B.C. dismisses human-rights commissioner
- B.C. dismisses human-rights commissioner
Plans to eliminate department entirely follow surprise firing of chief official
By ROD MICKLEBURGH
Friday, May 31, 2002 Page A6
VANCOUVER -- The head of the B.C. Human Rights Commission was fired yesterday, as the provincial government served notice that the commission will soon be eliminated entirely.
The move, announced in a legislative package to be debated this fall, will make British Columbia the only province without a functioning human-rights commission.
Harinder Mahil said he received a phone call about 9:30 in the morning telling him that his cabinet appointment had been rescinded and he should leave the office as quickly as possible.
Mr. Mahil had been acting chief commissioner since the previous head of the human-rights commission, Mary-Woo Sims, was fired last July. Also dismissed yesterday was Chris Finding, interim executive director of the commission's compliance program.
NDP leader Joy MacPhail called the firings "outrageous. It was only a year ago that they fired Mary-Woo Sims. Here we have a system already under pressure and the people there to guide it through the current situation are let go.
"This government has demonstrated absolutely no commitment to human rights in this province."
Under legislation to be debated at the fall sitting, the Human Rights Commission will be wiped out, leaving only the existing Human Rights Tribunal to handle discrimination complaints.
As in all other provinces, B.C. has both a human-rights commission, which investigates complaints, speaks out on issues and educates the public on discrimination matters, and a tribunal that holds hearings and makes decisions.
"We are going right back to where we were 20 years ago under Social Credit," said human-rights expert Shelagh Day. "They, too, abolished the commission, fired the staff and repealed legislation for something much weaker. This means big trouble for human rights."
Announcing the proposed legislative changes, Attorney-General Geoff Plant said there are too many delays and duplications under the current system.
"It is complicated, inefficient and slow. It can take years for a case to be heard, and justice delayed is justice denied."
In an interview, Mr. Plant called the legislation "very much a work in progress. People are invited to make their comments over the summer. But our intention is to eliminate the commission and put the tribunal in the driver's seat.
"The goal is early resolution of complaints."
He said Mr. Mahil and Mr. Finding were let go because someone with experience in leading a transition to a newer model was needed to head the commission until its demise. Management consultant Keith Saddleyer was appointed to take over from Mr. Mahil.
Mr. Mahil said his firing was a big surprise.
"I have been in the public service for more than 10 years and the government has never expressed any concern about my performance. I expected to continue with the commission until the legislation was changed."
Some recent tribunal rulings have drawn widespread public ridicule in recent years, including $30,000 in damages awarded to a devout Muslim working in a drugstore for being forced to handle poinsettias at Christmas time.
However, Ms. Day, senior editor at the Canadian Human Rights Reporter, said there is more to the commission than investigating such complaints.
"The commission has an education role. It acts as an advocate against discrimination that can affect people in their ability to get a job, to get a place to live, and the way they lead their lives."
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