Message from Michael Gottheil,

Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission

(December 10, 2019)

‘Tis the Season … It’s Human Rights Season

It’s that time of year again. Seems like everywhere we go, we’re told that it’s the time of year to be kind, open our hearts, and to think of those less fortunate than us.

For many, it’s also a time to gather with family and community, and to remind ourselves that wealth and power are not the only, or perhaps the most important, values that define who we are and how we should live our lives.

Moreover, at this time of year, rather than focusing on competitiveness and emphasizing what sets us apart, and what makes us better than the next person, our diverse faiths, beliefs, and common secular traditions remind us that we are one another’s equals; we are all members of the human family.
It’s fitting then, that the holiday season is also the time that we mark and celebrate International Human Rights Day. It was on December 10, 1948, when the General Assembly of the United Nations unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Declaration). That document was created by a group of individuals from different countries, ethnic origins, and political systems (and also included Albertan, John Humphrey).  The fact that this diverse group was able to agree upon principles that resonated with all nations, speaks to the universality they proposed.

The force of the Declaration drove countries around the world to adopt domestic bills of rights, constitutions, and human rights acts to provide their citizens access to these rights in real and tangible ways.

Of course, in many places and for many peoples, these human rights remain an aspirational struggle. And while some countries may not fully respect the human rights of their citizens (or others), no country has ever formally withdrawn from the Declaration, and it would be difficult to imagine any leader proudly announcing they did not believe in the fundamental rights enshrined in the Declaration. This is why human rights remain a powerful tool in the universal struggle for justice, equality and dignity—internationally and locally.

As Canadians, it is easy to forget that the values that we so cherish are fragile. The drafters of the Declaration had witnessed firsthand how quickly societies and communities could turn in the blink of an eye. Citizens, attacking and being attacked, pitted one against the other: deportations, dispossession of property, and mass executions carried out by people against those who were their former neighbours and friends. There had been genocides before, and there have been genocides since, but what the drafters were trying to codify were values that were not new. In fact, many had existed for centuries and even millennia, but somehow had lost their urgency at certain points in history.

This is why we mark International Human Rights Day each year on December 10th. It reminds us that those feelings of warmth and belonging, kindness and respect for our fellow human beings, selflessness, and compassion for others are closely tied to a society based on human rights. 

These feelings and values make us proud of ourselves and they help make our communities stronger, so let’s continue embracing them and living them all year round. 

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.