By Angela Hall, Saskatchewan News Network; Regina Leader-Post
The provincial government plans to introduce human rights legislation that will dissolve the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal in favour of having a court hear the complaints.
Justice Minister Don Morgan said the change, among other reforms to the Human Rights Code, is being undertaken at the suggestion of Judge David Arnot, chief commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. The commission is the body that receives human rights complaints and occasionally refers a matter to a tribunal for a hearing.
"There seemed to be a lot of support for going forward with it so we felt it was an appropriate piece of legislation to bring at this time," said Morgan, whose Sask. Party government signalled its intent in the throne speech to move forward with changes, which were first discussed in the spring.
"It will allow for a more streamlined process, more mediation and more expedited handling of files. But the most significant thing is it will no longer be the human rights tribunal. The complaints, when they're referred on, will go directly to the Court of Queen's Bench," Morgan said.
In an interview Friday, Arnot said the commission believes the courts, which have permanent infrastructure and judges, are the right place for human rights to be determined.
"Really, what's happening in human rights cases is you're defining what it means to be Canadian and I think the courts are better placed now to do this," Arnot said.
But he said the changes being contemplated go beyond simply switching which body hears complaints.
Arnot said the commission already does a good job of "gate-keeping," or determining what cases should go to a tribunal. But he wants legislative change so the commission can also adopt Manitoba's "directed mediation" approach, which looks at various ways to resolve a complaint instead of a full-fledged prosecution.
Arnot said he is also looking at Ontario's "systemic advocacy" system, which would see the Saskatchewan commission advance causes for "large cohorts of individuals" versus one-off prosecutions.
The step Arnot calls the most important requires working with the Ministry of Education to develop a strategy to educate students about human rights.
"The goal of this work, of the education, is to have 18-year-old Grade 12 graduates who are now voting citizens in Canada armed with a solid understanding of what it means to be Canadian, what are our rights in citizenship, what are our responsibilities in citizenship . . . and if we do that well, the types of complaints that we see at the human rights commission, the number of complaints, will diminish," Arnot said.
NDP justice critic Frank Quennell said he supports the reforms Arnot is seeking but not the idea of ending the tribunal system for human rights cases.
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