On May 30, 2002, legislation designed to improve the efficiency of the protection of human rights in British Columbia was introduced. Bill 53, the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2002 will strengthen human rights protection in the province by eliminating the Human Rights Commission, thereby reducing duplication and delay among the bodies that implement the B.C. Human Rights Code. This change is expected to make accessing the system easier, more timely and more affordable. Consultation on the amendments contained in this Bill will be done through meetings and written submissions until September 15, 2002. A revised Human Rights Code will be debated in the fall.
A number of the proposed amendments promise to have beneficial effects for employers throughout British Columbia. They are:
- Granting to the Tribunal the ability to dismiss a complaint if a reasonable settlement offer has been made and refused by the complainant.
- Granting to the Tribunal the power to dismiss a complaint if it is not in the public interest.
- Reducing the time limit for filing a complaint. Previously, a complaint could be filed up to one year after the alleged contravention occurred; under Bill 53, that time limit is reduced to six months. It should be noted, however, that Bill 53 also allows for the Tribunal to accept a complaint filed after the expiration of the six month limit if it is determined that (a) it is in the public interest to accept the complaint, and (b) no substantial prejudice will result to any person because of the delay.
- Giving the Tribunal the ability to require the parties to submit to mediation of a complaint.
Elimination of the Human Rights Commission
The most important of the changes proposed by Bill 56 is the elimination of the Human Rights Commission, and the transfer of most of the responsibilities of that Commission to the Human Rights Tribunal. Previously, the Commission was responsible for receiving the initial complaints and either dismissing them, mediating settlements, or referring them to the Human Right Tribunal; under the proposed changes, these responsibilities will now be in the purview of the Tribunal. This change will eliminate the time consuming and expensive investigations of complaints that were previously done by the Commission.
It should be noted that none of the changes proposed in Bill 53 alter the enumerated protections offered by the Code. Most of the proposed amendments are corollary to the decision to eliminate the Commission, and pertain to changes in the language of the Code that reflect the elimination of that body. There are, however, some noteworthy exceptions.
Elimination of certain purposes of the Code
Bill 53 also eliminates some of the educational functions of the Code, repealing sections that stipulated that the Code’s purpose was to monitor progress in achieving equality in British Columbia, as well as to create mechanisms to provide the information, education and advice that are necessary to achieving the purposes of the Code.
Elimination of education, information, research and public consultation provisions
The proposed amendments also include the elimination of the powers, previously held by the now-defunct chief commissioner, to develop and conduct public education and information programs designed to promote a greater understanding of the Code, as well the chief commissioner’s power to hold public hearings or order research that would touch on matters relevant to the Code.
Review of dismissal of complaint
Any party who is aggrieved by the dismissal of all or part of a complaint cay within 30 days of being notified of the dismissal may apply to the chair to review of that dismissal. Any review of a decision to dismiss is undertaken by a tribunal member appointed by the chair. This member may only base his decision on the evidence that was before the committee when it made its determination to dismiss. Unless the tribunal member appointed to conduct the review determines that a complaint or part of a complaint should not have been dismissed, the dismissal is final and no further proceedings may be taken under the Code.
Enforcement of settlement agreements
Two further proposed amendments to the Code are the repeal of section 35(1.4) which required the terms of a settlement agreement to be provided to the commission, and the addition of section 35.1, which speaks to enforcement provisions, but does not require that terms of a settlement agreement be submitted to the Tribunal.
Accountability and Transparency
Additionally, in an effort to increase the transparency and accountability of the bodies that administer the Human Rights Code, Bill 53 provides for the production of an annual report detailing the activities of the tribunal and the disposition of complaints filed under the Code throughout the previous year. This report is required to presented to both the minister and the Legislative Assembly.
Amendments to the costs provisions of the Code
Previously, a panel or member could award costs against a party to a complaint who had, in the opinion of the panel or member, had engaged in improper conduct during either the course of the investigation or the hearing of the complaint. This section has been repealed. Costs may now be awarded:
- against a party to a complainant, and
- against a party who contravenes one of the rules of proceeding established by the Tribunal.