The fair practices farce
The brainiacs who run the Government of the Northwest Territories still believe that a constitutional ego-trip is more important than our human rights.
That alarming piece of news was contained in a GNWT press release issued last Friday.
The GNWT doesn’t accept a recent decision by the federal court of appeal, which ruled that the Canadian Human Rights Commission should be allowed to investigate complaints made by government employees.
It’s a decision that could cost the GNWT $40-$70 million in back pay to employees mostly female who weren’t paid equally in comparison to men who did jobs of equal value. The lack of pay equity in the NWT’s public service is what prompted the Union of Northern Workers to file a complaint back in 1989.
Fearful that the federal human rights commission might actually bring down a fair and just ruling, the territorial went to court to prevent the human rights tribunal from acting on behalf of public employees.
Instead, the GNWT says we can use a toothless, impotent old territorial law called the Fair Practices Act.
Here’s what’s wrong with the NWT’s Fair Practices Act, and why it doesn’t adequately protect human rights:
* Section 13 of the Fair Practices Act, has this to say about whether or not people can be prosecuted for violating human rights: “No prosecution for an offence under this Act shall be commenced without the consent in writing of the Commissioner.”
That means that if the GNWT or anyone else violates your rights, they can’t be prosecuted unless the NWT cabinet allows it. This is a power no government can be allowed to possess especially the patronage-ridden government we have in the North.
* The Fair Practices Act offers no protection for gays and lesbians sexual orientation isn’t mentioned in it.
That means that gays and lesbians who work for the GNWT can’t benefit from recent amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act that bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
* Penalties for violating the Fair Practices Act are too lenient. The maximum penalty for an individual convicted of violating the Act is a mere $100 fine, or three months in prison, and a $500 fine for a corporation, trade union, employers’ organization or employment agency.
For refusing to comply with an order imposed by a fair practices officer, the maximum fine is only $1,000 for an individual and $25,000 for a corporation, trade union, employers’ organization or employement agency.
* Complaints under the Fair Practices Act may only be made in writing.
That effectively bars many aboriginal people who are more comfortable with face-to-face oral communication from taking advantage of the act.
* The Fair Practices Act is an old law that NWT residents played no part in creating.
Yes, there were a few “improvements” to the Fair Practices Act that came into force in 1995 and 1996. But the GNWT only made those changes when it became apparent that their pay equity court case was going up in flames. And those amendments were passed with no public debate.
* The GNWT’s fair practices officers though they may be dedicated and well-meaning people possess little credibility.
Under the Fair Practices Act, they’re appointed by the territorial cabinet to serve five-year terms. That means they’re accountable only to cabinet ministers.
But the GNWT can easily bring their human rights farce to an honorable close. They should drop their appeal to the Supreme Court and negotiate with the UNW to find an acceptable way of meeting their pay equity obligations.
And after division, both new territorial legislatures should give early consideration to the creation of new territorial human rights acts.
Until then, the federal human rights act is the only credible option for us.