Rally demands changes to N.S. Human Rights Commission
Organizers say the commission's policies disadvantage Black complainants
People rallied outside the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission Friday calling for changes to policies they say disadvantage Black complainants and other people of colour.
"When we have to endure racism on a daily basis, it leads to anxiety, panic attacks, and eventually depression," said organizer Raymond Sheppard, who said he has been campaigning for human rights and racial equity for more than four decades.
"This is documented by European scholars, not just us. But we feel it."
The rally organizers listed some major areas where they say the commission needs change:
- Amend the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act to allow a minimum of three years to file complaint
- Increased penalties for human rights violations, including jail time
- Cultural competency training for all employees and commissioners
- Community information sessions to be held across the province
- More diversity in hiring of intake workers, with a particular emphasis on hiring more Black intake workers
- Consistent follow up with complainants after a complaint is filed
- Shorter assessment times
The rally's keynote speaker Angela Bowden said she first filed her own case of workplace discrimination in 2017 but it is still on-going.
She noted that undergoing discrimination can traumatize a person and make them hesitant to file a complaint. Currently the NSHRC does not accept complaints about incidents that happened more than one year in the past, which Bowden said needs to change.
"They have a one year window that protects the perpetrators, because we know what trauma does to an individual. And we know how trauma can flatline somebody," she said. "It certainly flatlines me, and I am a strong individual and it flatlines me."
Bowden and other speakers at the rally also said when they tried to file complaints with the commission the intake workers did not display cultural sensitivity. Bowden read a letter from a young Black woman who said an intake worker of a white European background compared the colour of their skins, saying members of her own family could "pass as African Nova Scotians."
"The first people that they encounter need to be people with sensitivity," said Bowden. "[Intake workers] need to be individuals who understand what race trauma does. It is not the job of the individual who was traumatized and have had their rights violated to explain to the Human Rights Commission the consequences of that behaviour on their mental health, on their physical health and on their emotional well-being."
Bowden said it's important to have intake workers who are African Nova Scotian to allow complainants open up about their concerns without fear.
No one from the Human Rights Commission was available to speak to CBC on Friday, but in a statement the commission's communications manager Jeff Overmars wrote the commission receives about 2800 inquiries each year but the majority of those are not from people who want to file complaints.
"The threshold to accept a human rights complaint under the Act is quite low," Overmars wrote. "If the Commission has jurisdiction under the Act, an investigation will be completed. In 2019, 187 individuals completed a complaint form and 179 had their complaints accepted."
He said last year the commission hired an African Nova Scotian liason, and "recognizes that there is much more work that needs to be done to address long-standing inequities and issues related to anti-Black racism in the province."
Overmars said in recent years the commission has on average been investigating complaints in just over six months. He wrote that several years ago the process took nearly three years, but added the commission has received a lot of complaints related to COVID-19 and that it's assessing the impact on processing timelines.
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