“Equality is important to me”
What does the next generation of British Columbians think about equal rights? BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner is celebrating International Human Rights Day 2021 with a heartwarming video featuring elementary school students.
I’m Kasari Govender, B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner. In celebration of International Human Rights Day 2021, we asked the next generation of British Columbians, why human rights matters and what that means to them.
This is what equality means to us.
Equality means that we shouldn’t be treated differently depending on our cultures. Everyone has different cultures that should be respected.
To me, it means having equal rights. It shouldn’t matter your race, gender, culture, beliefs, money, or anything.
We should all be treated equally because on the inside, we’re all the same.
All genders should be respected because we are all equal.
Everyone should be able to speak their own language. We should be able to practice our own traditions without getting made fun of.
Everyone is treated the same no matter what their race, culture, disabilities, and more.
Treat people how you want to be treated.
For people who are lesbian, have the right to like each other and trans people have the right to be whatever gender they want.
People of different cultures should be able to go anywhere they want without being restricted to one place.
So, this is my picture, it has a bunch of symbols, everyone is welcome here.
This picture I made that says equality.
This is what I drew.
This is my artwork with all the symbols that I could think of.
That’s what equality means to us.
This is what equality means to us.
And that’s what equality means to me.
What we’re doing
The core purpose of BCOHRC is to ensure the rights of everyone in our province—particularly those guaranteed by B.C.’s Human Rights Code—are protected and respected.
Dismantling or restructuring the laws, policies and practices that create and sustain such discrimination as a regular part of many people’s lives is foundational to the work of the Office.
Below are some examples of our work in this area.
Advocating for disaggregated data collection
Since 2020, the BCOHRC has been working to have disaggregated data collected across the B.C. Government.
Disaggregated data has the potential to make systemic inequalities visible and highlight areas where changes in policy and law are required to address systemic discrimination.
On May 2, 2022, the Province introduced disaggregated data legislation that is unique in Canada. This legislation is the culmination of decades of work by Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, activists, organizers, and scholars. And while this legislation is specific to tackling systemic racism, marginalized communities have also called for disaggregated demographic data collection to tackle sexism, ableism and other forms of systemic discrimination.
The BCOHRC has contributed to work on this topic through the adoption of the “grandmother perspective”, an approach offered by Gwen Phillips of the Ktunaxa Nation and informed by Indigenous ways of knowing.
Phillips explained that government must only collect the information that will nurture communities – so to say, as Elders might, “we need to know because we care.”
The purpose of the data is critical. The data must only be collected in service of redressing systemic discrimination and enhancing equity.
We recognize that many communities may continue to have concerns about the collection of disaggregated data because it has been and continues to be used to further colonization, systemic racism, and oppression of marginalized populations. We acknowledge this reality and that we must speak openly about strategies for mitigating these risks.
Despite its power to focus the gaze of policy makers on real world inequities, data also has the power to reinforce negative stereotypes. Our work calls on anyone implementing disaggregated data collection to put control over data in the hands of those whose data it is. For example, disaggregated demographic data about a First Nation should only be collected in service of that community and upon the consent of that Nation, and used at their direction. The new legislation creates advisory roles for those who are directly impacted to embed this democratic approach to data and to counter any harms it may cause.
To learn more about our work on using disaggregated data to combat systemic discrimination, see:
- Disaggregated demographic data collection in British Columbia:The grandmother perspective
- Disaggregated data: Summary of recommendations to prevent harm to communities
Improving the Code
An important example of BCOHRC’s work in this area are the recommendations we’ve made to improve B.C.’s Human Rights Code by strengthening protections for marginalized groups.
This includes conducting research and making policy recommendations on the inclusion of “social condition”—meaning social or economic disadvantage—and “Indigeneity” as prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Code.
This research project is grounded in a human rights-based approach. In addition to a jurisdictional comparison and analysis of relevant literature and case law, the project included focus groups with people affected by discrimination on the basis of social condition. Focus groups were also held with lawyers who represent complainants at the BC Human Rights Tribunal and those who represent respondents—primarily employers.
BCOHRC worked with community groups—such as the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, Megaphone, First United Church and the Binners’ Project—to connect with people in poverty to hear their personal stories of discrimination on the basis of social condition.
BCOHRC’s recommendations to include social condition and Indigeneity under the Code build on community calls to action, as reflected in the recommendations issued by MLA Ravi Kahlon’s 2017 report on the re-establishment of a provincial human rights commission, A Human Rights Commission for the 21st Century. The province-wide consultation leading up to the report identified these Code amendments as a priority, which was included in the final report as a specific recommendation to the Attorney General. We will continue to advocate for these amendments to B.C.’s Human Rights Code as an important step toward strengthening protections for marginalized groups.
Raising public awareness
Another example of our work on discrimination is the “Am I racist?” campaign, which BCOHRC developed to address forms of racism that are often more invisible and insidious than overt hate: those stereotypes and biases that we all hold inside. With our mandate to educate the province about human rights top of mind, we heard from B.C.-based community and human rights groups then launched this campaign to empower citizens to address racism starting from a point of self-reflection.
In November 2020, large black signs with bold, white writing began popping up in both urban and rural communities across British Columbia. From billboards, transit shelters and the backs of buses, the 77 advertisements across 24 communities in B.C. posed a seemingly simple question with complex implications: “Am I racist?”
The campaign was rolled out in two phases: an initial teaser to get the public thinking followed by a reveal of three specific questions, which asked:
“If I say I don’t see skin colour, am I racist?”
“If I want to forget our province’s history, am I racist?”
“If I assume you are not from here, am I racist?”
The second-phase signs also directed viewers to an interactive educational experience on BCOHRC’s at bchumanrights.ca/BeAntiRacist that is designed to help British Columbians look deeper at the issues that divide us.
We will continue to raise awareness and understanding of key human rights issues through campaigns like this one as a way change hearts and minds to create a new culture of human rights in British Columbia.
When we recognize these incidents as embedded in bigger structures, we can see that the solutions must be transformative of those very structures.Commissioner Kasari Govender
What we know
more human rights complaints were filed in B.C. in 2018/2019 than 2014/2015.
of human rights complaints were filed by persons with a disability,
the largest number of complaints filed with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. (source)
of trans and/or non-binary youth have experience discrimination
of Indigenous peoples in B.C. did not report experiences with discrimination.
The study surveying Indigenous peoples from across B.C. found that participants thought they would not be believed. (source)