Closure of human rights commission offices a blow to minorities

Closure of human rights commission offices a blow to minorities
Posted on Wednesday March 31, 2010

By Jasminee Sahoye
The Caribbean Camera

Liberal MPs have lashed out at the Harper government, saying the government is continuing its assault on minority and women’s rights with the closing of three offices of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

“This is part of a pattern by this government to silence the voices of rights claimants, especially of minorities and women in this country,” said Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, who is the party’s special advisor on human rights.

“Shutting down these offices will make it very difficult for people in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax to file complaints when they believe their rights have been violated. The Commission is a vital link to the principles of equal opportunity and non-discrimination in this country,” he added.

The three offices being closed received 70 percent of all signed complaints to the CHRC in 2008. The decision means only offices in Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg will be left. This decision will particularly affect recent immigrants to Canada, the majority of whom settle in the largest cities.

“Once again this government is operating by stealth, making a major announcement at the 11th hour on a Friday, hoping nobody will notice,” said Liberal Status of Women Critic Anita Neville. “But people do notice – big time; especially when we’re talking about our rights.”

Adding their condemnation is the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) saying that the closure of the three offices will make it substantially harder for individuals from marginalized groups to launch human rights complaints.

The union, which represents CHRC employees, says this latest “attack” will have a particular impact on racialized people and recent immigrants. In many cases, the closures will make it much more difficult to challenge both systemic abuses and individual instances of discrimination.

John Gordon, National President of PSAC said the closures are indicative of a strategy by the Conservative government to destabilize human rights organizations and women’s groups in Canada.

“When the Conservatives took power in 2006, one of their first moves was to abolish the Court Challenges Program and close Status of Women Canada offices across the country,” Gordon said. “Women’s groups were denied government funding if they engaged in research or advocacy work, and equality-seeking groups lost the ability to fund Charter of Rights challenges.”

Meanwhile, Karen Mosher, the commission’s secretary general is quoted in the Toronto Sun as saying that the Commission hasn’t been getting walk-in clients for “some time,” and the decision to close the offices is the commission’s and not the government.

“…We do our intakes over the phone and on paper,” Mosher told the Sun. That will continue after the offices close within the next six months.

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