Quebec human rights commission forced to close nearly 200 cases after Mike Ward decision
Quebec's human rights commission was forced to close 194 discrimination complaints following the Supreme Court of Canada's Mike Ward decision, commission leaders revealed Friday while presenting their activity report for the year 2021-2022.
The Supreme Court decision, which ruled in favour of the Quebec comedian, stated that the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ) had exceeded its jurisdiction by intervening in cases of discriminatory remarks, with the highest court deciding that the protection against discrimination provided for in the Charter does not create a right "not to be offended."
"It is very important to note that 73 per cent of these cases involve ... racial slurs. For us, such comments remain totally unacceptable, even though we can no longer legally investigate many of these cases," said Commission Chair Philippe-André Tessier, visibly disappointed with this new limit on the organization's action.
"These cases, previously, could be investigated by the Commission and ultimately by the Tribunal (of human rights), but obviously, these cases are no longer covered and that, indeed, has human consequences for people who are victims of this kind of comments, to no longer have access to this recourse and we are sorry," he said.
MINORITIES, PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES STILL AT THE TOP
In the end, the CDPDJ received 2,290 requests for investigation during the year covered by the report and opened 548 investigations, much less than the 839 of the previous year.
The most frequently cited grounds of discrimination remain stable over the years, with disability still at the top, with 38 per cent of complaints resulting in the opening of an investigation, the majority of which are related to access to public transportation and public places.
Racism (skin color, ethnicity or national origin) continues to rank second with 27 per cent of complaints, mostly in the workplace, racial profiling and racial slurs.
This is followed, in smaller proportions, by complaints of discrimination based on age (eight per cent), criminal record (six per cent), gender and social condition (four per cent of complaints in both cases).
In the area of racial profiling, 69 cases were opened, down sharply from 86 in 2020-2021 and 76 in 2019-2020.
Commission officials would not comment on Quebec City's decision to appeal the recent Superior Court ruling that ended random stops without probable cause, but comments from its vice-president, Myrlande Pierre, leave little doubt that they would have preferred to see the ruling allowed to take effect.
"The Superior Court's ruling, under the pen of Justice Yergeau, is really in line with several key recommendations made by the Commission in the past. We believe that it was indeed a complementary lever to fight against the phenomenon of racial profiling," she said at a press conference in Quebec City.
COMMISSION DISMISSES LEGAULT'S ARGUMENT ON POLICE STOPS
Tessier dismissed the arguments of the Legault government and many police chiefs that the ban on random stops without probable cause would prevent police officers from doing their job properly.
"In no way are (decisions) that recognize notions of racial profiling intended to prevent anyone from doing their job to stop motorists in roadblocks for drinking and driving, or people who commit traffic violations," he said.
No one, he added, is trying to restrict police work, "and that's not what Judge Yergeau's ruling is about at all if you read it carefully. He makes it very clear that the point here is not to prevent work, but indeed to put an end to a discriminatory phenomenon that is racial profiling."
On the other hand, the Commission points out that it has other levers, including training on racism that it has already begun to provide in various public agencies. In addition, specific training for police officers on racial profiling is being prepared following meetings with the staff of Quebec police forces in the fall of 2021 and the first phase of this training should be ready in 2023.
Another area where the CDPDJ has been very active is the protection of youth rights. The Commission expressed its concern during the pandemic, noting a decrease in requests for investigations involving youth, which it attributed to the fact that children, confined, were not subject to the usual supervision of their entourage outside the home, particularly teachers.
While the number of requests received in 2021-22 (417 compared to 348 the previous year) is almost back to the 2019-2020 level (427), the number of investigations opened was still steadily declining, from 360 two years ago, to 272 in 2020-21, to 249 in 2021-22.
Of note, "we opened a record number of investigations on our own initiative, often after being alerted by the media to potential rights injury situations," Tessier reported.
One of the Commission's areas of intervention involves the exploitation of the elderly. The organization has opened 36 investigation files out of 205 requests received, but some cases are hair-raising.
For example, the board reported that it won a case where a mother was isolated from her family by her daughter, who dispossessed her of her home, abused her bank authorization, and neglected her physically and psychologically.
The Court ordered her to pay $595,000 for material loss, $25,000 for moral damages and $5,000 for punitive damages.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Dec. 2, 2022.