The human rights process starts with the filing of a complaint of discrimination. In BC, the complaint is filed with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. Filing an effective complaint requires a good deal of time and effort. It can be hard to devote that time and effort if, for example, someone has been fired because of discrimination and is searching as hard as they can to find another job. In short, the complaints process can be useful, but dealing with discrimination after it has occurred is far from easy.
That is one reason why it is better, if possible, to prevent discrimination before it occurs. The job of human rights tribunals is to adjudicate complaints. Adjudicators must remain neutral to carry out that role, and that fact places limits on what they can do to prevent discrimination. That is why we need human rights commissions as well as tribunals.
A human rights commission is in a much better position than a tribunal to develop strategies and programs to help prevent discrimination. For example, it can advise employers, service providers and landlords about what constitutes discrimination. It can also help them to identify ways to eliminate any discrimination that may occur. It can also assist those who experience discrimination to achieve a non-discriminatory environment in ways that are simpler and quicker than filing a complaint. Prevention also helps those who would experience discrimination in the future if a discriminatory practice were not changed.
In short, human rights commissions and tribunals have different jobs to do. We need both working in tandem to effectively protect human rights.
Bill Black is former Human Rights Commissioner and Special Advisor to the Government.
This blog post is part of a series on human rights, based on the new report Strengthening Human Rights: Why British Columbia Needs a Human Rights Commission. Find other blogs in the series here.