September 28, 2023

Alberta Human Rights Information Service (AHRIS) is a free online newsletter that keeps subscribers up-to-date on Commission news and events. AHRIS also provides timely information about human rights and diversity from other organizations.

Please note: some links on this webpage may no longer be active. All links were available at the time of publishing.

Alberta Human Rights Information Service - September 28, 2023

In this issue:

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is September 30

Human rights case law: Tribunal decisions
1. Recent Tribunal decisions
2. Summary of a recent Tribunal decision

Commission news
1. Visit the Commission's new website
2. The Commission and the Community

Other news
1. In memoriam: Jack O'Neill
2. In memoriam: Margot Campbell Brunner
3. Lori Straznicky as Canada's newest Pay Equity Commissioner

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is September 30

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. White stars above and a white winding pathway below surrounded by shades of orange-coloured figures depicting smoke, a beaded flower, a narwhal, and an eagle. The beaded flower, narwhal, and eagle are also shown as black outlined icons. Government of Canada logo and the Canadian flag are in the footer.
Government of Canada

September 30 is Canada's National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt day, a day to remember the thousands of Indigenous children who lost their lives at Indian Residential Schools across Canada from the time of Confederation until 1996.

As Albertans mark this day, the Commission reaffirms our commitment to reducing the barriers Indigenous people face when accessing our services and seeking out human rights supports. Part of our commitment includes actively working to make our services more culturally relevant to Indigenous people.

In 2022, the Commission had two sacred eagle feathers blessed at a ceremony in Edmonton. They are now available for use during meetings and events, in conciliations and mediations, and at Tribunal hearings. Parties can use them to swear an oath or hold them while giving statements or evidence during a human rights tribunal hearing.

The Commission also recently created a new section on our website to specifically address Indigenous human rights issues. It is our hope that this section, as well as other new information throughout the site, will enable us to better serve Indigenous people in Alberta. We will continue to move forward on the path of reconciliation in partnership with Indigenous people, communities, and organizations to reduce racism and discrimination in Alberta.

Message from the Chief of the Commission and Tribunals
To recognize this important day, read a message from Kathryn Oviatt, Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission.

Get engaged
On September 30, the Elders Knowledge Circle Society, a First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Elder-led collective, will launch the Elders Story Project at Calgary’s Arts Common. Elders will share their personal stories about their residential school experiences and healing journeys, while demonstrating the resilience and strength of Indigenous Peoples and the power of their traditional practices.

Human rights case law: Tribunal decisions

1. Recent Tribunal decisions
Read all Tribunal decisions free of charge on the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) website.

2. Summary of a recent Tribunal decision

Discrimination found in arrest of two Black men
John v Edmonton Police Service, 2023 AHRC 87 (Alberta Human Rights Tribunal, August 29, 2023)

Two Black, Sudanese complainants filed a complaint of discrimination against the Edmonton Police Service. The two men made a citizen’s arrest of a Caucasian woman, who they witnessed throwing a rock through a car window. The police arrived at the chaotic scene and arrested the two complainants, spraying them with OC (pepper) spray to gain control of the situation. Police did not charge the woman, who the complainants had accused of causing property damage, and eventually released the two men. The complainants alleged that their race was a factor in the police officer’s decision to deploy pepper spray and initially arrest them. They also believed that their race played a role in the negative treatment that they received after the spray was deployed.

The Tribunal accepted expert evidence that Black people are more likely to be perceived by police officers as dangerous and engaging in criminal behaviour. The complaint was looked at through a systemic discrimination lens, including the intersectionality of protected grounds. Unconscious and implicit bias were found to be factors in the discrimination.

The Tribunal found that the complainants were discriminated against because of their race, colour, ancestry, and place of origin. The parties will have an opportunity, at a later date, to argue the remedy that Tribunal should award.

Commission news

1. New website launched

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new website! Over the past several years, the Commission has been working to better reach Albertans with key human rights information. This new site improves accessibility of our services, ensures users can find what they’re looking for, and increases the use of straightforward language.

We updated our website with extensive feedback from diverse communities in Alberta. Our newly organized content now improves readability and enhances the overall user experience. The website has a new look and design, improved layout and navigation, accessibility features that follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, plain-language content, and an online complaint form. It also contains new information about how to prevent racism and discrimination and create diverse, inclusive, and equitable spaces. New features aim to help Albertans better navigate our information and improve the value of the website as a trusted tool for human rights education.

New website features include:

  • Online complaint form: the form also includes a new Personal Information section that will allow us to better understand who uses our services.
  • Accessibility features: in addition to adjusting text size, contrast, and magnification, we now provide embedded American Sign Language (ASL) translation videos throughout the site.
  • Education tools: this includes a focus on tangible tools, along with practical ways to prevent discrimination.
  • Mobile-friendly: users can access information from any device.

New website sections include:

We hope our new site helps all Albertans as you seek to uphold human rights and reduce discrimination in your day-to-day lives. Visit the new website to learn more about the many new features and capabilities.

2. The Commission and the Community

  • On September 28, 2023, Commission staff spoke to the Office of the Alberta Health Advocate, the Office of the Advocate for Persons with Disability, and the Office for the Protection for Person in Care. They discussed the types of complaints the Commission receives, the Commission’s role and jurisdiction, and the complaint process, including complex case management and impacts on human rights officers.

  • On September 20, 2023, Kathryn Oviatt, Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, was the keynote speaker at the Promising Practices Conference for professional regulators, hosted by the Ministry of Advanced Education. Ms. Oviatt spoke on human rights responsibilities and opportunities for professional regulators.

  • On September 19, 2023, Deborah Abiola, Policy and Communication Consultant, presented at the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR) of Alberta’s student challenge virtual kickoff. CPHR Alberta is encouraging human resources students to spend 50 minutes learning more about human rights, as part of the Commission’s #AB50for50 anniversary campaign.

  • On September 14, 2023, Emmanuel Owusu, Director of the Commission, spoke at the Calgary Black Chambers’ September Speaker Series. He spoke on the Commission’s revised human rights complaint process and how the process could address anti-Black discrimination in the workplace.

  • On September 14, 2023, Kathryn Oviatt spoke to students in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta on human rights obligations for health care providers.

  • On September 6, 2023, Kathryn Oviatt gave an orientation on the Commission’s complaint process to University of Alberta Law students studying low-income individuals and the law, hosted by the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.

  • On August 31 and September 26, 2023, Cam Stewart, Policy and Program Consultant, facilitated a presentation on human rights essentials for policing to sworn and civilian staff of the Calgary Police Service. This supports changes in the Police Act that help advance human rights principles.

  • On July 5, 2023, Anne Clennett, Director of Communication, Education, and Engagement, presented to the Ministry of Justice’s Indigenous Policy and Services unit about the Commission’s Indigenous Human Rights Strategy. Ms. Clennett provided background on the strategy, outlined the current activities being undertaken with the support of the Indigenous Advisory Circle, and discussed opportunities for future collaboration.

  • On June 28, 2023, Melissa Luhtanen, Senior Legal Counsel, spoke at the Business and Professional Women’s Club’s annual meeting. Ms. Luhtanen discussed the Commission’s #AB50for50 anniversary campaign and how attendees can participate.

  • On June 26 and 27, 2023, Kathryn Oviatt and Melissa Luhtanen presented at the Calgary Labour Arbitration and Policy Conference. Ms. Oviatt was a panelist on The Pandemic’s Lasting Legacy: What COVID-19 has Taught us about Labour Relations, while Ms. Luhtanen facilitated a full-day pre-conference workshop discussing difficult accommodations and responding to denial, defensiveness, and personality disorders.

  • On June 24, 2023, Emmanuel Owusu presented at a legal information session organized by the Africa Centre. Mr. Owusu provided information on how the Commission can help Albertans address issues of discrimination that they encounter.

  • On June 16, 2023, Kathryn Oviatt, Vaughn Neff (former Deputy Director of the Commission), and Anne Clennett presented at a public forum at the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. They spoke on addressing barriers within the Alberta Human Rights Commission, including the Tribunal. 

  • On June 3, 2023, Kathryn Oviatt was the keynote speaker at the Alberta Network of Immigrant Women’s Community Conversation event. With the discussion focusing on collective strategies to address biased hiring, Ms. Oviatt spoke on barriers and opportunities in employment for immigrant women.

  • On May 25, 2023, Kathryn Oviatt and current and former Members of the Commission, Duncan Marsden and Jean Munn, formed a panel for a joint meeting of the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association and the Canadian Bar Association. They provided a human rights spotlight on the duty to accommodate for in-house legal counsel.

  • On May 23, 2023, Kathryn Oviatt was the keynote speaker at the Post-Secondary Accessibility and Disability Resource Association’s annual general meeting. Ms. Oviatt spoke on the duty to accommodate in the post-secondary environment and presented a review of legal principles and development of the law.

Other news

1. In memoriam: Jack O'Neill

Jack O’Neill, former Chief Commissioner (now known as the Chief of the Commission and Tribunals) of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, passed away on September 19, 2023. In addition to his role as Chief, Mr. O’Neill co-chaired the 1998 International Conference on Human Rights in Edmonton and co-founded the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. A Member of the Order of Canada, he received numerous awards and citations for his commitment to public service and humankind throughout his lifetime. The Commission sends condolences to his family and friends.

Read the full obituary.

2. In memoriam: Margot Campbell Brunner

Margot Campbell Brunner, Executive Director of the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities (VAD), passed away on July 27, 2023. She was a well-respected disability advocate who worked with the Commission on a number of initiatives, including on the Barrier-free Alberta initiative that aims to enact accessibility legislation in Alberta. The Commission sends condolences to her family, friends, and colleagues.

3. Lori Straznicky as Canada’s newest Pay Equity Commissioner 

Appointed by Order in Council, the Canadian Human Rights Commission welcomed Lori Straznicky as Canada’s next Pay Equity Commissioner on June 28, 2023. Ms. Straznicky had been serving as Pay Equity Commissioner in an interim capacity since November 2022. Ms. Straznicky was instrumental in the development of Canada’s federal Pay Equity Act. This role aims to recognize pay equity as a fundamental human right andto use the pay equity program as a tool to close the gender wage gap.

Read the full news release.