Yukon Human Rights Commission too 'beholden' to gov't, says chair

The commission reports to the Yukon legislature, but relies on the department of justice for funding. 'We are supposed to be an independent body ... and it makes it difficult to be seen that way,' says chair Russell Knutson.

'We are supposed to be an independent body... and it makes it difficult to be seen that way'

Russell Knutson, chair of the Yukon Human Rights Commission, says the commission is funded by the department of justice. (Yukon Human Rights Commission)

The Yukon Human Rights Commission says it's being frustrated in its work because it's "beholden" to the Yukon Government's department of justice.

"We're in a unique position in that we're directly responsible to report to the legislature, but our funding is funneled to us from the department of justice," says Russell Knutson, chair of the commission. 

"We are supposed to be an independent body... and it makes it difficult to be seen that way, because we are beholden to the department of justice."

The commission, which tabled its annual report in the legislature yesterday, has been advocating for structural change since 2008. Knutson and Jessica Lott-Thompson, the commission's director of human rights, hope the new Liberal government will hear their arguments. 

Sometimes the department of justice is involved in human rights files, Knutson says, either directly through the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, or indirectly, when it's providing information or legal advice to other government departments.

"That is a really uncomfortably tight relationship that we would love to see changed," Knutson says.

Funding problems

Relying on the department of justice but reporting to the legislature is also problematic for funding, say Lott-Thompson and Knutson.

If the commission were to report to and receive funding from the same body, Lott-Thompson believes it would get the money it needs to fulfil its mandate — something that's not happening now, he says.

As it stands, every time the commission needs money, it goes to the department of justice to ask for one-time grants, "and it just makes it very, very difficult to create any kind of consistency in the office," says Knutson.

He says the commission's budget is tied up with day-to-day inquiries and complaints, which have been on the rise.

Knutson says that's left the commission unable to fulfill its mandate when it comes to public education and outreach.

"Quite frankly, a very solid human rights act is something to be proud of, and I would think that when the territory brought it into existence they were very proud of it, and I'd like to hope that that is the vision of the current government, as well," he says.
 

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