In 2018, the world marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration was a response to unspeakable atrocities born from hatred. It united the world in a common cause: to promote the principles of equality, dignity and respect for all.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, as well as provincial and territorial human rights legislation were all built on the principles in the Declaration. These laws have given people the power to speak out against discrimination and make change for the better – not just in their own lives, but in the lives of their fellow citizens.
Yet despite our progress, Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities, racialized individuals, religious groups, and individuals with diverse sexual orientations or gender identities all continue to experience discrimination in Canada.
Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities, racialized individuals, religious groups, and individuals with diverse sexual orientations or gender identities all continue to experience discrimination in Canada.
The Commission continues to work towards ensuring that everyone in Canada is treated fairly no matter who they are. Over the past year, we worked with people in vulnerable circumstances, human rights advocates, community representatives, parliamentarians and youth to raise awareness and call for action on the pressing issues affecting people’s day-to-day lives in Canada.
Improving our complaints process was our priority in 2018. We took steps to tailor our services to meet the needs of the people asking for help – putting people before process. We made it easier for people to contact us. Using our new online complaint platform, people who believe they have been discriminated against can quickly find out if their experience forms the basis for a human rights complaint. If not, we redirect them to the appropriate organization. More people contacted the Commission in 2018 to complain than ever before. The number of complaints we accepted in 2018 is the highest in over a decade. I am encouraged by the numbers, yet I remain concerned that many people living with discrimination are unable or unwilling to ask for help.
The number of complaints we accepted in 2018 is the highest in over a decade.
This year will also be remembered for the proactive federal legislation and initiatives introduced to advance equality for people in Canada. From the proposed Accessible Canada Act, to pay equity legislation, to the National Housing Strategy, to anti-harassment legislation — the various proactive initiatives have the potential to advance equality and inclusion in Canada. It is no surprise that many people support these initiatives. Polls showed that people in Canada continue to see human rights as a defining concept of our shared identity.
At the same time, it has become clear that with the rise of populism here and around the world, an increasing number of people feel emboldened to share racist and intolerant views. Some have even chosen to capitalize on this phenomenon — stoking fear of “the other” for political gain.
It is a disturbing trend. It confirms that more and more people are indifferent to those in vulnerable circumstances, and it encourages lies and misinformation. In fact, it’s dangerous. Hateful and intolerant rhetoric can lead to hate crimes and violence.
Violent acts, motivated by racism, xenophobia, misogyny, or religious intolerance are all examples of hate crime. So too are crimes motivated by bias against a person’s disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that police-reported hate crime in Canada was up 47% over the previous year.
In many ways, we are in uncharted territory. With the seismic shift in how we communicate and share ideas in this modern era, everyone has the power to be a broadcaster. One individual can be louder and influence more people than ever before.
A completely new generation of young people is being exposed to the lies inherent in the idea of racial and religious superiority. As a result, the threat posed by hate speech is amplified.
Canada’s human rights protections do well in addressing discrimination, but they do little to address hate. That is why we have called on Parliamentarians to conduct a comprehensive study to better understand hate in the 21st century and how to fight it.
A study alone will do nothing to combat hate. In fact, it’s going to take all of us. We all have a responsibility to speak out against hate, understand how it spreads, and find ways to shut it down.
Civil society, the justice system, human rights organizations and all levels of government have a role to play.
At the close of 2018, Canada has much to be proud of. But our sense of accomplishment must not result in us lowering our guard. We must continue to speak out against hate and intolerance and push for a society that values equality, dignity and respect for all.
Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Canadian Human Rights Commission