On October 29, 2002, Bill 64, the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2002 was passed into law. Bill 64 replaces Bill 53, which was introduced in May 2002. This new legislation, which amends the British Columbia Human Rights Code, is designed to improve the efficiency of the protection of human rights in British Columbia. The amendments are intended to strengthen human rights protection in the Province by eliminating the Human Rights Commission, thereby reducing duplication and delay among the bodies that implement the BC Human Rights Code. This change is intended to provide an easier, more timely and more affordable mean for individuals to access the human rights system.
Elimination of the Human Rights Commission
One of the most significant changes introduced by the amendments is the elimination of the Human Rights Commission and the transfer of most of the responsibilities of the Commission to the Human Rights Tribunal. Previously, the Commission was responsible for receiving initial complaints and either dismissing them, mediating settlements, or referring them to the Human Rights Tribunal. Under the amendments, these responsibilities will now fall under the purview of the Tribunal. This change is intended to eliminate the time–consuming and expensive investigation of complaints that previously were performed by the Commission.
It should be noted that none of the changes proposed in the amendments alter the enumerated protections offered by the Code. Rather, most of the proposed amendments related to the Legislature’s decision to eliminate the Commission, and pertain to changes in the language of the Code that reflect the elimination of that body. There are further changes that are also noteworthy.
Elimination of Certain Purposes of the Code
The amendments to the Code repeal the legislative provisions that stipulate the Code’s purpose was to monitor progress in achieving equality in British Columbia, and to create mechanisms for providing the information, education, and advice necessary to achieve the purposes set out in the Code. The amended purposes of the Code are as follows:
- To foster a society in British Columbia in which there are no impediments to full and free participation in the economic, social, political and cultural life of British Columbia.
- To promote a climate of understanding and mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights.
- To prevent discrimination prohibited by this Code.
- To identify and eliminate persistent patterns of inequality associated with discrimination prohibited by this Code.
- To provide a means of redress for those persons who are discriminated against contrary to the Code.
Time Limits for Filing Complaint
The recent legislative amendments reduce the time limit for filing a complaint. Previously, a complaint could be filed up to one year after the alleged discrimination occurred; under the amendments, that time limit is reduced to six months. It should be noted, however, that the amendments also allow 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.
Power to Dismiss Complaints
Under the amendments, the Tribunal is granted the power to dismiss all or part of a complaint at any time after it has been filed, with or without a hearing, if proceeding with the complaint would not benefit the person, class or group alleged to have been discriminated against, or would not further the purposes of the Code, or the complaint was filed for improper motives or made in bad faith.
Enforcement of Settlement Agreements
Under the amendments, the current Section 35(1.4), which requires the terms of a settlement agreement to be provided to the Commission, is repealed, and the enforcement provisions no longer require that the terms of a settlement agreement be submitted to the Tribunal.
Accountability and Transparency
In an effort to increase the transparency and accountability of the bodies that administer the Code, the amendments provide for the production of an annual report describing the activities of the Tribunal and the disposition of complaints filed under the Code throughout the previous year. This report will be submitted annually to the Minister and the Minister must provide the report to the Legislative Assembly.
Amendments to the Cost Provisions of the Code
Previously, a panel or member could only award costs against a party to a complaint who had, in the opinion of the panel or member, engaged in improper conduct during either the course of the investigation or the hearing of the complaint. Under the amendments, costs may also be awarded where a party contravenes a rule or order made pursuant to the Code.
Education and Public Consultation
Under the amendments, the authority to conduct research and carry out public consultation is granted to the Minister responsible for human rights (currently the Attorney General). Developing public education and information on human rights will also become the responsibility of the Minister responsible for human rights.
Complaints outstanding with the Commission at the date the amendments come into force will be treated as if they had been filed with the Tribunal. In other words, all open files at the Commission will be transferred to the Tribunal.
The Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 64), will come into force on March 31, 2003 (B.C. Reg. 79/2003).