Message from Kathryn Oviatt, Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission
(July 13, 2022)
Message to Albertans from outgoing Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Kathryn Oviatt
Today I step down as Chief of the Commission and Tribunals. It has been my privilege to lead the Commission during the interim period of November 2021 through July 2022.
The Commission's work has never been more important. The recovery of unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada, including here in Alberta, and the many Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirited persons who remain missing or whose murders have not yet been resolved, show how far we have to go in our journey towards reconciliation. Racism and transphobia continue to be divisive and painful issues in Alberta. In addition, it is clear that we have not solved sexism, homophobia, and accessibility issues for individuals with disabilities, and that there are complex issues relating to religious beliefs and family status that require compassion, kindness, and openness. At the same time, the value that Albertans place on human rights has never been higher. Albertans are committed to the principles of equality, dignity, and multiculturalism entrenched in the Alberta Human Rights Act.
The mandate of the Commission, and the Chief as its leader, is to foster equality and to reduce discrimination. This mandate is of utmost importance to Albertans, reflecting our core values of equality, fairness, and respect. The Commission meets its mandate through three key departments:
- Communication, Education & Engagement, which provides community outreach, public policy, programs, initiatives, and education about human rights;
- Complaints Management, including the Director's office, which responds to public inquiries and receives, conciliates, and makes decisions on human rights complaints; and
- Tribunal, which adjudicates human rights complaints through mediation and a formal hearing process.
The Act boldly and unequivocally reflects these values: "the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all persons is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world." I firmly believe this to be true. Freedom, justice, and peace rely on protecting human rights and fostering multiculturalism.
I will pass the baton to Collin May on July 14, and trust that he will uphold these principles as he leads the Commission into the next chapter. Mr. May's detailed bio and the Minister's announcement can be found here.
Commission holds pipe ceremony and celebration with Indigenous Elders and Indigenous Advisory Circle members
Elder Phyllis Mustus gifted a blanket to Interim Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Kathryn Oviatt, with the assistance of Ms. Oviatt's children.
Alberta is home to over 260,000 Indigenous people (representing about 6.5 per cent of the population). While research demonstrates that Indigenous people face disproportionate rates of racism, discrimination, and hate in their day-to-day lives, the Commission's data suggests that they do not access the human rights complaint system at the same rate as non-Indigenous people. With the ongoing human rights issues that Indigenous people in Alberta face, the Commission recognizes the need to prioritize addressing these issues.
To further these efforts, in June 2021, the Commission launched its Indigenous Human Rights Strategy with input from the Indigenous community. This Strategy is helping to guide the Commission's practices and initiatives with the goal of reducing barriers for Indigenous people. It also aims to enhance the Commission's interaction with Indigenous individuals and communities. In September 2021, an Indigenous Advisory Circle was established to assist the Commission with implementing the Strategy. The Circle includes 11 Indigenous people from various backgrounds.
To recognize National Indigenous History Month and the first year of the Circle's contributions, the Commission hosted an in-person pipe ceremony on June 27, 2022 at the kihciy askiy (Sacred Land) site in Edmonton. Three Elders provided teachings and shared their medicines with the Commission to support the Commission's next steps towards truth and reconciliation. This ceremony represented a spiritual agreement between the Alberta Human Rights Commission, the Commission's Indigenous Advisory Circle, and Indigenous communities in Alberta to work together to remove barriers that impact Indigenous people in the province.
After the pipe ceremony, the Elders blessed two eagle feathers for the Commission's use. The eagle feathers can be used to swear an oath or can be held while giving statements or evidence during a human rights complaint process. Kathryn Oviatt, outgoing Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, was gifted a blanket by Elder Phyllis Mustus, an honour which highlighted her outstanding commitment to the Indigenous community.
Susanne Stushnoff, the acting Assistant Deputy Minister of Justice, Legal Services Division, attended and expressed the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General's support of the Commission's Indigenous Human Rights Strategy. Incoming Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Collin May, also participated in the pipe ceremony and reiterated his commitment to upholding Indigenous human rights and working with the Indigenous community to make the Commission's services more culturally relevant. The ceremony was just one step on the Commission's path to reduce issues of racism and discrimination faced by Indigenous people in Alberta.