A message from Commissioner Govender

Human rights are never more important than in times of crisis. It is in these challenging times that it becomes critical for us all to place human rights at the centre of our decision making.

See the Commissioner’s full policy statement on human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic →

Translations of the statement are available in:

简体中文 | 繁體中文 | Tagalog | فارسی | ਪੰਜਾਬੀ | Français

What we’re doing

Calling for the continuation of mask mandates to protect the marginalized

In 2022, B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner wrote two letters urging the Provincial Health Officer (PHO) to maintain the mask mandate to ensure everyone’s protection, and especially for marginalized groups. The global COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over and ending the provincial mask mandate disproportionately harms and isolates those who are more vulnerable. Vulnerable people include those who are immunocompromised, older, Indigenous and racialized, disabled, and low-income communities. Many of these are protected characteristics under B.C.’s Human Rights Code.

The Commissioner’s letters follow over two years of ongoing work to provide a human rights perspective on COVID policy decisions, including to the PHO.

See our media release for more information and to read the public letters.

Conducting a public inquiry into hate during the pandemic

In August 2021, Commissioner Govender launched a public inquiry into hate incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic (the “Inquiry”). The Inquiry spurred from the significant increase in reported hate-related incidents, including online incidents, in B.C. since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. These include but aren’t limited to: anti-Asian and anti-Indigenous racism, gender-based violence, and more.

The Commissioner reported the Inquiry results in March 2023 and shared recommendations for how the province can work to address, prevent and eliminate hate incidents during times of crisis and beyond.

See our Inquiry website for more details on the Inquiry process and what was in scope.

Policy guidance

BCOHRC issued extensive policy guidance to employers, landlords, service providers and individuals about how to ensure that human rights are protected and balanced against urgent public health priorities. This guidance was made available in seven languages including American Sign Language.

BCOHRC also issued specific guidance about mask-wearing policies, calling on those responsible for such policies to accommodate people who cannot wear a mask based on grounds protected by the B.C. Human Rights Code (such as disability). A simple poster (now archived) was also created to help businesses clarify mask-wearing exemptions permitted under law. The poster was designed to be placed alongside notices or signage about a business’s mask-wearing policies.

Most recently, BCOHRC issued guidance about vaccination status policies—that is, policies that treat people differently based on whether or not they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. That guidance emphasizes the continuing need for a human rights-based response to the pandemic, even as more people get vaccinated and transmission rates drop.

We also regularly updated public responses to frequently asked questions about addressing human rights issues during the pandemic. And we engaged across government in targeted ways to support the protection of human rights during this fast-changing public health emergency.

Policy recommendations

Our COVID-19 work has included issuing policy recommendations to correctional services, working with public health officials to protect the safety of people affected by domestic and gender based violence and ensuring the needs of the disability community are met in the communication of critical public health information.

Frequently asked questions

During the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, tenants and landlords and residential care providers such as seniors homes may arise. We have provided the following information to guide your understanding about human rights and responsibilities during this time.

A printable PDF version of the Frequently Asked Questions is available.

Disclaimer: This statement does not constitute legal advice. BC’s Human Rights Commissioner encourages individuals and organizations to take universal precautions based on the most current advice from public health officials and to seek legal advice if necessary. The Commissioner continues to monitor the evolving situation and will update this statement on an ongoing basis as needed.