In 2014 the NWT Human Rights Commission contracted an independent review of the NWT Human Rights Act (Act) and its supporting programs to mark the tenth anniversary of the Act’s inception in 2004.
The Commission received and publicly released the review report in April 2015. The review assessed the system’s progress in achieving the original purpose and potential of the Human Rights Act in terms of comprehensiveness, fair consideration of complaints, accessibility, and the system’s ability to address individual and systemic discrimination to promote social change.
The review report made a number of findings, including the following:
- the complaint process is over-legalized which creates a serious barrier to access to justice,
- the organizational structure is unnecessarily complex,
- the threshold for referral of complaints is too low to allow the Director to properly screen complaints,
- there is limited outreach and services to the communities outside Yellowknife, and
- the current focus on individual complaints makes it difficult to effect systemic and institutional changes.
The major recommendations of the review report include the following:
1. Integrate a restorative approach into all human rights work
The review recommends the Commission adopt a restorative approach with particular attention to dispute resolution at the earliest stages of the complaint. A restorative approach takes into account the importance of relationships between the affected parties, considers the context in which issues take place, and encourages the participation of all those affected in crafting the solution. The review notes that using a restorative approach will reduce the need for legal counsel, improve the relationship between parties and help the Commission identify and address systemic issues. The review also suggests considering this approach as an option for Adjudication Panel hearings.
2. Unify and simplify the structure and increase responsibility of the Commission
The review recommends that the Commission and Director’s office be unified. It recommends the Commission be responsible for directing the work of both the complaint process and the promotion of human rights.
To enable the Commission to more effectively represent the public interest, Commission members would decide whether complaints would be dismissed or referred to the Adjudication Panel for hearing. The Commission would approve settlement agreements to ensure the public interest was dealt with in the agreement.
The report recommends that the Act be amended to raise the present screening threshold to allow the Commission to refer for hearing only those cases that have merit and raise significant issues of discrimination.
3. Increase access through stronger individual and community relationships
The review recommends that the Commission increase access to human rights protection and promotion by developing stronger relationships throughout the NWT. The review recommends increasing the presence and connection within communities by building partnerships with organizations in communities, and by considering establishing human rights facilitators in communities.
4. Identify and address systemic discrimination
The review states that much of the focus of the human rights system in the past ten years has been on an individual complaint process which is adversarial and highly legalized.
The review highlights the need for the Commission to shift the focus to broader human rights issues and foster a culture of diversity and inclusion in the NWT. It recommends this be done by working with community groups to identify and prioritize discrimination issues that pervade NWT society and by learning from the best practices of other jurisdictions how to change these systemic patterns of discrimination.
The Adjudication Panel, Commission and Director support the overall findings and recommendations presented in the review report. The Commission has tasked a Working Group, made up of members from the Panel, Commission and Director’s office, with developing a plan to implement the changes recommended by the comprehensive review, and with leading the change process. The Working Group has reviewed and discussed the report’s findings and recommendations. This document presents the Working Group’s suggested steps to implement the recommendations and the resources required to carry them out.
- The Commission requires in-house legal counsel to fulfill its changed mandate. This mandate includes increased responsibilities in addressing systemic issues, dealing with individual complaints and addressing the public interest in complaints that are referred for adjudication. The report recommends, and the Working Group agrees, that the Commission requires in-house legal counsel in order to do this work.
- The current half-time Office Manager position with the Adjudication Panel should be increased to a full-time Adjudication Panel Officer, who can carry out the office manager functions currently required, as well as assist with the readying of parties for the restorative hearing process, and assist adjudicators with facilitating restorative hearings.
- An additional half-time Human Rights Officer position is needed in order to complete the increased work on systemic discrimination and community engagement, the increased focus on resolution of complaints early in the process, and the increased complexity of investigations required by the higher threshold for referral.
Download a copy of the complete Implementaion Plan.