Letter: Reestablishing the Human Rights Commission, November 17, 2017

Ravi Kahlon
Parliamentary Secretary for Sport & Multiculturalism
November 17, 2017

Dear Mr. Kahlon,

I am the President of the Canadian Federation of the Blind (www.cfb.ca), a membership organization of blind citizens that is committed to the integration of blind people in British Columbia society on the basis of equality. I am writing in response to your request that groups provide public comment regarding the reestablishment of the Human Rights Commission.

The CFB is very supportive of this initiative. The Human Rights Tribunal is set up to adjudicate complaints of discrimination. It is reactive. A correctly constituted Human Rights Commission, provided it is funded adequately, could proactively work for reform in policies that lead to systemic discrimination against blind individuals.

To site just one of many examples, some provincial job recruitment announcements include a requirement that successful applicants must hold a valid driver’s license. This requirement is completely appropriate when the operation of a motor vehicle is a primary job duty. It is discriminatory when the purpose of a driver’s license requirement is to ensure that employees can travel outside their office to do their jobs. Blind employees can use a number of alternative techniques. They can take public transportation or taxis, ride with colleagues, or hire drivers. A robust Human Rights Commission could examine broader issues like this one; it need not be limited to responding to specific complaints.

An adequately funded Human Rights Commission would ensure that expertise in blindness and other disabilities, not merely expertise in human rights law, could be brought to bear in the disposition of individual complaints as well as in the examination of systemic issues.

Our support of a Human Rights Commission also stems from deep disappointment in the performance and rulings of the Human Rights Tribunal. In particular, we believe that an October 2015 ruling represents a significant setback in the access right of people with guide dogs. Sadly, this is not the first time the Tribunal has issued decisions that completely fail to comprehend the purpose of laws protecting the rights of blind individuals to travel freely using the mobility aid of their choice. I think that the unpleasant history of the BCHRT and its treatment of taxi discrimination against people who travel with guide dogs illustrates why British Columbia needs an organization that focuses on defending human rights rather than one that pushes for compromises to resolve complaints.

I have enclosed a synopsis of the October, 2015 case and our associated concerns. I would be happy to discuss these matters further with you, or with members of the Human Rights Commission, if so desired.

We hope that the new Commission will provide a better and more robust defender of access rights for blind people.

Yours truly,

Mary Ellen Gabias
Canadian Federation of the Blind