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BC Is The Only Province Without A Human Rights Commission And It’s Good To See That NDP Is Bringing It  Back

By Zile Singh

British Columbia – The Human Rights Commission

British Columbia is the only Province in Canada which has no Human Rights Commission for the last 16 years.  In 2002,  the-then  existing  Human Rights Commission was dismantled by Gordon Campbell Liberal Government.  The present NDP Government, after its victory in the Provincial Elections last year  announced on August 4, 2017 its plans to reinstate the B.C. Human Rights Commission.  Premier John Horgan’s  promise to the voters that “Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of physical ability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” saw the light of the day when, recently  the NDP government introduced Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2018 ( Bill 50 ).  The Bill has passed its First Reading.  The passage of the Bill will enhance  the already existing all-inclusive and multicultural nature of  British Columbia.  It is worth mentioning here that Mr. Raj Chouhan, MLA ( Deputy Speaker) from Burnby, Edmonds, had introduced Private Members’ Bill three times during the Liberal government for reinstating the Commission.  The Private Members’  Bill, however, could not gather momentum and failed.    Mr. Ravi Kahlon,  first-time MLA from North Delta and  Parliamentary Secretary of Sports and Multiculturalism conducted  a 8-week consultation on the Bill  with the voters and other concerned agencies.  On its Introduction he reiterated, “ All of us have the right to participate fully in the social and economic fabric of our society.” Mr. Harinder Mahil, an ardent human rights activist and a former Acting  Commissioner of  the dismantled BC Human Rights Commission termed the Introduction of Bill-50  an  “exciting” event.

What are Human Rights?  Human Rights are rooted in ancient thought and in the philosophical concepts of “ natural law” and “natural rights”.  Plato (427-348 B.C.)  a Greek philosopher was one of the earliest writers to advocate a universal standard of ethical conduct.  According to Roman jurist Ulpian, natural

law was that which Nature and the State assured to all human beings.  According to Law of Nature, all men are equal, and by the same law all are born free.  This means that foreigners were required to be dealt with in the same way as one deals with one’s own countrymen.  Sophocles (495-406 BC) was one of the first to promote the idea of freedom of expression against the State.

The main  human rights charters are: The Magna Carta (1215 AD) or the Great Charter of Liberties was granted to the English Barons  only, by King John of England in response to heavy taxation burden.   Later the Bill of Rights (1689) included all Englishmen.  The Declaration of Independence, 1776 of the United States and the French Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) stipulated that men are free and equal in rights.  The human rights became a matter of international concern with the end of World War II and the founding of the United Nations.  Since then international human rights law has been developing in an unprecedented way and has become a very substantive part of international law as a whole.  Although there is no global government as such to protect human rights, it is being protected by the various agencies  of the United Nations and the inter-governmental organizations.

The United Nations Charter contains a number of provisions for the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in its Preamble and various Articles.  The Preamble in its first paragraph laid down that …..  “we the people of the United Nations determined to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small…”  The provisions of the Charter make it clear that State’s treatment of its own citizens has become a matter of international concern.  The provisions also imply  two major values of International Law – an old one, respect for State sovereignty, and a more recent one, respect for human rights have been integrated.  Emphasizing the importance of human rights, President Truman of the United States said in 1945 at the closing address of the San Francisco Conference,  “ The UN Charter is dedicated to the achievement and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Unless we can attain these objectives for all men and women everywhere without regard to race, language or religion one cannot have permanent peace and security in the world.”

At present there are 47 countries who are Members of the United Nations Human Rights Council based in Geneva.  The Council membership is based on equitable geographical distribution.  As of January 2018, 107 UN Member States have served as Human Rights Council Members.

Mr. Zile Singh is much respected Link Columnist, writer, a Vipassana Meditator and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Human Rights.  He can be reached at zsnirwal@yahoo.ca

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