFadgen. “But we got nothing from the government.
“So this is very difficult for a small, little commission — this is a major project — and we did our very best under very tight timelines in the hopes that we could have some good changes to the act.”
But MacFadgen’s still waiting.
“And some of these problems we raised a decade ago, so we’re long overdue,” she said.
“We worked really hard to meet what we thought was a really short deadline and we don’t want to hurry up and wait for another two to three years — we really want to see something of substance happen soon.
“It has everything to do with how well we can serve Yukoners.
“The quality of life for people here depends on how well we can do this work.”
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