Cablegate: Human Rights Commissions: A Low Profile, at Least

DE RUEHOT #0696/01 2512015
P 082015Z SEP 09 ZDK




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Canada's federal and provincial human
rights commissions (HRCs) have maintained a lower public
profile this year than in 2008. They could, however, face a
sharp increase in complaints in 2010 due to new Vancouver
city bylaws enacted for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games.
The extension of the Canadian Human Rights Act to Canada's
aboriginal population in June 2011 is also likely to generate
more cases. Ontario, British Colombia, and Alberta HRC
current dockets include complaints against freedoms of speech
and of religion and the right to privacy in criminal court
cases. The Canadian HRC (CHRC) is now accepting complaints
against the federal government from aboriginals subject to
the Indian Act. Ontario and Alberta have established
independent human rights tribunals as a means of appeal of
provincial HRC rulings, creating judicial processes for
plaintiffs and defendants. End summary.

2. (SBU) At the end of August U.S. Embassy Ottawa hosted
Consulates General Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Halifax
and WHA/CAN for the Mission Canada reporting officers digital
video conference in preparation for the 2009 Human Rights

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3. (SBU) The International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires
regulations that have the effect of limiting freedom of
expression at host venues during the Olympics. These
regulations are primarily directed at commercial speech to
protect exclusive advertising rights of sponsors, but they
also restrict general protests to specific zoned areas. In
response to IOC's edict, the Vancouver City Council passed
bylaws, to be implemented in January 2010, restricting the
distribution of leaflets and other public speech at the
sporting venues and also for the first time along major
routes to the venues and at principal hotels. City officials
have not yet announced the location and number of designated
protest zones but have promised that they will be visible to
cameras. Public attention to the new regulations was scant
until they were passed as the city did not allow significant
public consultation. An Olympics watchdog group, The Impact
on Communities Coalition, has filed a protest with the United
Nations asking that the UN send human rights observers to the
Vancouver games to "ensure Canada's high standards aren't
breached." While the British Colombia HRC has not received
any complaints related to the Olympics, the strong activist
community in Vancouver makes it likely that numerous
complaints will be filed once the new laws are enacted and
following the conclusion of the games.

4. (SBU) Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officials and
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in British Colombia
differ widely in their estimates of the potential for an
increase in trafficking in sex workers during the games (ref
a). NGOs claim they are already seeing signs of increased
sex work based on the rise in ads for personal services. The
RCMP, using a far more restrictive definition of a
"trafficked" person, says the problem is not significant.


5. (SBU) The Ontario HRC has taken an opposing stand against
the Canadian Council of Muslim Women regarding the right of a
woman to wear a full facial cover or "niqab" when testifying
against a defendant in a criminal court. In a pending
decision, the judge in a sexual assault trial is weighing
Qdecision, the judge in a sexual assault trial is weighing
whether the defendant's right to confront his accuser is
infringed when the accuser covers her face, or if the
victim's right to religious freedom is abridged by being
forced to remove the niqab. The judge has signaled that the
strength of the victim's beliefs about the niqab as it
relates to her faith will be a central issue. In May an
Ontario Superior Court judge ruled Muslim women have no
blanket right to wear a veil while testifying in court.
However, the same judge concluded individual judges should
decide on an ad hoc basis whether to permit Muslim women to
testify under veil. The Ontario HRC argued that the
defendant's rights are being violated when they cannot
confront their accusers. The HRC further noted that the
Canadian Council of Muslim Women has stated that the niqab is
not necessary to Islam and that the woman can remove it for

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6. (SBU) The Ontario HRC is also considering complaints of
violations to the right to privacy in two separate instances
where prosecutors asked provincial police to do background
checks on potential criminal trial jurors, which the
complainants claimed was broader than the standard criminal
records check. The HRC is concerned about the possibility of
discrimination against people with mental health issues as
police record checks can reveal personal information about an
individual's mental health record and non-criminal contact
with police. Judges have declared three mistrials due to
improper juror selection based on the broad background checks.

7. (SBU) In June 2008, the Ontario government created the
Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. The Tribunal now makes
rulings on complaints while the Ontario HRC can only
investigate cases. There has been little public comment on
the creation of the Tribunal, possibly due to the lack of
high profile cases to date.


8. (SBU) In January 2009, the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for
Ethics in Leadership released a report on the Alberta HRC
criticizing its lack of leadership and visibility on human
rights issues. As a result of the report and other public
criticism, the Alberta HRC created a separate, publicly
funded human rights tribunal which automatically hears all
appeals from the HRC. The Alberta minister for Culture and
Community Spirit has taken the lead in reforming the Alberta
HRC in direct response to the Chumir report. The Chumir
Foundation is a private, non-profit organization based in
Calgary whose directors are influential members of the
business community.

9. (SBU) The Rev. Stephen Boissoin and the Concerned
Christian Coalition have filed an appeal to the court ruling
that they must publish an apology for disparaging comments
about homosexuals. The Alberta provincial court has set the
hearing date in September. At issue is the balance of
conflicting rights of a protected group against hate speech
and freedom of the press in the forced publication of an

10. (SBU) At a new trial in February, a provincial court
judge acquitted a First Nations leader in Saskatchewan of
hate speech ruling that he did not willfully intend to incite
hatred in his remarks. In July, a Saskatchewan provincial
court upheld the November 2008 ruling of the Saskatchewan HRC
sanctioning a provincial marriage commissioner for refusing
to conduct same-sex marriages. The commissioner had argued
that the law violated his Charter right to freedom of
religion, but the court determined that he was obliged to
discharge his public responsibilities in accordance with the


11. (SBU) In June 2008, Parliament repealed Section 67 of the
Canadian Human Rights Act, ending the exclusion of First
Nations peoples from the protections of the Act. Effective
immediately, the CHRC can accept complaints against the
federal government from aboriginals subject to the Indian Act
that were previously exempted. The bill provides for a
three-year transition period before complaints can be
received against First Nations authorities. CHRC told
poloffs that they do not know how large an increase in
complaints to expect after June 2011 but that they are hoping
their efforts to educate First Nations Bands during the
transition will reduce discriminatory practices now in
effect. Sherry Helganson, Director of the National
Aboriginal Initiative, the CHRC,s branch leading the
QAboriginal Initiative, the CHRC,s branch leading the
transition period's programs, said she expects the highest
number of complaints to be focused on (1) eligibility for
status as a First Nations person (mostly related to women who
live off-reserve with non-aboriginal husbands); (2) access to
educational services for children who live off-reserve, many
of whom were forced to leave the reserve due to domestic
violence; and (3) access to health services for those who
live off-reserve. As of December 2008, she said the CHRC had
received approximately 20 complaints in those three areas.


OTTAWA 00000696 003 OF 003


12. (SBU) HRCs in the Atlantic provinces do not receive a
high volume of complaints. The majority of cases deal with
discrimination in employment or disability issues.

13. (SBU) Comment: Following a spate of high profile cases
in 2007 and 2008, the provincial HRCs have not been in the
public or media eye in 2009 to the same extent. While there
is no indication of a drop in complaints submitted to the
HRCs, the creation of separate human rights tribunals in
Ontario and Alberta suggests that the HRCs and provincial
governments are seeking to create a more streamlined and
rigorous approach to rulings. On the federal level, the CHRC
is still tentatively feeling its way through the thickets of
the repeal of Section 67, balancing the historical group
independence of First Nations bands to monitor their own
internal affairs with the federal duty to protect each
individual Canadian's human rights. End Comment.

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