Human Rights Commissions and Public Policy: The Role of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in Advancing Sexual Orientation Equality Rights in Canada

By Nierobisz, Annette; Searl, Mark et al. | Canadian Public Administration, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Human Rights Commissions and Public Policy: The Role of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in Advancing Sexual Orientation Equality Rights in Canada


Nierobisz, Annette, Searl, Mark, Theroux, Charles, Canadian Public Administration


Abstract: This article examines the capacity of human rights commissions to foster public policy change by focusing on the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and its role in advancing sexual orientation equality rights in Canada. The case study is informed by commission annual reports, speeches by past chief commissioners, presentations by the commission to parliamentary committees, and an examination of 442 sexual orientation complaints closed by the commission by 2005. The study shows that, from its inception, the commission had a simple and consistent message: sexual orientation should not be the basis for denying individuals employment, services or benefits. Using a variety of strategies, the CHRC facilitated the incorporation of this message into the Canadian Human Rights Act by promoting the designation of sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. Subsequently, the commission became actively involved in securing equal access to employment-related benefits in the federal sphere for same-sex couples and also added its voice in support of legal recognition of same-sex marriage. The authors conclude by discussing how the unique position of human rights commissions gives them the potential to play an important role in public policy development, even when there may be a lack of political will or public support.

Sommaire : Le present article examine l'aptitude des commissions des droits de la personne a encourager les changements dans la politique publique en mettant l'accent sur la Commission canadienne des droits de la personne (CCDP) et son role dans la promotion des droits a l'egalite en matiere d'orientation sexuelle au Canada. L' etude de cas tire ses informations des rapports annuels de la commission, des allocutions prononcees par d'anciens presidents de la commission, des presentations faites par la commission aux comites parlementaires, et d'un examen de 442 plaintes relatives a l'orientation sexuelle traitees par la commission jusqu'en 2005. U etude indique que, depuis sa creation, la commission avait un message simple et unanime : l'orientation sexuelle ne devrait pas etre un motif invoque pour refuser de l'emploi, des services ou des avantages sociaux a des particuliers. Grace a diverses strategies, la CCDP a facilite l'integration de ce message a la Loi canadienne sur les droits de la personne en faisant en sorte que l'orientation sexuelle soit designee comme un motif de discrimination interdit. Par la suite, la commission a ete active sur la scene federale pour assurer que les conjoints de meme sexe beneficient de l'egalite d'acces aux avantages lies a l'emploi, et elle a egalement soutenu la reconnaissance 1egale du mariage des conjoints de meme sexe. En conclusion, les auteurs discutent la position unique des commissions des droits de la personne qui leur offre le potentiel de jouer un role important dans l'e1aboration des politiques gouvernementales, meme avec un manque de volonte politique ou de soutien public.

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Since the emergence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, a series of state-based human rights institutions have emerged to protect and promote equality rights. In Canada, the formalization of equality rights occurred in part through the creation of human rights codes and commissions designed to administer and enforce the codes. Provincial codes and human rights commissions were established between 1962 and 1979, while a federal human rights commission emerged in 1977, with the passage of Bill C-25, the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA). (1) Human rights legislation and human rights commissions in the territories were developed later. (2)

The provincial, territorial and federal commissions are closely related in structure and mandate. They are autonomous, state-sponsored institutions that operate in the public interest. Their legal mandate is to protect and promote equality and freedom from discrimination on grounds prohibited in their respective human rights legislation. …

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Human Rights Commissions and Public Policy: The Role of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in Advancing Sexual Orientation Equality Rights in Canada
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