Big changes for Alberta human rights protection

Province finally enshrines protection for sexual orientation; new tribunal will hear complaints
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 09/30/2009

The human rights regime in Alberta is looking significantly different after the provincial government passed new legislation containing some much-debated and sometimes controversial changes.

The Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act, 2009, was proclaimed to come into force on Oct. 1, 2009. The new legislation replaces Alberta’s Human Rights Act and is intended to make the province’s human rights system more efficient and deal with complaints more effectively. It is also designed to make the human rights complaints process more transparent to the public. In addition, the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission changed its name to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

One particular change that may be of interest employers is the addition of sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. Years ago, court decisions had determined sexual orientation should be included in human rights legislation and ever since, it had been considered an area of discrimination. There was much public debate but the addition allows the act to be consistent with the way the judicial system in the province has carried out human rights protection for the past decade.

There will also be a new way of dealing with complaints, as the investigation and adjudication roles of the commission have been separated. Human rights complaints will now be adjudicated by the new human rights tribunal, while the commission will be limited to investigation and mediation.

One section of the new act will not come into force until Sept. 1, 2010. This section allows parents to exempt their child from educational programs that deal with religion, human sexuality or sexual orientation in favour of alternative lessons.

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