November 18, 2008

Manitoba Human Rights Commission Releases 2007 Annual Report

Manitoba Human Rights Commission Releases 2007 Annual Report

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission has released its 2007 Annual Report, which reveals that one of the challenges facing the Commission continues to be the complexity of human rights systemic complaints.

“The complexity surrounding systemic issues requires a different type of investigation, taxing already limited resources,” says Jerry Woods Chairperson of the Manitoba Human Rights Board of Commissioners.

He admits, however, that when a systemic complaint is resolved, the results are gratifying. A case in point, he says, is the successful settlement between the Elizabeth Fry Society and the Government of Manitoba. The settlement included facilitating contact between incarcerated women and their children, and accommodating the special needs of women with disabilities, Aboriginal women and pregnant women.

Mr. Woods was appointed to the position of chairperson in 2007 and in the annual report he outlines his thoughts regarding future commitments in the fight against discrimination, including giving voice to those who are still marginalized.

The report also once again documents that the greatest number of formal complaints filed continues to be on the basis of physical and mental disability (41%). This figure is more than double the next two highest grounds of complaints, those based on sex, including pregnancy (19%) and ancestry /ethnic origin 17%).

The Commission’s Executive Director Dianna Scarth says that although the trend of the greatest number of complaints based on disability continues, progress advancing the rights of people with disabilities is being made. In the 2007 Annual Report, Ms Scarth refers to Canada becoming a signatory to the United nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons and the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in the VIA Rail Case, in which the Commission intervened.

At the local level she says she was pleased that the City of Winnipeg announced, on International Human Rights Day, its plans to implement and initiate the ‘Announce Next Stop’ program, which assists visually impaired riders, as well as others with disabilities.

“The City of Winnipeg,” she says, “agreed to move forward with this program voluntarily after the Commission drew its attention to rulings in Ontario, which found that the failure to announce stops was discriminatory.”

With regard to the second highest number of complaints, sex including pregnancy, Ms Scarth says that barriers to full participation of women in some areas, such as amateur sports, continue to exist, despite sweeping changes in attitudes over the past 30 years.

In the Annual Report, Ms. Scarth compares the 2007 application for judicial review of the Pasternaks v the Manitoba High School Athletic Association with a case in 1977 when a 15 year old girl was not allowed to compete in a sporting competition at a Winter Fair. “At that time the young woman was told that the competition was for “boys only,” even though she was qualified in every aspect except one – she was a girl,” says Ms Scarth.

Other highlights of the 2007 Annual Report include:

  • The number of formal complaints received (274) was down slightly from the near record setting number of 297 in 2006.
  • In partnership with the University of Winnipeg, the Commission held three community consultations in connection with its Racialized Communities and Police Services Project, and released a report on the first phase of the project.
  • Legal proceedings in 2007 included a successful adjudication, the only adjudication of the year.
  • The recipients of the 2007 Human Rights Commitment Award of Manitoba, which recognized work in the advancement of human rights by overcoming discrimination based on mental disability were the teachers, principal, and students involved in the Bridges FASD Intermediate Program at David Livingstone Community School; the recipient of the Sybil Shack Human Rights Youth Award was Krupa Kotecha, a grade 12 student at Balmoral Hall School.
  • The 2007 Annual Report is available on the Commission’s website

For more information please contact:
Patricia Knipe
Communications Director