Surrey Board of Trade Gives the Business Perspective to Human Rights Commission Consultation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – November 20, 2017 (photo enclosed – From Left to Right: Doug Tennant, Chair SBOT Social Policy Team, Anita Huberman, CEO Surrey Board of Trade, Ravi Kahlon, Parliamentary Secretary, Mandie La Montagne, Chair, SBOT Workforce Development Team)

The Surrey Board of Trade met with Ravi Kahlon, Parliamentary Secretary, responsible for the consultation on the proposed implementation of the BC Human Rights Commission on the deadline date of November 17th to present their business perspective.

“Other legal associations have provided their input into the consultation on behalf of their clients, but it was clear that the perspective of the small and medium sized business community was missing which  presented an opportunity for outreach, education and collaboration,” said Anita Huberman, CEO Surrey Board of Trade.

The Province is re-establishing the British Columbia Human Rights Commission. The purpose is for communities to be stronger for all British Columbian’s – no matter where they live or what they can afford – through access to effective human rights support. The Province wants to create a commission that is efficient, effective and equipped to protect, promote and defend human rights in British Columbia.

Human rights matter to business because governments, customers and the wider public expect businesses to protect people’s rights. Globally, we are no longer asking whether businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights – that’s a given. Now, the business community is asking what that responsibility means in practice: in specific places, industries and contexts. The focus is on how businesses can most effectively meet their responsibilities in their day-to-day operations. Businesses can show what steps they are taking to protect people’s rights.

The Surrey Board of Trade’s presentation included the following perspectives:

1. INCREASING CLARITY: The elements of proactive outreach and education have been lost without a Human Rights Commission.  Professionals or advocates on behalf of claimants are forced to refer to other provincial bodies (Ontario Commission) or to the Canadian HRC.  Claimants or potential claimants are left to figure it out or to pay for costly legal representation.  There is also confusion around what constitutes a valid claim, what is applicable under other legislation, and what is simply an unreasonable claim or expectation. All areas require intervention.

2. WHEN TO MAKE A CLAIM: Where limited gatekeeping has merit, is with the vetting of the initial claim or in the strengthening of the actual application process.  Currently, it is quite easy to make a claim.  Even for claims, which had no business being filed, were not of a Human Rights violation in nature, or which should have been filed with another organization (employment standards). Conversely, the cost to “undo” or to secure legal counsel to file an “Application to Dismiss” is lengthy, not easy, and ultimately expensive.  These kinds of claims can be avoided through a more robust application process, simpler vetting/triage method, and better communication with the organizations more suited to review the claim.

3. EDUCATION AND OUTREACH: As it relates to the workforce: an educated employee is a good employee. More must be done to proactively reach out to the emerging workforce (youth, women, newcomers) as well as existing workers, to ensure they are provided access to information, which will help them in understanding their actual rights, the process, and the appeal framework.  In advance of a claim being submitted.

For employers, this includes exploring opportunities to remove the stigma and financial expenses around creating safe, inclusive workplaces, which are (to the extent possible) aware of their responsibilities under the BCHRCode.  There is great opportunity in showcasing the value of prevention and education vs. the cost and time required to administratively and humanistically proceed through a claim.  In addition, the systemic or structural violations that have been part of many organizations must be addressed, either through incentive to change behaviour or through penalty for non-compliance. For example, actively choosing to employ a diverse workforce.

5. TRAINING: Post-secondary relationships are critical to achieving both the workforce and workplace initiatives.  Courses for students about Human Rights, for HR Practitioners around managing the Human Rights and related legislation, etc, as well as for employers on obligations when it comes to recruitment practices, promotions, dismissals/retirements, accommodations, and having policies/procedures in place to both train and respond to claims internally.

6. PARTNERSHIPS & CONNECTIONS: There is an opportunity for the HRC to take a leading role in developing strategic partnerships and creating connections amongst providers, supporters, and other related organizations, including business organizations like the Surrey Board of Trade. To consider best practices globally, but to implement local tactics which are relative to our Province – and binding in our jurisdiction.   Affiliations with (with the Surrey Board of Trade for example) provide access to large target groups of both employers and employees, as well as to business owners.