Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut June 12, 2012 - 10:00 am

Nunavut human rights system needs big changes: report

“Certain essential functions are missing”

DAVID MURPHY

The Nunavut Human Rights system needs serious revamping, two prominent human rights arbitrators said in a report tabled last week in the Nunavut legislature.

In a report for the Government of Nunavut, Dr. Gwen Brodsky and Shelagh Day outlined 18 recommendations for fixing the current system — the most prominent being establishing a Nunavut Human Rights Commission, something Nunavut doesn’t have.

“This report identifies a serious structural problem that must be fixed for the Nunavut Human Rights Act to function effectively,” said the report. “Specifically, certain essential functions are missing from Nunavut’s human rights system.”

Right now, Nunavut uses a human rights “tribunal.”

According to the report, the tribunal does not:

• Provide broad human rights education to the residents of Nunavut;

• Provide pro-active education to respondents about compliance with the NHRA;

• Provide pro-active education to those who need the act’s protections;

• Undertake studies, research, or inquiries;

• Develop policies or guidelines;

• Proactively address concerns about systemic discrimination;

• Provide assistance and advice to applicants about framing their notifications, evidence, documents, precedents, or witnesses; and,

• Advocate for applicants before the Tribunal (or in court in the event of judicial review or appeal proceedings).

The tribunal, consisting of five staff members, currently mediates discrimination matters and hears cases.

It was established based on the British Columbia system. Nunavut and B.C. are the only jurisdictions in Canada without a commission.

A Nunavut Human Rights Commission would act as a filter to help assess claims before the tribunal, dismiss claims that are not in time or not within the jurisdiction of the tribunal, and to help file claims and build cases.

It would also protect human rights, promote equality and education, and initiate research and reviews of the current system.

The commission would act in the same capacity as the Language Commissioner, reporting directly to the legislative assembly, the report said.

Brodsky and Day feel the commission should take a “made-in-Nunavut” approach to human rights enforcement, and recommend establishing an office in a “major centre of Nunavut” so that residents can gain easier access to the commission and the tribunal.

The tribunal is currently located in Coral Harbour.

“Since the headquarters … moved to Coral Harbour, it has become increasingly apparent that public access to information about human rights generally, and the remedial aspects of the NHRA specifically, continues to lag significantly behind other jurisdictions nationally and internationally,” said Jim Posynick, former adjudicator in human rights matters in the Northwest Territories, in a letter to the NHRT.

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