On November 1, 2018, the Government of British Columbia introduced Bill 50, which proposes several significant changes to British Columbia’s human rights legal landscape.
Two notable changes under Bill 50 are the extension of time limits for filing complaints, and the appointment of a human rights Commissioner.
With respect to the time limits for filing complaints, under Bill 50, the time limit for filing complaints would be extended from six to 12 months. Taking into consideration the amount of time it can take the BC Human Rights Tribunal to screen complaints, this could significantly increase the delay between the date of an alleged discriminatory incident and the date a respondent finds out that a complaint has been filed relating to an alleged discriminatory incident, and thereby put on notice that it needs to legally defend itself against that allegation.
With respect to the introduction of a Commissioner, Bill 50 provides that while he or she cannot commence a human rights complaint with the Tribunal, he or she will have a standing right to intervene into complaints on terms that can be set by the Tribunal.
The powers of the Commissioner as set out in Bill 50 would be as follows:
47.12 (1) The commissioner is responsible for promoting and protecting human rights, including by doing any of the following:
(a) identifying, and promoting the elimination of, discriminatory practices, policies and programs;
(b) developing resources, policies and guidelines to prevent and eliminate discriminatory practices, policies and programs;
(c) publishing reports, making recommendations or using other means the commissioner considers appropriate to prevent or eliminate discriminatory practices, policies and programs;
(d) developing and delivering public information and education about human rights;
(e) undertaking, directing and supporting research respecting human rights;
(f) examining the human rights implications of any policy, program or legislation, and making recommendations respecting any policy, program or legislation that the commissioner considers may be inconsistent with this Code;
(g) consulting and cooperating with individuals and organizations in order to promote and protect human rights;
(h) establishing working groups for special assignments respecting human rights;
(i) promoting compliance with international human rights obligations;
(j) intervening in complaints under section 22.1 and in any proceeding in any court.
(2) The commissioner may not file a complaint with the tribunal under section 21 but may assist a person or group of persons with any aspect of a complaint under that section.
Given how broadly stated the Commissioner’s powers are, the role the Commissioner will actually play in practice will likely be determined in large part by whom is appointed as Commissioner and which of the above they prioritize.
Another proposal of note in Bill 50 is the establishment of a human rights advisory council, which will have as its role to advise the Commissioner on issues respecting human rights and to perform any other function specified by the Commissioner. Thus, while it is clear that Bill 50 will establish an advisory council, given the lack of detail, it is not clear what role or influence that council will have.