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Two Black fists break the chain binding them

Ottawa – On Emancipation Day, the Senate Committee on Human Rights is amplifying calls to address reports of anti-Black racism at the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). 

The committee began studying anti-Black racism, sexism and systemic discrimination at the CHRC in May 2023 following a federal government report that the human rights watchdog had discriminated against its Black and racialized employees. 

The committee heard that the CHRC dismisses race-based complaints at a higher rate than other types of complaints or subjects them to lengthy review processes. The committee also learned that Black employees at the CHRC have been excluded from promotions. Some witnesses described the CHRC as a “national scandal” and “broken beyond repair.” 

Among the witnesses’ many recommendations were calls for a Black equity commissioner to investigate systemic anti-Black racism throughout the federal public service, and more resources for anti-racism education and training. 

The CHRC said in a written brief that it “unreservedly apologizes” and that it is taking the findings of the federal report seriously.

A report on the Senate committee’s findings is anticipated to be released in the fall of 2023. 

Quick Facts

  • The CHRC is the first point of contact for registering a human rights complaint at the federal level. It conducts a preliminary screening process of each complaint before assessing whether it meets the criteria to undergo further review with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT).
  • The CHRC and the CHRT were established under the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977. This legislation prohibits discrimination in areas of federal jurisdictions based on “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”
  • In March 2021, the House of Commons unanimously voted in favour of a motion declaring August 1 as Emancipation Day in Canada. This coincides with the day the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect across the British Empire in 1834.

Quotes 

“It is deeply unfortunate that the Canadian Human Rights Commission is failing the people it was intended to protect. The CHRC must be held accountable for its actions. I hope the Senate committee’s study will help change the culture at the CHRC and inspire other institutions to create more inclusive work environments.”

- Senator Salma Ataullahjan, Chair of the committee 

“Sadly, we have been hearing allegations of racism at the Canadian Human Rights Commission since the 1980s. Many Black communities have felt for decades that their complaints to the commission go unheard.” 

- Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, Deputy Chair of the committee

“Although the Canadian Human Rights Commission has taken steps to remedy anti-Black racism and other forms of systemic discrimination, it’s clear that the institution must do more to fulfil its important mandate.”

- Senator Nancy J. Hartling, Deputy Chair of the committee 

Associated Links

For more information:
Ben Silverman
Communications Officer | Senate of Canada
343-574-4950 | ben.silverman@sen.parl.gc.ca

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