Closure of CHRC offices will punish marginalized people
The Public Service Alliance of Canada condemns the Harper government's decision to close Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax. (N.B. Ed. The Campbell B.C. Government eliminated the BC Human Rights Commission when they came to power.) The union maintains that the closure of the three offices will make it substantially harder for individuals from marginalized groups to launch human rights complaints. The three offices slated for closure received 70 per cent of all signed complaints to the CHRC in 2008. The union, which represents CHRC employees, says this latest attack will have a particular impact on racialized people and recent immigrants. In many cases, the closures will make it much more difficult to challenge both systemic abuses and individual instances of discrimination. For John Gordon, National President of PSAC, the closures are indicative of a strategy by the Conservative government to destabilize human rights organizations and women's groups in Canada. "When the Conservatives took power in 2006, one of their first moves was to abolish the Court Challenges Program and close Status of Women Canada offices across the country," Gordon said. "Women's groups were denied government funding if they engaged in research or advocacy work, and equality-seeking groups lost the ability to fund Charter of Rights challenges. The government has also cancelled funding to notable NGOs such as KAIROS, and appointed ultra-conservative partisan board members to Rights & Democracy - manufacturing a massive crisis within the organization. The closure of CHRC offices is another example of this outrageous trend." Canadians living in British Columbia, Ontario and the Atlantic provinces will no longer have access to walk-in or telephone services at a CHRC office even remotely close to where they live.
The urban centres where the CHRC offices are being closed represent a high percentage of racialized people. In fact, 60 per cent of all racialized people in Canada live in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax. In B.C., residents will no longer have access to a human rights commission of any kind, as the B.C. Human Rights Commission was dismantled by the provincial government five years ago. PSAC sees the closures of the CHRC offices as part of a broader trend by the Harper government toward self-regulation - something that puts both public safety and human rights into question. By severely hampering the Canadian Human Rights Commission's ability to adequately deal with complaints throughout the process, the federal government is relying on employers to voluntarily meet employment equity obligations and address discrimination. But with no mechanisms for enforcement, the CHRC's mandate will be reduced to mere suggestions. "PSAC will fight the closures of the Canadian Human Rights Commission offices and continue to fight the Harper government's attacks on democracy and human rights," said Gordon.