Dec. 9, 2009
FREDERICTON (CNB) - The 2008-09 annual report of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission was released today in anticipation of International Human Rights Day, Thursday, Dec. 10.
"Discrimination still exists in New Brunswick, but it has evolved," said Gordon L. Porter, commission chair. "Today, it is much more likely to involve a failure to accommodate a person with a physical or mental disability instead of someone being singled out based on prejudice. However, both types of discrimination are important since the result is the same in both cases - a person is denied a job, an apartment or a public service."
In 2008-09, disability discrimination again replaced sex discrimination and harassment as the main source of complaints.
When 143 similar complaints arising out of a single fact situation are factored out, nearly three-quarters of the complaints filed concerned employment, and 60 per cent concerned discrimination based on physical and mental disability.
"Mediation continues to be the most effective means of resolving disputes," said Porter. "Pre-complaint interventions, especially, are crucial so that employees may be rehired before a replacement is hired and tenants can retain their apartment before it is let out to someone else."
More than 100 cases were closed as a result of mediation in 2008-09, with settlements totalling more than $1.4 million. To resolve complaints more quickly, the commission has increasingly relied on early mediation, which was successful in 24 cases, and on pre-complaint intervention, which was successful in 20 cases.
"Settlements are rarely publicized since the parties generally want to keep them confidential," said Porter. "As a result, New Brunswickers may be unaware of the reality of discrimination and of the work of the commission, which is almost entirely behind-the-scene. Human rights complaints rarely receive media attention, and those that do are often atypical. Obviously, dealing with complaints after the fact can only go so far. Prevention is essential. That is why education and outreach are essential components of the commission's mandate.
In 2008-09, the commission delivered 98 information sessions, more than double the 40 sessions of the previous year. The commission was also involved in a variety of other educational activities. Notably, it helped organize a national forum on inclusion of students with a disability. Also, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the commission held a one-day youth forum and contributed to an interactive national website for youth.
"Human rights commissions continue to play an essential role in achieving equality of opportunity," said Porter. "To do so, they need adequate funding and the proper organizational and legal framework."
Last December, the commission published the Future Directions report that makes five key recommendations for updating the Human Rights Act. Notably, the recommendations concern funding; independence; the human rights expertise of boards of inquiry; and the repeal of the exception that allows mandatory retirement for employees who receive a bona fide pension from their employer.
"Equality of opportunity, appreciation of diversity, accommodation of differences and respect for all people are human rights values that New Brunswickers cherish," Porter said. "With the government's help, the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission will continue to do its best to promote and defend these rights for all of us."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Printed copies of the 2008-09 annual report may be obtained by calling 1-888-471-2233. Electronic copies are available at www.gnb.ca/hrc-cdp/10-e.asp. MEDIA CONTACT: Francis Young, New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, 506-453-2308.