What is the Nunavut Human Rights Act?
The Nunavut Human Rights Act is an act that was passed into law by the Legislative Assembly on November 05, 2003 to provide all people of Nunavut with the guarantee of having an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life. It places responsibility on Government, all public agencies, boards and commissions and persons in Nunavut to fulfill this guarantee. Failure to provide equal opportunity is unlawful and subject to the provisions set forth in the Act.
Equality does not mean treating people the same. Equality in the human rights sense means taking into account the individual needs of people with the characteristics described in section 7 (1) of the Act so that they they may have the same opportunities as other people. It does not mean treating everyone as if they are exactly the same.
Application of the Act is to be done within an Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) framework. The Act does not add or take away protections provided for in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
The Act says it is against the law for any person, agency, business or government to unlawfully discriminate against any person in Nunavut.
What is Discrimination?
To unlawfully discriminate is to deny benefits or impose burdens, obligations or disadvantages on persons or groups of people who have any one of the characteristics mentioned in section 7(1) of the Act.
The Act does not allow discrimination when people are:
- looking for work or are at work;
- obtaining or maintaining a membership in an employee’s organization;
- accessing goods, services, facilities or contracts that are available to the general public;
- renting or attempting to rent any residential or commercial building; and
- Publishing or displaying information or written material.
Here are two examples:
- A young woman is not hired for the job because she is pregnant (discrimination on the basis of sex and gender)
- A hotel refuses to provide a room to a single mother with two children. (discrimination on the basis of family status)
There are many specific grounds or personal characteristics that are prohibited under the Act.
The seventeen grounds are grouped as follows:
- Cultural Identity: race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, citizenship and place of origin;
- Religion and creed
- Sex, and Sexual orientation
- Marital and family status
- Pregnancy, including adoption of a child by a man or woman
- Lawful source of income;
- A conviction for which a pardon has been granted.
It is unlawful to harass anyone based on any one of the prohibited grounds. Harassment is “unwelcome” conduct.
Through the Act a Tribunal was established to administer and make decisions under The Act. Five individuals are appointed for a four year term. As of 2016, the Members are as follows:
- Bonnie Almon, Chair
- Ookalik Curley, Vice-Chair
- Maureen Doherty, Member Kivalliq
- Trisha Makpah, Member-at-Large
- Amanada Hanson Main, Member-at-Large
What is a Tribunal?
The word “Tribunal” is borrowed from a Latin word, tribunus, meaning “magistrate” or “head of a tribe”. Tribunals in Canada are persons or groups of persons created by legislation to administer laws that are within the authority of the legislative body of a “Government”.
Tribunals in Canada are a number of people that form a board or committee created by legislation to hear and settle (judge) a particular matter. In Nunavut the Human Rights Tribunal consists of five people who are appointed by the Government of Nunavut to hear and settle cases of discrimination under the Nunavut Human Rights Act.
A Tribunal is established according to the legislation and obtains its authority and “power to act” from that legislation. The Nunavut Human Rights Tribunal’s authority and power to act is set forth in the Nunavut Human Rights Act.
Tribunals are different from “Boards” and “Agencies” established by legislation because of their “adjudicative” role. To adjudicate is to “judge” or “decide”. Having an adjudicative role also means that decisions must be made in a certain way, i.e. by following certain legal rules and principles, including the Principles of Fundamental Justice.
Because human rights are part of the “supreme law of Canada”, legislation that protects and enforces human rights in provinces and territories is referred to as “quasi-constitutional” law. “Quasi” simply means “as if it were” constitutional law.
Human Rights law is “quasi-constitutional” and is
- treated as extremely important law,
- law that is remedial in nature (law that is intended to correct wrongs rather than punish) and
- law that will be interpreted liberally so as to achieve its purposes, e.g. the purpose(s) set out in the Preamble to the Human Rights Act.
The Nunavut Human Rights Tribunal is a direct access model unlike its counterparts in other territories and provinces which have commissions. The only other direct access Tribunals are in British Columbia and Ontario.
The direct access model does not have staff to investigate or gather evidence. The direct access Tribunal makes all the decisions based on the information presented in a notification. “Notifications” are documents consisting of an Application completed by Applicant and a Reply completed by Respondents. The Nunavut Human Rights staff members (Human Rights Officers) are not Tribunal members. The staff’s role is to provide information to the public on procedures and assist Parties (the Applicant and Respondent) in completing Notifications.
The Tribunal is the decision maker at all stages of proceedings defined under The Act. Tribunal members are to be independent of their appointers (the Government of Nunavut) and impartial (without favour to anyone) in all proceedings before the Tribunal.