Alberta’s Human Rights History

Since 1973, the Commission has overseen Alberta’s human rights legislation, affirming the fundamental principle that all persons are equal in our province.

For more than 50 years, human rights laws have worked to uphold the dignity and equal rights of all people in Alberta.

In 1973, the Alberta Human Rights Commission was established, tasked with the responsibility of administering the Alberta Human Rights Act, engaging in public education to minimize discrimination, and resolving human rights complaints.

While the Commission has had an important role to play, we know that protecting human rights has been the collective work of individuals, organizations, businesses, associations, governments, and communities.

Human rights protections have come a long way in the past several decades. Review the timeline below for a brief summary of Alberta’s human rights history over the years.


  • Government of Alberta passed An Act respecting Human Rights, informally known as “The Human Rights Act.” This Act recognized the fundamental principle that “all persons are equal in dignity and human rights” in Alberta and prohibited discrimination based on “race, religious beliefs, colour, ancestry or place of origin.” Drawing inspiration from the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this legislation made Alberta the third province in Canada to enact anti-discrimination legislation


  • Government of Alberta enacted The Individual’s Rights Protection Act (IRPA) to protect individuals from discrimination in Alberta. In contrast to the 1966 Human Rights Act, IRPA was given special ‘primacy’ status, meaning that all other laws in Alberta would have to align with the human rights laws outlined in IRPA
  • IRPA mandated the creation of an Alberta Human Rights Commission that would be responsible for administering human rights laws and function primarily to engage in public education to minimize discrimination, and to settle human rights complaints
  • Alberta repeals the Sexual Sterilization Act
  • Alberta Board of Inquiry found that Denny’s Shell Service in Magrath, AB had discriminated against Frances Weaselfat, a Blood Tribe woman, and all First Nations customers by requiring them to pay in advance for gas and other goods and services


  • Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission was established, following the 1972 enactment of IRPA. The Commission was tasked 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
  • Calgary Civil Liberties Association formed (later incorporated in 1977)
  • Lethbridge Civil Liberties Association established
  • Muriel Stanley Venne, a Métis woman and advocate for Indigenous people in the work force, appointed as first Indigenous Commissioner at the Alberta Human Rights Commission


  • First Black City Councillor, Virnetta Anderson, elected in Calgary
  • Alberta Heritage Day designated on the first Monday in August each year to recognize Alberta’s diverse cultural heritage, including tribute to Indigenous Peoples


  • Human rights curriculum developed for Grade 10 Social Studies Program



  • First Race Relations Unit in a police service (Calgary)
  • Alberta Lesbian and Gay Rights Association established



  • “Physical characteristic” added as a protected ground under IRPA
  • 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


  • Sexual harassment specifically addressed in IRPA



  • 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


  • Physical characteristic” changed to “physical disability” as a protected ground under IRPA
  • Definition of age in IRPA expanded to 18 years of age and older
  • Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy banned


  • Alberta Multiculturalism Commission received funding to promote Alberta’s cultural heritage and diversity
  • Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that the province’s refusal to fund French minority schooling violated the constitution




  • 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


  • 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


  • Public review of IRPA resulted in the public's overwhelming support of the Commission and raised concerns that the Commission remain independent


  • Individual’s Rights Protection Act renamed to Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act. Alberta Heritage Day and additional protected grounds of “marital status” and “family status” added to the Act. Human rights panel created
  • The Commission received funding to administer the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Education Fund (renamed to the Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund in 2009) to promote human rights education and provide grants for projects that foster equality and reduce discrimination


  • Alberta Government renamed mountain with racist name to Ha Ling Peak


  • Vriend won Supreme Court of Canada case. “Sexual orientation” read into Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act


  • Commission launched automated phone 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


  • Commission published the final issue of its print newsletter, The Citizen
  • Commission launched public newsletter, Alberta Human Rights Information Service (AHRIS), to provide Albertans with timely information related to human rights and diversity


  • Commission launched “Employers’ Perspectives 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
  • Commission launched a workshop series focused on human rights issues in the workplace
  • 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


  • 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


  • 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


  • Commission launched new website to provide improved access to information about preventing discrimination and building inclusive workplaces and communities


  • 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 Peoples received in Residential Schools and established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada


  • 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,” read into the Act by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998, 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


  • Calgary elected Naheed Nenshi, the province’s first visible minority mayor and first Muslim mayor of a big city in Canada


  • Edmonton Public School Board approved sexual orientation and gender identity policy




  • 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


  • 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
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released final report, including 94 Calls to Action


  • 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
  • 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
  • Blackfoot Confederacy-Government of Alberta Protocol Agreement signed to address “Matters of Mutual Concern and Benefit” for both governments


  • 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”
  • Government of Alberta announced plans to form an Anti-Racism Advisory Council, following the release of “Taking Action Against Racism” plan
  • Government of Alberta hired Advocate for Persons with Disabilities


  • 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) ended, as per the Government of Alberta's 2019 budget
  • Protocol agreement between the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Government of Alberta signed, renewing the 2017 government-to-government relationship
  • The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released final report, including Calls for Justice


  • 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 Human Rights Commission was the only one in Canada offering all of its services to the public
  • Protocol agreement between the Government of Alberta 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


  • 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
  • Government of Alberta made changes to modernize the Act to enable the Commission to address complaints more quickly, reduce backlog, and make tribunal hearings more accessible
  • Government of Alberta 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


  • 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 Government of Alberta signed, for discussion on matters of mutual concern
  • Government of Alberta launched anti-racism action plan
  • United Nations launched campaign commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)


  • Commission marked its 50th anniversary with the #AB50for50 campaign and a stakeholder event that reflected on the previous 50 years and looked forward to the next 50 years of human rights in Alberta
  • Commission launched a new website, combining best practices in accessibility with an updated design to improve the user experience and help Albertans better navigate information
  • Commission launched a new tool to collect demographic information from people making a human rights complaint to identify gaps in its services and address barriers
  • Commission launched social media accounts on LinkedIn and Facebook