The BC Human Rights Tribunal Leads the Way for the Implementation of UNDRIP


The BC Human Rights Tribunal Leads the Way for the Implementation of UNDRIP

The BC Human Rights Tribunal is at the forefront for implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”), in keeping with BC’s commitment to implement UNDRIP through the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act that came into force on November 28, 2019. The tribunal set out to examine the human rights framework in BC to determine why Indigenous peoples were not filing human rights complaints and on January 15, 2020 released the report: Expanding Our Vision: Cultural Equality & Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights, prepared by Ardith Walpetko We’dalx Walkem, QC.

The report confirmed that both individual human rights violations against Indigenous peoples and systemic discrimination remain pervasive in BC. Several barriers to accessing the tribunal were cited in the report, including (but not limited to) the fundamental differences in the ways that Indigenous peoples define human rights, not knowing that the tribunal existed or how to access it, and not thinking that filing a complaint would make a difference.

Nine recommendations were made to reduce the barriers, including increasing Indigenous representation at all levels of the tribunal; creating education materials and training to bridge the gaps in knowledge to prospective Indigenous complainants, and within the tribunal, through cultural competency training and trauma-informed practice; and by removing procedural barriers within the tribunal. Key changes extended beyond the scope of the tribunal and relate to broadening the concept of human rights to incorporate human rights principles as reflected in UNDRIP and Indigenous legal traditions in the Human Rights Code and in the tribunal’s operations and practices. Importantly, the report calls upon the tribunal to advocate for the inclusion of cultural identity in the Code as a protected ground.

Further recommendations were made to create a committee comprised of tribunal staff, Indigenous lawyers and cultural leaders or academics armed with knowledge of human rights to develop the Expanding our Vision Implementation Plan. Checkpoints at specified intervals were suggested to keep the tribunal on track with the plan and in June 2020, the tribunal released the Report on Implementation of Expanding Our Vision: Cultural Equality & Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights.

This report indicates that the tribunal has made significant gains against its implementation plan by creating a diverse and representative Expanding Our Vision Implementation Committee, appointing two Indigenous members for 6-month terms, and taking further significant steps to attract Indigenous candidates for a Tribunal Member position. The tribunal revised its forms to use plain language and created a space for people to identify traditional names. The committee is also overseeing the development of the BC Human Rights Tribunal Indigenous Cultural Competency and Humility Framework with current initiatives that include monthly meetings for tribunal members with a cultural training component and monthly small group work for all staff
and members.

Importantly, the tribunal wrote a letter to the Ministry of Attorney General advocating on an urgent basis to add Indigenous identity as a ground of discrimination. The tribunal relied on Ms. Walkem’s explanation that discrimination based on race, colour, ancestry, and place of origin “do not adequately address the discrimination Indigenous peoples report experiencing” and that amending the Code would “send a message of inclusion and reflect the individual and collective nature of Indigenous human rights” 1 in keeping with UNDRIP. The letter had to be updated with an expanded list of Indigenous, legal, and human rights organizations supporting the amendment — who share in the tribunals commitment to transform human rights for Indigenous peoples in BC. This collective effort, originating and led by Indigenous peoples, in partnership with the tribunal is exactly how we decolonize our laws and institutions.

1 The Report, p. 7 |