Many will remember 2017 as a year where human rights laws saw significant changes that reflected Canada’s evolving society.

Parliament amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to recognize the rights of transgender people and to protect people from discrimination because of their genetic information. The Commission continued to work with law-makers and stakeholders to ensure that changes to the law are effectively implemented and understood. The Commission also represented the public interest in various cases that could have a systemic impact on future Canadians.

Trans rights are human rights

The Commission has long advocated for the rights of transgender Canadians to be included as a ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. In June 2017, Parliament added “gender identity or expression” as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Act. The Commission continued to work in this area as complaints raise new and untested issues, for example gender markers on federal identification documents.

Genetic testing shouldn’t be a calculated risk

Parliament also added “genetic characteristics” as a new ground of discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Act. This change prohibits discrimination against a person based on their genetic makeup or their predisposition to a genetic disease. Other legal changes put in place criminal sanctions and penalties for the inappropriate use of genetic information.

In spring 2017, the Quebec government challenged the constitutionality of Bill S-201, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act. The federal government and the government of British Columbia intervened in support of Quebec’s challenge.

While issues such as health insurance fall outside of federal jurisdiction, there remain several untested human rights implications associated with genetic testing. The Commission is intervening in the case and will oppose the constitutional challenge, arguing that adding “genetic characteristics” as a ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act broadens human rights protection in Canada in an uncertain and evolving area of science and discovery.

Indigenous rights and reconciliation

The Commission continued to work with the parties involved in the Child Welfare Case. While the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that the federal government’s funding formula for child welfare services on reserve is discriminatory, the work to find a reasonable and effective way to implement the necessary changes is now the challenge. Since the ruling, the Commission has participated in the discussions to represent the public interest as the parties moved towards the full implementation of Jordan’s Principle by the federal government and reforming the child welfare program.

The Commission also continues to represent the public interest at the Tribunal in a number of other human rights cases involving First Nations communities, about matters including rights to accessible housing, and equal access to special education, health services, community living, and policing services on reserves.