News Release: The Manitoba Human Rights Commission

September 5, 2012

Executive Director leaves the Manitoba Human Rights Commission

After almost 16 years at the helm of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, Dianna Scarth is moving on. Ms Scarth was known to embrace change, and this philosophy was reflected in the evolution of the Commission over the years.

One of her greatest challenges was battling misconceptions about the Commission when it came to systemic discrimination. "It is still assumed today by many that the Commission only deals with individual complaints, despite success after success of dealing with systemic complaints, which result in positive change for many people," she recently stated. "It is important to know that human rights legislation can be used as a tool to achieve systemic change." 

The most well known human rights adjudication during Ms Scarth's years as Executive Director was the Pasternak Twins and their complaint against The Manitoba High School Sports Athletic Association. Ms Scarth supported the twins' right to play on their high school boys' hockey team, and always maintained that there was no substance to the floodgates argument suggesting that the success of the Pasternak case meant the demise of girls hockey.

Ms Scarth has been quoted as saying, "This was not an easy road for them to take, and they deserve our admiration for their courage."

Ms Scarth became the executive director of the Commission in 1996. She introduced new ways of resolving complaints through mediation at the front end of the complaint process, a system now followed by many Commissions across the country. She also introduced the Commission's Educational Programs for employers. The sessions continue to be successful today.

One of her greatest passions was the Commission's Youth Initiative, which includes annual youth conferences, youth publications, and a human rights website for students and teachers. According to Ms Scarth, the Commission realized that it wasn't enough to just talk to teachers and administrators. It needed a direct-line relationship with young people.

And finally, Ms Scarth is especially pleased that the long sought-after amendments to The Human Rights Code to include Gender Identity and Social Disadvantage as protected grounds from discrimination were proclaimed last June.

For many years Ms Scarth has served as the inspiration and leader of the staff of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, a sentiment echoed by colleagues from Human Rights Commissions across the country.

"I would like to express my appreciation to Ken Filkow, Janet Baldwin and Jerry Woods for their support and guidance in their role as Chairs of the Commission, to my amazing colleagues and to people in the community who have made my job such a pleasure over the years. It was a rare opportunity for which I will always be grateful," said Ms Scarth.

The University of Winnipeg will benefit from the knowledge and experience Ms Scarth brings to the field of human rights. She begins teaching there in September.

Examples of systemic cases, which have been successfully settled by the Commission:

  • The Elizabeth Fry Society and Manitoba Justice settlement which focused on programs that met the needs of women, including facilitating contact between incarcerated women and their children, and meeting the special needs of Aboriginal women, women with disabilities and pregnant women.
  • As a result of a 2008 mediated settlement, all intersections with pedestrian traffic signals eventually will have audible cues. These changes, which benefit people with disabilities when they are attempting to cross streets at controlled intersections, were applauded by both disability and human rights advocates.
  • A very recent, important systemic settlement case provided for discharging a number of residents of the Portage Developmental Centre into the community over the next 3 years.
  • The Association of Foreign Medical Graduates in Manitoba filed complaints alleging discrimination against international medical graduates (IMGs). The mediation and subsequent negotiations amongst the parties resulted in systemic changes to training and licensing for IMGs. A significantly greater number of IMGs are now accessing residency positions each year and a number of specialized supports and resources are available to them.

For more information please contact:

Patricia Knipe
Communications Director
Manitoba Human Rights Commission