The Commission examines every discrimination complaint it receives. In some cases, the Commission will refer a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for a hearing. In cases where the issue has the potential to either affect the rights of many people in Canada or help define or clarify human rights law, the Commission's legal team will participate in the hearing and represent the public interest. In rare instances, a case will continue through Canada's court system, sometimes all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. This can take several years.
Throughout 2022, the Commission participated in legal proceedings before the Tribunal and the federal courts. This included virtual Tribunal mediation sessions and even virtual hearings.
Services in First Nations communities
In January of 2022, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (Tribunal) released a decision that could help improve police services for the Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation. The complainant, Mr. Gilbert Dominique, on behalf of his Nation, alleged that the federal government failed to adequately fund and support the delivery of substantively equal policing services in his First Nations community.
The Tribunal agreed. After a full hearing, in which the Commission participated on behalf of the public interest, the Tribunal determined that this case amounted to discrimination on the basis of race, as well as national or ethnic origin. The federal government sought judicial review of the Tribunal's decision. A decision is expected sometime in 2023.
In addition, this past year, the Commission continued to participate in ongoing legal proceedings regarding the federal government's delivery of child and family services, and implementation of Jordan's Principle. The Tribunal released new rulings in 2022. They deal with matters such as major capital expenditures, age limits for access to services, training for government employees, funding for important research, as well as the relationship between the Tribunal's compensation awards and a potential class action settlement. The Commission remains committed to the ultimate outcome of seeing improved child and family services that protect the right of First Nations children to grow up safe with their families.
Expression in defense of human rights
In October of 2022, the Commission appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada to intervene in the case of Hansman v. Neufeld. The case deals with the law of defamation, freedom of expression, and the public interest in combating discrimination.
Mr. Hansman is a gay man and teacher who was the President of the British Columbian Teachers' Federation. The respondent, Mr. Neufeld, is an elected public school board trustee. When the province of British Columbia published materials promoting inclusive environments in schools regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, Mr. Neufeld made public, negative comments about the materials. Mr. Hansman publicly criticized Mr. Neufeld's negative comments. Mr. Neufeld sued Mr. Hansman for defamation.
The question before the Supreme Court is whether the public interest to allow debate over these issues outweighs Mr. Neufeld's right to continue his lawsuit. The Commission served as one of several interveners before the Supreme Court. We argued that in balancing the issues in this case, the Court should give more weight to Mr. Hansman's expressed ideas, because they support vulnerable and equity-seeking groups. We told the Court that people who speak out in support of equity-seeking groups, or respond to harmful discourse, should be able to do so without fear of lawsuits aimed at silencing them.
The Supreme Court's ruling is expected in 2023.