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​Alberta Human Rights Commission marks 50 years

50 years: upholding human rights in Alberta

The year 2023 represents a major milestone for human rights in Alberta, marking 50 years since the Commission's establishment and the enactment of legislation that formed the basis of the Alberta Human Rights Act we know today.​

Since 1973, the Commission-and understanding of human rights in Alberta-has come a long way.

  • ​We have increased our collaboration with non-profit organizations, employers and businesses, unions, civil society, all levels of government, legal professionals and justice sector organizations, post-secondary institutions, community groups, coalitions, and networks.

  • We have seen many changes to the Act, including the addition of new grounds to protect those with physical disabilities and mental disabilities, recognize Indigenous spirituality, prohibit sexual harassment, recognize equal pay for equal work, and much more.

  • For more than 30 years, we oversaw the Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund, a fund that provided grants to community organizations for projects that fostered equality and reduced discrimination and supported educational initiatives. In that time, we administered more than $20 million in grant funding and supported non-profit organizations and public institutions to reduce individual, institutional, and systemic racism and discrimination so that all Albertans could fully participate in all aspects of society without discrimination.

  • Over the past 25 years, the Commission has resolved more than 18,000 human rights complaints in Alberta. In 2019, we launched the Case Inventory Resolution Project to manage the growing number of complaints that had been waiting a significant time in our system. This project concluded in 2021, closing more than 1,300 complaints. Since then, we have revised the complaints process to incorporate the learnings from the project. Combined, these efforts have helped reduce the time it takes to resolve complaints of discrimination.

  • In 2021, with community feedback, we launched our Indigenous Human Rights Strategy. This strategy aims to address and reduce systemic discrimination against Indigenous people; to ensure our programs, services, and operations are accessible, meaningful, responsive, and culturally relevant to Indigenous people; and to strengthen and expand our relationships with Indigenous communities and organizations. The implementation of this strategy is supported by the Commission's Indigenous Advisory Circle, comprised of Indigenous individuals from all regions of the province.
​While some things have changed over the years, our commitment to human rights has not. We are working to continuously improve our processes to better serve people across Alberta.

Check out the timeline below for a brief summary of Alberta's human rights history over the past half-century.
1973:
  • Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission established, following the 1972 enactment of The Individual's Rights Protection Act (IRPA). IRPA given special 'primacy' status, meaning that it takes precedence over all other laws in Alberta
  • IRPA tasked the Commission with forwarding the principle that every person is equal in dignity and rights without regard to race, religious beliefs, colour, sex, age, ancestry, or place of origin
  • Lethbridge Civil Liberties Association established
  • Calgary Civil Liberties Association formed (later incorporated in 1977)
1974:
  • First Black City Councillor elected in Calgary
1976: 
  • Human rights curriculum developed for Grade 10 Social Studies Program
1977: 
  • Womyn's collective founded in Calgary
  • Canadian Human Rights Act passed by the Federal government
1979:
  • First Race Relations Unit in a police service (Calgary)
  • Alberta Lesbian and Gay Rights Association established
1980:
  • "Physical characteristic" added as a protected ground under IRPA
  • The Alberta Government amended IRPA, giving the Commission the authority to conduct investigations, including certain powers of search and seizure, and permitting third parties to file complaints on behalf of others
1981:
  • Sexual harassment specifically addressed in IRPA
1982:
  • Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms passed
  • Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre established to conduct education and research
1984:
  • Committee on Tolerance and Understanding published final report. This report set the foundation for the development of an education system that recognizes the diversity in today's classrooms
1985:
  • "Physical characteristic" changed to "physical disability" as a protected ground under IRPA
  • The definition of age in IRPA expanded to 18 years of age and older
  • Discrimination on the basis of Pregnancy banned
1987:
  • The Commission received funding to administer the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Education Fund (later renamed to the Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund in 2009), a fund to promote human rights education and to provide grants to community organizations for projects that foster equality and reduce discrimination
  • Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that the province's refusal to fund French minority schooling violated the constitution
1989:
  • ​Alberta-Métis settlements accord created to secure a Métis land base for future generations and support local autonomy and economic self-sufficiency
1990:
  • "Mental Disability" added as a protected ground under IRPA. The term "gender" was substituted for "sex" as a prohibited ground of discrimination
  • Constitution of Alberta Amendment Act, 1990 enacted to enable the Métis to attain self-governance under the laws of Alberta
  • Métis Settlements Accord Implementation Act set the stage for establishing and developing Settlement area local governments structures and systems
  • Métis Settlements Land Protection Act confirmed the transfer of land from the Provincial Crown to the Métis Settlements General Council
1991​:
  • Delwin Vriend, a teacher in Edmonton, attempted to make a human rights complaint to the Commission after he was terminated for being gay. He later filed a Charter challenge to IRPA because sexual orientation was not covered under IRPA
1992: 
  • The Alberta Board of Inquiry concluded that the Church of Jesus Christ Christian-Aryan Nations' 1990 white power rally violated IRPA by displaying messages that indicate discrimination and an intention to discriminate
  • Michael Phair elected to Edmonton City Council, becoming the first openly gay politician elected in Alberta
1996:
  • Individual's Rights Protection Act renamed to Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act. Additional protected grounds of "marital status" and "family status" added. Human rights panel created
  • Alberta Heritage Day designated on the first Monday in August each year to recognize Alberta's cultural heritage
1997:
  • Alberta Government renamed mountain with racist name to Ha Ling Peak
1998:
  • Vriend won Supreme Court of Canada case. "Sexual orientation" read into Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act
1999:
  • The Commission launched automated telephone system enabling Albertans to receive information on Commission services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights founded
2001:
  • The Commission published the final issue of its print newsletter, The Citizen
  • The Commission launched public newsletter, Alberta Human Rights Information Service (AHRIS), to provide Albertans with timely information related to human rights and diversity
2002:
  • The Commission launched "Employers' Perspective Research Project," conducting a survey of more than 560 Alberta employers to guide resource and program development. The study, considered to be the first of its kind in Canada, showed that Alberta employers believe respecting human rights is good for business
  • The Commission launched a workshop series focused on human rights issues in the workplace
  • The Commission helped establish the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee to support the development of resources, tools, and best practices that use prevention and awareness to address hate and bias-motivated crimes in Alberta
2005:
  • Alberta Award for the Study of Canadian Human Rights and Multiculturalism established to award graduate students attending an Alberta post-secondary institution whose area of study contributes to the advancement of human rights, cultural diversity and multiculturalism
  • United Nations Human Rights Committee criticized Canada for its failure to address the human rights of Indigenous Peoples
2006:
  • The Commission worked with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO to invite municipalities to join the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination and be part of a large, international coalition
2007:
  • The Commission launched new website to provide improved access to information about preventing discrimination and building inclusive workplaces and communities
2008:
  • ​The Ministry of Culture and Community Spirit and the Commission developed the Welcoming and Inclusive Communities partnership with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to support municipalities in combatting racism and discrimination and becoming more welcoming and inclusive, the only municipal partnership of this kind in Canada at the time
  • Federal Government issued formal apology for the treatment Indigenous people received in Residential Schools and established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
2009:
  • Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Amendment Act renamed to the Alberta Human Rights Act (the Act) and Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission renamed to Alberta Human Rights Commission
  • "Sexual orientation," which was read into the Act by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998, was added as a protected ground in the Act. References to marriage only "of the opposite sex" were removed
  • The Chief of the Commission and Tribunals given the capacity to delegate the review of Director decisions
  • Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights and Justice established in Alberta
2010:
  • Calgary elected Naheed Nenshi, the province's first visible minority mayor and first Muslim mayor of a big city in Canada
2011:
  • Edmonton Public School Board approved sexual orientation and gender identity policy
2012:
  • The Government of Canada launched the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking
2013:
  • ​The Alberta Government struck long-term governance and funding arrangements with Métis settlements, committing $85 million over 10 years to help the communities become self-sustaining
2014:
  • The Commission partnered with the Canadian Human Rights Commission to host an information booth at the seventh and final Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Alberta National Event, held in Edmonton. Over 20,000 people gathered for this final event of the "national journey of healing and reconciliation," sharing the truth about Canadian Indian Residential Schools and their legacy
2015:
  • ​The Act amended to explicitly include "gender identity" and "gender expression" as protected grounds. Previously, complaints based on gender identity or gender expression could be made under the ground of gender
2017:
  • The Commission celebrated 45 years of human rights legislation by convening organizations and individuals in the human rights sector in five cities across the province and later releasing the Your Voice: Advancing Human Rights in Alberta report
  • The Commission began a pilot initiative, Coalitions Creating Equity, that built regional and provincial capacity in five communities (Lethbridge, Wood Buffalo, Red Deer, Edmonton, and Calgary) to work collaboratively to advance and address human rights and equity
  • The Blackfoot Confederacy-Government of Alberta Protocol Agreement signed to address "Matters of Mutual Concern and Benefit" for both governments
2018:
  • ​The Act amended to add "age" as a protected ground in the areas of "goods and services, tenancy, accommodation or facilities," and to protect "ameliorative policies, programs and activities designed to improve the condition of disadvantaged persons"
  • The Alberta Government announced plans to form an Anti-Racism Advisory Council, following the release of "Taking Action Against Racism" plan
  • The Alberta Government hired Advocate for Persons with Disabilities
2019:
  • The Commission launched the Case Inventory Resolution Project to deal with the large inventory of human rights complaints more efficiently through streamlined processes
  • Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund (HREMF) dissolved, as per the Alberta Government's 2019 budget
  • Protocol agreement between the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Alberta Government signed, renewing the 2017 government-to-government relationship
2020:
  • The Commission adapted quickly to conduct conciliations, mediations, and tribunal hearings online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. At the start of the pandemic, the Alberta commission was the only one in Canada offering all of its services to the public
  • Protocol agreement between the Alberta Government and the Stoney Nakoda-Tsuut'ina Tribal Council signed, for discussions on matters of mutual concern
  • Edmonton CFL team changed its name to Edmonton Elks
2021:
  • The Commission launched its Indigenous Human Rights Strategy, supported by an Indigenous Advisory Circle. This strategy guides the Commission's practices and initiatives with the goal of reducing barriers Indigenous individuals and communities face when accessing the human rights system and reducing systemic racism
  • The Alberta Government made changes to modernize the Act to enable the Commission to address complaints more quickly, reduce backlog, and make tribunal hearings more accessible 
  • The Alberta Government formed the Alberta Hate Crimes Unit
  • Métis Settlements Act enacted to provide a structure and system for local government on the eight Métis Settlements
  • In the spirit of reconciliation, Alberta Government renamed mountain with racist and sexist name to Bald Eagle Peak
2022:
  • Commission launched a revised complaints process, which streamlined steps, emphasized conciliation, and used specialized teams to resolve complaints in a more timely, effective, and fair manner
  • Relationship agreement between the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations in Alberta and the Alberta Government signed, for discussion on matters of mutual concern
  • The United Nations launched campaign commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
2023:
  • The Commission turns 50!

Our vision is a vibrant and inclusive Alberta where the rich diversity of people is celebrated and respected, and where everyone has the opportunity to fully participate in society, free from discrimination.