One thing that is missing in the Human Rights Tribunal legislation of today is a prevention or education component.
In BC, the education component was removed and shuffled off to the Human Rights Coalition, which now operates as the Human Rights Clinic. The name basically says it all; it’s a legal clinic.
The focus on legal action detracts from the reality of discrimination in Canada today. The reality is that most people want to get along with their employees and people can be educated out of their prejudices.
However, when the employees’ only action available when their rights have been violated is to threaten a legal case before a tribunal, the tendency of employers is to dig in their heels and deny that they did anything wrong rather than to seek information about how they could do things better or to communicate with the employee about solutions.
When employers search for information, they find information about how to legally respond, rather than how to ensure that their workplace is fair and encourages participation by everyone in accordance with their skills.
With their focus on the individual, the Human Rights Tribunal is not in a position to educate on issues of human rights. They are looking for problems with the case and, if they don’t find it, problems with the individual who brought the case forward.
This does nothing to bring the parties to a closer understanding or society closer to a world free of discrimination, which is where we should be headed.
When I was a student at university in the 1990s, my classmates and I were sitting in the lobby of a building waiting for our classroom to open. One student turned to his neighbour and starting making fun of the LGB Centre’s signs around campus. Instead of laughing along, the neighbour started asking him why he was bothered by them and started challenging his prejudice in a calm, non-judgmental manner. The classmate was clearly affected and almost immediately started talking about where his prejudice came from and started reconsidering it. Amazingly, in the course of a short five-minute conversation he agreed that he would think about it before he made those type of comments in the future.
In fact, as a student I saw many of those moments occur, as people coming from small-town environments and microcosmic high schools were exposed to people from around the country and world in a learning environment. People are willing to ask questions about the things they had always been taught to be true. They just need someone to start the conversation. Although there are fewer opportunities, it’s not impossible to have those types of discussions in the world of government, work and business.
In my book, I want to examine some of the alternatives to our current focus on antagonistic legal action and propose some solutions to how to return education and cooperation to the system.