Message from Kathryn Oviatt, Acting Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission
(December 10, 2021)
Equality is a Process
December 10 each year marks the celebration of International Human Rights Day. For 2021, the United Nations adopted the theme of equality with campaign materials declaring "All Human, All Equal."
In Alberta, equality is a core value. But our notions of what equality includes are not static. Justice Rosalie Abella noted in the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment:
What we tolerated as a society 100, 50, or even 10 years ago is no longer necessarily tolerated. Equality is thus a process - a process of constant and flexible examinations, of vigilant introspection, and of aggressive open-mindedness.
We no longer tolerate disenfranchising women or people of colour, relegating disabled persons to perpetual dependency, criminalizing 2SLGBTQ+ relationships, or excluding Indigenous people from policy discussions. But there is still much work to be done. This work is complex and challenging, but crucial to striving for equality for all.
In a TEDx Talk, internet influencer and former radio host Jay Smooth compared claims of being "not racist" without ongoing introspection and work, to claims of being a "clean person" without regular teeth brushing. We simply cannot be a society that values equality without continual introspection and action.
As part of our commitment to equality as a process, the Alberta Human Rights Commission identified that Alberta's Indigenous population are underrepresented in our complaints process. We responded by developing an Indigenous Human Rights Strategy and engaging an Indigenous Advisory Circle. We are committed to examining our internal practices, working collaboratively on the action items outlined in the Strategy, and to making our findings and changes public. This is critical work that is necessary for making meaningful change.
In addition, the Commission engaged in a robust and comprehensive review of the entire complaints process for all complaints. Some of these changes have already been implemented and have led to a significant reduction in a backlog of cases, while other changes are coming into effect January 1, 2022. The goal is to improve access to justice and thus provide meaningful access to equality under the Alberta Human Rights Act.
For most Albertans, the upcoming holiday season includes both sacred and secular traditions of generosity and kindness. This is a wonderful time to open hearts with compassion and to engage in the vigilant introspection that the process of equality demands.