Chief's messages

March 21 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, an ongoing reminder to take action against racism in all its forms. Diversity is one of Alberta’s greatest strengths, and as our population grows, we must advance principles of equal opportunity and multiculturalism so that Indigenous, Black, and other racialized people realize full equality and thrive.

We cannot overstate the importance of eliminating racial discrimination. There are considerable cultural, social, economic, and political benefits to treating people equally and ensuring full access to equality of opportunity so that people who are racialized can contribute to their full potential. Failure to dismantle systemic barriers can lead to devastating consequences for individuals, organizations, communities, as well as to society as a whole.

Racialized people in Alberta face a disproportionate share of discrimination. This includes racial discrimination in employment, housing, healthcare, policing, and in the child welfare, education, and justice systems. Racial discrimination continues in Alberta. In 2022-23, of the 822 complaints the Commission accepted, nine per cent cited the protected ground of race/colour, eight per cent cited religious beliefs, and five per cent cited ancestry/place of origin.

We all have an important role to play in speaking out against racism, taking action to address systemic barriers, and building a society where all can succeed. Our work to dismantle racial discrimination must centre the voices, experiences, and realities of Black and Indigenous people and other racialized people.

As the Commission acknowledges this significant date, we reaffirm our commitment to reducing barriers and promoting equality for Alberta’s diverse populations. We also call on all Albertans to consider their own biases and work to raise their voices against racial discrimination whenever it appears. We all have a role to play creating a racially just society.

As Alberta debates legislation and policy around transgender, two-spirit, non-binary, and gender diverse youth, the Alberta Human Rights Commission confirms these characteristics are protected grounds in the Alberta Human Rights Act. The Preamble to the Act includes:

In Alberta, as a fundamental principle and as a matter of public policy, all persons are equal in dignity, rights, and responsibilities without regard to gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

Every area listed in the Act, from services to employment, repeats these characteristics as protected human rights grounds.

The Commission urges compassion and recognition of the inherent dignity of all Albertans, including the particular vulnerability of 2SLGBTQ+ youth. The debates around reasonable and justifiable limits on equality rights cannot be an excuse to let prejudice rise.

Transgender, two-spirit, non-binary, and gender diverse youth are some of the most vulnerable people in Alberta today. A national survey of almost 3,000 transgender and non-binary Canadians conducted by TransPulse Canada found:

  • 1 in 5 transgender or non-binary youth avoided schools in the past five years for fear of harassment or outing.

  • 2 in 5 transgender or non-binary youth considered suicide in the past year; 1 in 10 attempted suicide.

These youth need support, understanding, and acceptance. While the Legislature considers what it thinks is the right balance, Albertans should approach the discussion focused on the dignity, humanity, and need for equality of this vulnerable group.

On December 10, International Human Rights Day, we reflect on core principles that bind us together here in Alberta and around the world. We acknowledge our shared responsibility to champion the rights and dignity of every person, reflecting on past achievements and looking to the future.

2023 is a milestone year in human rights. It is the 50th anniversary of human rights legislation in Alberta and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While human rights are inherent and universal, legislation like the Alberta Human Rights Act and documents like the Declaration ensure that rights are named, understood, and upheld.

We have come a long way on human rights since 1973 and 1948. For example, Alberta’s initial human rights legislation began with only a limited set of protected characteristics: race, religious beliefs, sex, age, ancestry, and place of origin. Since that first statute, the Act has expanded to include mental disability and physical disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, marital status and family status, and source of income.

I am thankful every day for the human rights work that upholds the fundamental principle that all persons are equal in dignity, rights, and responsibilities in Alberta, and around the world. There is, however, still much work to fully realize equality and human rights for all. Current world events remind us that so many across the globe, and here at home, still do not experience full equality and dignity in their lives.

In the face of unprecedented challenges, the importance of upholding human rights has never been more evident. Our commitment to justice, equality, and the inherent worth of every person must guide our actions as leaders and as citizens. It is a commitment that transcends borders and unites us in the pursuit of a more inclusive and compassionate world.

As the devastating violence between Hamas and Israel deepens, Albertans feel the impact of war here at home. The loss of life has been staggering, including innocent civilians and children. The displaced, injured, and directly impacted also weigh heavily on our hearts. So many in our communities here in Alberta are grieving, scared, angry, and in pain. We at the Alberta Human Rights Commission stand in solidarity with all those who are impacted by this crisis and unequivocally decry all violations of human rights.

The current crisis highlights the need to firmly uphold the principles of justice, equality, and multiculturalism that underpin human rights laws everywhere. We stand with all who boldly uphold the fundamental principle that all people are equal in dignity and rights. We also reaffirm that living with dignity includes the right to live without fear.

The preamble to the Alberta Human Rights Act begins:

WHEREAS recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all persons is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world

This statement was adopted into Alberta legislation over 50 years ago; it remains as true today as it was then.

We are deeply concerned about rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia spreading in our communities. Data from the Department of Justice Canada shows that anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other forms of hate have been on the rise in Canada in recent years. In 2021, “police-reported hate crimes targeting religion rose by 57 per cent,” with an increase of 71 per cent for hate crimes targeting Muslims and an increase of 47 per cent for hate crimes against the Jewish community. We are concerned that the current war is triggering a further rise in these prejudices. We must not let that happen.

In these difficult times, we must stand against intolerance and hatred, and prevent violence in all its forms. We must reinforce core values of equality by standing up for peace and human rights. We must treat others, especially those who are different from us, with empathy, respect, and understanding. We must all do our part to interrupt hate when we see it. Hate cannot be allowed to flourish. Equality is worth fighting for. Let compassion, respect, understanding, and adherence to the rule of law underpin our actions in these dark days.

If you are experiencing or witnessing hate in your community, please refer to the Commission’s website for tools on how to respond. The Commission will continue our work to foster an Alberta where all people, regardless of religious beliefs, race, or other characteristics, can live lives free from discrimination.

Each year on September 30, we commemorate the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day. It is a day to remember the thousands of Indigenous children and their families who experienced horrific human rights violations in Indian Residential Schools across Canada, including in 25 schools here in Alberta.

Tragically, we know that thousands of children lost their lives to abuse and neglect in these institutions, while survivors and their families bare scars that they carry to this day. This is not just Indigenous history; it is our history as a nation that calls for our collective year-round efforts to learn the truth and make amends.

We also honour and celebrate the resilience of Indigenous people whose diverse cultures survived the targeted assault that our nation brought on them. We are all the beneficiaries of that resilience, through the rich cultural, linguistic, spiritual, artistic, medicinal, scientific, legal, and other ways of knowing that Indigenous people continue to bring to Alberta.

Reconciliation is not a one-time event, but a continuous process. It requires ongoing dialogue, understanding, and partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Together, we can forge a brighter, more inclusive future where the principles of truth, justice, and reconciliation guide us toward a better Alberta for everyone.

Message from Kathryn Oviatt, Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission

On June 21 of each year, we recognize and celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Alberta is home to 45 First Nations and 140 reserves on the lands of Treaties 6, 7, and 8. It is also home to eight Métis Settlements, the six Regions of the Métis Nation of Alberta, non-status First Nations people, and the Inuit. National Indigenous Peoples Day allows us to recognize and appreciate the diverse cultures, languages, traditions, and histories of the First Nations, Inuit, and Mé​tis, and their connections to the land here. By doing so, we strengthen our commitment to reconciliation and foster a more inclusive and equitable society.

Indigenous cultures have played a vital role in shaping our province. Their vibrant art, music, dance, storytelling, ways of knowing, and ceremonies have enriched our culture and collective understanding, inspiring generations.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission supports initiatives that promote reconciliation, truth, and healing. We recognize the importance of land acknowledgements, ceremony, Indigenous language revitalization, restorative justice practices, and equitable access to education, healthcare, social services, and justice.

We invite everyone to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day by participating in virtual or in-person events organized by local Indigenous communities. These events, such as powwows, cultural festivals, art exhibitions, and storytelling sessions, offer a glimpse into the rich traditions and wisdom passed down through countless generations.


Message from Kathryn Oviatt, Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission

Each year on March 21, the Commission observes the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This day has been recognized globally for almost sixty years. Discrimination based on race or ethnicity is a violation of fundamental human rights that undermines our shared values of equality, justice, and respect for diversity.

The day was developed in 1966 to mourn and call to action anti-racist efforts following the 1960 police killings of 69 peaceful protesters in Sharpeville, South Africa, including 10 children. One hundred and eighty people were injured, and many were paralyzed while protesting racist apartheid laws. It was a shocking and despicable incident of racial hatred that sparked global outrage and a collective response to stand against such actions

Despite this history and multi-decade fight against racism, the scourge of racism continues today, including here in Alberta. This racism includes racial profiling of people of colour, Islamophobia, anti-Semitic hate, and much more. Communities, individuals, and stakeholder groups from all racialized communities continue to report to the Commission that they regularly experience everything from subtle micro-aggressions to physical violence. We unequivocally stand with them in condemning racism in all its forms.

Alberta's population continues to grow at higher rates than anywhere else in Canada. Projections anticipate that in the next 25 years, approximately 55 per cent​ of our population growth will come from international migration and with it, an increasingly diverse community. Increased diversity is entirely a good thing, bringing new ideas and approaches to complex problems that enrich us all. It is critical that increased equality comes along with increased diversity.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a day to reflect and acknowledge past and present wrongs, but it is also a day for hope and action. We celebrate our diversity and recognize the significant achievements of Black, Indigenous, and racialized people in our community. We also recognize the contribution of individuals and organizations that stand up against racial discrimination. Eliminating racial discrimination will have economic and social benefits for generations to come, and we call upon all Albertans to stand united in the fight against racism.

Message from Kathryn Oviatt, Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission

Hate-motivated incidents against transgender people have been on the rise in Alberta. These incidents have sadly involved escalating intimidation and harassment of the 2SLGBTQI+ community in both public and private spaces.

Diversity in Alberta should be celebrated, not attacked. The Commission would like to extend our solidarity to all members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, and to the transgender community in particular. This pervasive and persistent hate is not acceptable and should not be tolerated in Alberta.

We uphold the principles of equality and justice for all, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other protected characteristic in the Alberta Human Rights Act. We condemn all forms of violence or intimidation in the strongest terms.

According to the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee’s January 2023 report​, which tracked hate incidents reported to them from February 2017 through December 2022, 10 per cent of hate incidents targeted the LGBTQ+ community. This is in spite of the fact that LGBTQ2+ people only account for 4 per cent of Canada’s total population aged 15 and older in 2018, according to Statistics Canada’s 2021 data.

Sadly, these numbers are not unusual. According to the Government of Canada’s 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan Survey, 39 per cent of people who identify as 2SLGBTQI+ reported experiencing violence or discrimination directed at their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression in the last five years.

Hate has serious consequences for already marginalized groups and can create a culture of fear for other minority populations across the province. We must all work to protect and nurture diversity in our communities.

Bias, prejudice, and hate have no place in our society. All Albertans have a right to feel safe, welcome, and free from discrimination and harassment. We must not let the voices of intolerance drown out the voices of equality and acceptance. We must work together to protect the rights of all people, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, and create a world where everyone can live their lives to the fullest, free from discrimination and prejudice.

The Commission stands with the 2SLGBTQI+ community and would like to send a clear message that hate and harassment have no place in Alberta. We will continue to work to combat transphobia, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination and hate.