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Human Rights – A Resilient Cause

Andrea SalgueroBy Andrea Salguero

As states around the world have moved to adopt the strictest of public health measures in the face of an unprecedented global health crisis it is difficult to imagine any sector of society that has remained untouched by the effects of this global pandemic. In addition to the millions of people that continue to face serious risks to their health, still more remain vulnerable to the economic repercussions of the crisis as industries struggle to regain stability. In the midst of these great global changes, at the outset of my internship I was apprehensive about how human rights work in Canada and around the world would be affected by public health restrictions. However, my experience this summer at the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Centre (RWCHR) has given me confidence that the field of human rights, and advocacy work in particular, possesses a resiliency that will assist it to emerge from this period stronger than ever.

This summer, the RWCHR was involved in several human rights initiatives including sustained advocacy for political prisoners in different parts of the world, promoting greater accountability for crimes against humanity in Venezuela and promoting freedom of the press. RWCHR staff and interns worked on these issues in collaboration with partners and collaborators in other countries, and were able to continue this work throughout the height of the pandemic despite serious lockdowns and restrictions on travel. While in person meetings were no longer possible past March 2020, the existing infrastructure for communication between partners was utilized to shift educational activities and the coordination of advocacy strategies to online platforms. It was gratifying to see that the work of drafting proposals, coordinating events, hosting webinars and panel discussions, and even developing sophisticated advocacy projects was able to continue remotely, and may even have intensified through the weeks and months of lock down.

The ability to shift in the face of crisis, utilizing existing international networks, points to a wider resiliency within the field of human rights. This resiliency has perhaps developed within a field accustomed to facing challenges in day to day work. Grassroots human rights advocates often face personal danger from state or civil groups in documenting human rights violations, and advocates in more open societies still face barriers in the form of states’ unwillingness to act on particular issues or in public apathy to particular human rights issues. While the pandemic has presented new challenges for human rights advocates and exacerbated other existing patterns of human rights abuses, it appears the energy and creativity of those dedicated to the cause of human rights will continue to move the field forward even in the most difficult moments. At a time where human rights matter more than ever, this direction offers much hope for the future.

Réalisations post-stage

Sandrine RoyerPar Sandrine Royer

Ces derniers jours ont été teintées de réflexions au sujet du stage complété cet été auprès de l’IDEHPUCP. L’horaire incroyablement occupé de mes avant-dernières semaines au sein de l’équipe m’ont fait réaliser à quel point mes collègues étaient motivés et impliqués dans les recherches qu’ils entreprennent. L’humain est au cœur de leurs préoccupations et influence chaque décision. En plus d’être incroyablement compétents dans leurs démarches et dans leur application des principes de droits, ils ont un dévouement porté par une bienveillance envers leurs semblables.

Cela est incroyablement inspirant pour une jeune apprentie du domaine légal comme moi. En effet, je dois avouer qu’au cours de ma première année, les rencontres avec des avocats de grands cabinets et l’attrait d’un salaire rassurant me tentaient relativement. Cependant, à travailler conjointement avec les chercheurs de mon équipe cet été, j’ai pu confirmer une chose quant à mes objectifs de carrière : je souhaite travailler pour les humains et aussi près des humains que possible. Ce que je souhaite communiquer ici est simplement que j’ai envie de faire du bien-être de mes semblables une priorité tout au long de mon cheminement en droit. C’est la raison principale qui m’a poussée à m’inscrire dans ce programme, et ce stage a confirmé ce but.

Je souhaite offrir à mes semblables les outils dont ils ont besoin pour se sentir appuyés, tout en m’assurant de favoriser une relation d’écoute attentive et d’empathie. De cette façon, j’ose espérer que le droit pourra m’aider à défendre les intérêts de mes concitoyens, tout en complémentant l’étendue du domaine légale avec d’autres outils sociaux et communautaires pour assurer une approche adaptée et constructive.

Ainsi, je suis éternellement reconnaissante de l’accueil et de l’intégration que l’IDEHPUCP m’a offerts, et je crois que les apprentissages que j’y ai fait, même à distance, me suivront pour de nombreuses années.

What does it mean to effect real change?

Nilani AnanthamoorthyBy Nilani Ananthamoorthy

As I am finishing the internship with Yukon Human Rights Commission (“the Commission”), I have had the opportunity to reflect on a summer that was so different from the one I envisioned when I learned that I was given the position. In the December 2019, I was looking forward to a summer in the North, working directly with the community in Whitehorse and hopefully effecting positive change. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened and I moved back home for a summer that was inevitably unlike any other.

Initially, I – unlike many others – was relatively unaffected by the pandemic and was able to start the internship within the comfort of my parents’ home. I shifted my focus towards adjusting to this new normal and finding motivation in doing online, remote work. But my “bubble” at home was not impervious to the events that were happening outside of it. As the COVID-19 numbers fluctuated in different areas, I read about how minority groups are especially vulnerable to the financial impacts of the pandemic-related work interruptions.[1] Existing health disparities have widened, and minority communities are also especially vulnerable to the health impacts of COVD-19.[2] At the same time, my family and I watched the news every day as protests broke out all over the world in response to anti-black racism. This sparked many conversations about what it means to be systematically oppressed and what it means to be an ally. The events that have occurred this summer have pushed me to reflect on how we can effect change, and what sort of steps need to be taken to protect and empower vulnerable groups.

This internship has shown me the value of an organization like the Commission in pursuing this cause. The Commission provides legal help for all but as I’ve seen in Board of Adjudication decisions, it is especially important in ensuring access to justice for vulnerable groups. If you go on the Commission’s website, it is a one-stop shop for information on the Yukon Human Rights Act and the human rights complaint process. It provides clear and accessible information on harassment and discrimination and provides relevant resources for those pursuing a complaint. As I discussed in my previous blog post, this is important for ensuring that all have access to justice – not just those with legal knowledge.

I have also reflected on the use of the Yukon Human Rights Act as a tool for effecting positive change in individual lives. Section 1 of the Act outlines its objectives, which includes “to discourage and eliminate discrimination”.[3] Section 24 outlines the possible remedies, which includes ordering the party who discriminated to “stop the discrimination” or “rectify the condition that caused the discrimination”.[4] The Board of Adjudication can also order an individual to pay damages for any financial losses suffered or for “injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect”.[5] It can also order individuals to pay exemplary damages if the discrimination occurred in a malicious way.[6] The Yukon Human Rights Act is not unlike other human rights legislation in Canada, which allow tribunals and boards to order individual monetary remedies as well as tangible behavioural and organizational changes. I saw this frequently in employment discrimination cases, where employers were often told to pay damages, but to also implement anti-discrimination policies and training within their workplaces. When I think about systemic oppression and how existing social structures can oppress certain groups, I see the value in ordering remedies that not only compensate the individual affected, but also seeks to ensure that others will not be affected in the same way.

This has truly been a summer of reflection for me. As I watched the news and saw a world that was rapidly changing, I also experienced changes in my personal life. At the end of the summer, my grandpa passed away after experiencing several months of serious health complications. I remember how proud my grandpa was when I was first accepted into law school – and I remember him telling me that those who work with the law have the power to effect real change. As I prepare for the upcoming semester, I am grateful for my experience with the Commission and for my supervisors. Through this work, I’ve been able to reflect on how the law can effect real change for those who are vulnerable in our society.

[1] Brooklyn Neustaeter, “Visible minority groups more vulnerable to financial impacts of COVID-19: StatCan”, CTV (6 July 2020), online: <www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/visible-minority-groups-more-vulnerable-to-financial-impacts-of-covid-19-statcan-1.5012682>.

[2] Reggie Cecchini, “COVID -19 crisis could increase food insecurity among minority communities: studies”, Global News (19 July 2020), online: <globalnews.ca/news/7190831/coronavirus-food-insecurity-minority-groups/>.

[3] Yukon Human Rights Act, RSY 2002, c 116, art 1.

[4] Ibid, art 24.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

A Summer Spent at the Intersection of Human Rights Issues

Kayla Maria RollandBy Kayla Maria Rolland

This summer, I enjoyed working with the Disability Inclusive Climate Action Program (DICARP), a new initiative and partnership between the Canada Research Chair in Human Rights and the Environment and the McGill Centre for Human Rights & Legal Pluralism.

I spent the summer learning more about issues in climate justice, disability rights, and how these issues intersect. For example, persons with disabilities are more affected by climate change as a result of social, economic, and institutional barriers. Women, children, and minorities with disabilities are particularly impacted. The impacts of climate change on food systems may create food shortages that affect the right to food for persons with disabilities. Issues such as inaccessible transportation may impact the right to housing for persons with disabilities. The right to health for persons with disabilities may be impacted when essential healthcare services are disrupted by climate change. Climate change may also have significant impacts on access to water and employment for persons with disabilities. (1)

In response, those working in the spaces of climate justice and disability rights have argued that states hold legal obligations to protect disability rights in regards to climate change, as a result of instruments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (2)

DICARP will involve a series of research projects and mobilization activities over the coming years related to this topic. Part of my role with DICARP was researching different activists, legal practitioners, and scholars working at the intersection of climate justice and disability rights from around the world to bring a diverse range of perspectives and experiences to the table. It was interesting to learn about the work currently being done, as well as opportunities to grow awareness. From the perspective of a human rights intern, this was also another opportunity to see the different paths that an interest in human rights may take you.

Another part of my role was helping to prepare for the program’s webinars that will take place this Fall. This included researching best practices for accessible webinars and web content. I learned a tremendous amount, and this was one of the most rewarding parts of my internship as these are skills that I will carry with me going forward, both professionally and personally.

I feel very lucky to have been involved with this partnership in its early stages. One of the benefits of having completed a human rights internship here at McGill is that I get to watch what the program will accomplish in the coming years.


(1) For more information, see the recent report “The impact of climate change on the rights of persons with disabilities by the UN OHCHR here: https://ohchr.org/EN/Issues/HRAndClimateChange/Pages/PersonsWithDisabilities.aspx

(2) For further information, see the report “The Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the Context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change” by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Inclusiva, and the Center for International Environmental Law here: https://www.ciel.org/reports/the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities-in-the-context-of-the-un-framework-convention-on-climate-change-dec-2019/

The Humans in the Housing Crisis

Gemma DingwallBy Gemma Dingwall

Since 1876, the Federal Government has been responsible for housing on Indian reserves. In 2016, 27.4% of people on reserves lived in over-crowded housing[1] and 24.2% of First Nations people lived in a dwelling that was in need of major repairs.[2]

There are several contributing factors to these numbers. Firstly, many reserves are in northern isolated regions, which makes for shorter building seasons and costlier materials. Additionally, Indigenous people are also the fastest growing population in Canada and the available housing has not kept up. Furthermore, housing management can be run by people who are not qualified or have too many competing interests to adequately address the house repairs that are needed. However, one major factor is the consistency in which the Federal Government provides inadequate funding for housing and has ignored this issue for generations.

As high as these numbers may seem, they do not fully capture what the housing crisis looks like for those living in it. What those numbers do not provide is a visual of children sleeping on mattresses in living rooms. It does not paint a picture of twelve people living in a three-bedroom house so that people have to take shifts to sleep. It does not show young families waiting years just to have a place of their own. Nor do the stats really show what the inside of a home in need of major repairs looks like, whether that be leaking pipes, mold, holes in the wall or broken appliances.

The housing crisis has detrimental effects in so many areas. Children facing overcrowding have nowhere to complete their homework. Domestic violence victims have no where safe to go. A lack of privacy can lead to mental illnesses like depression. It also acts as a barrier for those looking to recover from their addictions who have no choice but to live with those who are still consuming. Infectious diseases like COVID-19 which can be spread more easily through overcrowded housing, also pose a serious threat to communities

During my internship with the Department of Justice and Correctional Service (DOJCS) of the Cree Nation, I was exposed to some particular ways in which overcrowding affects the justice system. One current challenge for the Cree Nation is that formerly incarcerated people as well as people who have experienced homelessness and who want to come back and integrate into their community have nowhere to go.

If their families do not want them in the home or there is no room in the home, these individuals have no opportunity to rejoin their community. Moreover, because of overcrowding, there are no alternatives—they cannot simply find another place to live. This problem compounds other issues such as formerly incarcerated people are less likely to follow their probation plan when they are far away from their community and do not have appropriate cultural programming or proper support.

To address this issue, the DOJCS has introduced the Tiny Homes Community Project. To start, three of the nine Cree communities will provide ten Tiny Homes for formerly incarcerated people to stay in while they look for more long-term housing. As Tiny Home tenants, they will receive support from Elders and mental health professionals. Each tenant is also required to participate in programming that will help them become a healthy, contributing member of the community.

My role in this project was to work in a team to draft the rights, responsibilities and protocols for the clients of these Tiny Homes. Again, the housing shortage posed several challenges. The Tiny Homes are meant to serve as transitional housing so the residents can integrate into the community. However, many people in the Cree Nation have to wait several years to be given access to a home of their own. This must be balanced with the high demand for the program, so the Tiny Homes cannot be occupied by the same clients for years. Another issue to consider is the process of expelling someone from the program, which may be necessary when the safety of the staff or other tenants is at risk. The reality is the expelled individual will have very few options on where to go; in some cases, they will have nowhere to go.

Overall, there are so many barriers caused by the housing crisis. It affects health, education, child development, rehabilitation, individual safety, familial relationships and overall community building. I know the Tiny Homes is a great program and will help many people reconnect with their community. Unfortunately, I also know that the housing crisis will continue to limit the number of people it serves and impacts its true potential.

[1] “The housing conditions of Aboriginal people in Canada” (25 October 2017) online:  < https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/ > [https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016021/98-200-x2016021-eng.cfm]

[2] Ibid.

Understanding Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sara WrightBy Sara Wright

During my December interview for the internship, then-Acting Director, Vida Nelson, told me about the $2.6 million of federal funding the Commission received to improve education and awareness on workplace sexual harassment.[1] It was an exciting announcement for the Commission and one that would have a meaningful impact for creating safer workplace environments for Yukoners. Thus, it was a no-brainer for me when I was asked if I wanted to focus on more general employment-related human rights matters or workplace sexual harassment. I chose the latter. My choice was not only because of what Vida told me about the federal funding; it was influenced by the experiences I, and so many of my friends, have had, and by the novelty of addressing the field from a legal perspective. Sexual harassment is an issue that has only recently been gaining widespread attention. When I started my undergraduate schooling, it was barely addressed in orientation. Now, it is a common part of the onboarding of students to their universities. Workplaces are finding themselves to be in great need of creating or updating their policies. This was an opportunity to be involved in assisting the facilitation of these improvements.

While, unfortunately, I was unable to actually go to the Yukon to assist in educational presentations and the development of materials in their offices, I was still able to assist by doing legal research on related matters. It gave me some insight into how new the matter is to human rights commissions. Most of the high-paying awards were given in the last 5 years, and there were almost no high awards given over a decade ago. Decisions made in provinces such as British Columbia refer back to decisions made in Ontario because there simply is so little Canadian precedent.

Reviewing policies was also part of my legal research. This was something I was particularly interested in because of my own personal experiences. I remember when I was casually speaking to someone at the Sexual Violence Response office of my undergraduate institution a month before graduating and only then learned that sexual harassment was defined by the recipient of the harassment. It matters how the recipient of the harassment feels, not the intentions of the harasser. As someone who sat through multiple trainings a year regarding sexual harassment, I was stunned that I did not know this. I was also surprised by how that aspect of the definition is sometimes left out of policies.

Though my internship has concluded, I am looking forward to seeing how the Commission moves forward with their five-year project to address workplace sexual harassment awareness in the Yukon.[2] It is sure to be a challenging time, considering how little data there has been for the Yukon specifically in this matter. However, the development of tools and training by the Commission is certain to improve employers’ understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment and hopefully keep perpetuating this positive trend of expanding the understanding behind what constitutes sexual harassment and how to better prevent it from occurring.

[1] Department of Justice Canada, News Release, “Government of Canada supports a territory-wide initiative to address workplace sexual harassment in the Yukon” (10 December 2010), online: Department of Justice Canada <www.canada.ca/en/department-justice/news/2019/12/government-of-canada-supports-a-territory-wide-initiative-to-address-workplace-sexual-harassment-in-the-yukon.html>.

[2] Yukon Human Rights Commission, News Release, “Towards a Yukon Without Workplace Sexual Harassment (12 August 2020), online: Yukon Human Rights Commission <yukonhumanrights.ca/news.shtml>.

On living through an infodemic

Hanna RiosecoBy Hanna Rioseco

This summer, the World Health Organization (WHO) hosted the first Infodemiology Conference, focused on understanding, measuring, and controlling infodemics.

The term “infodemic” was coined by the WHO to describe the rapid spread and overabundance of information – some accurate, and some not. In a situation report published in early February, the WHO warned that infodemics make it difficult to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance. During COVID-19, the consequences of misinformation can be a matter of life and death: a study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimates that between January and March 800 people around the globe may have died because of coronavirus-related misinformation.

Mitigating the risk of COVID-19 includes tackling the spread of misinformation that often accompanies outbreaks. Like a virus, misinformation spreads from person to person, but through information and communications technology systems.

I don’t have to consult the WHO, however, to recognize the information crisis for what it is: I’m living, scrolling, and sorting through it myself. Since February, my newsfeeds have been crowded with COVID-19 related news, stories, and memes. But the content that comes across my screen is not all accurate, or even useful. I’ve seen acquaintances criticize government directives about social distancing and question the effectiveness of mask-wearing; conspiracy theories regarding the origins and nature of the virus, some fueled with harmful sentiments; and medical misinformation such as untested at-home remedies. In Canada, a Carleton University study found that 46 percent of Canadian respondents believed at least one of four unfounded COVID-19 theories. 

To curb the spread of misinformation, the WHO has been active in the digital space by partnering with influencers to spread factual information. They have also been working closely with search engines and social media platforms to ensure that science-based health messages from official sources appear first in search results or newsfeeds. These efforts are being made to combat dangerous rumors, for example, that COVID-19 cannot survive in hot weather, or that chloroquine medication can prevent the virus. Additionally, the WHO is using artificial intelligence to engage in social listening and gain insights about the types of concerns people have about the virus. In theory, this will help officials to better tailor health messaging to meet the needs of the public. As I researched and reported on pandemic-related changes to access to information laws for the Centre for Law and Democracy’s COVID-19 Tracker, I also learned about how some States have used the infodemic surrounding COVID-19 as justification for harsh disinformation laws. Though aimed at protecting public health by curbing the spread of misinformation surrounding COVID-19, these laws have in many cases resulted in the detention of journalists and the criminalization of free speech. These responses raise a multitude of concerns, not only regarding human rights but also concerning how communications and information policy and legal frameworks can support access to reliable information moving forward.

During my internship at the Centre for Law and Democracy, I learned about how governments can mitigate the harmful effects of misinformation surrounding COVID-19 by fulfilling their right to information obligations. In a time where things feel more uncertain than ever, States can rebuild public trust and confidence by providing access to timely, reliable information. As I think about what I’ve learned about freedom of information and expression, and reflect on how our information systems and policies have failed to keep people informed and protected during this crisis, I am left with more questions than answers. What can this moment teach us about regulating the information environment? The problems posed by misinformation will, in all likelihood, outlast the virus, and require a multi-stakeholder solution. How can our digital communications infrastructure better safeguard against the harms of misinformation? What role should the private digital companies play? Should platforms censor or label content they identify as being false or misleading, or would that set a dangerous precedent for the moderation of free speech? And of course, where do human rights fit in?

Reflecting on COVID-19 and Human Rights

Alice JeonBy Alice Jeon

A silver lining of this quarantine-filled summer was that it left me with a lot of time to sit down and reflect. One thing that I have been thinking about is how this COVID-19 pandemic might alter the course of human rights work. Which human rights issues will become prioritized? Which advocacy strategies are still possible and preferred? Does the pandemic call for any changes in how we should think about ethical issues related to human rights? These are questions that I have continued to think about as I wrap up my internship at the HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

For one, my experience during the internship has showed me that the pandemic inevitably places certain human rights issues at the forefront of our attention. For us at the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, it has been the skyrocketing rates of drug overdose since the start of quarantine.

Statistics from Toronto Public Health reported that there were 287 suspected opioid overdose calls and 25 deaths in May 2020, the highest number of fatalities since September 2017.  The ongoing opioid crisis was compounded with the unique social circumstances caused by quarantine to create one of the worst periods of drug overdose in the past few years.

In this way, the pandemic has inevitably moved certain issues (e.g. child abuse, access to health care) to the forefront of the human rights agenda. At the same time, it is important to clarify that many of these issues are by no means “new.” COVID-19 may have exacerbated them but these social issues stem from deeply rooted, previously existing inequities that have merely become more exposed at this moment.

Furthermore, I have also been thinking about how COVID-19 may change what human rights advocacy looks like. Our organization is lucky in the sense that our work was only impacted on a minor level; our hearings were delayed and of course, we had to do work remotely, but that did not stop us from doing most of our legal research-based work. However, the reality is that a lot of human rights work consists of field work, working with people on the ground to figure out what is happening first-hand. This becomes very difficult with closed borders and two-week quarantines in place. Even without these hurdles, human rights work will definitely be harder in the sense that workers will be at higher risk of falling sick. This said, some would argue that infectious viruses have existed before COVID-19, something that has never stopped them from doing their work.

Here is another question that I have thought about: if we are in a situation where human rights issues must be put “on hold” in order to help contain the pandemic, to what extent should we do so? Or should we have to at all? For instance, how should we balance our right to privacy with the need to track the movement of the virus? Another question related to my internship work: to what extent is it acceptable that supervised injection sites are temporarily closed as a result of minimizing social interaction; and at what point does the closure become unacceptable? This seems like an important question, for I hypothesize that these closures may be related to the staggering number of overdose deaths.

At the moment, it seems like there are more questions than answers. However, even if a vaccine is eventually found, COVID-19 and its consequences are most likely here to stay. I would not be surprised if it permanently altered the field of human rights work, whether it is the issues that are prioritized, the type of advocacy that becomes preferred, or the way we think about ethical questions in relation to human rights. Uncertainty abounds but at least we can start making sense of which questions must be asked.



Recognizing Colonialism in Education: the Federal Indian Day Schools Settlement

Maya GunnarssonBy Maya Gunnarsson

While interning for the Akwesasne Justice Department this summer, one of my tasks has been to help provide information to community members on the claims process for the Federal Indian Day Schools (IDS) Settlement.

When talking to family members and friends about the work I am doing, I have found that the most common question I hear is “What are the Indian Day Schools?”.  While the majority of Canadians are now aware of the history of Indian Residential Schools (IRS) in Canada, many have never heard of the IDS, which ran from the 1860s until 2000. The goal of the IDS was the same as that of the IRS—to strip Indigenous children of their cultural identity and assimilate them into the dominant culture.  Similar to IRS, children at the IDS were prohibited from speaking their language, and many experienced verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.  The principal difference between the IDS and IRS, is that children at the IDS returned home every day, rather than living at the schools.

In 2006, a settlement agreement was made between survivors of IRS, the churches that operated them, and the federal government. In addition to financially compensating former students for the harms they suffered at IRS, the settlement agreement mandated the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).  The TRC gathered statements from survivors and issuing a final report that documented the experiences of IRS survivors.  Released in 2015, the TRC’s Final Report included 94 Calls to Action, aimed at governments, educational institutions, churches, and the corporate sector, intended to redress the legacy of residential schools and to advance the reconciliation process.

Over the past 5 years, many of the TRC’s Calls to Action have begun to be implemented, and while there may be fair criticisms levelled at the government for their commitment to implementing all the recommendations (for example, this Yellowhead Institute’s assessment found that only 9 Calls to Action had been completed by the end of 2019), it is undeniable that Canadians’ knowledge of the history of IRS has significantly increased as a result of the TRC’s final report.  However, while many non-Indigenous Canadians are now aware of legacy of IRS, the same cannot be said about the Federal Indian Day Schools that ran concurrently with the residential schools.

Gary McLean (1951-2019) was the lead plaintiff in the Indian Day Schools lawsuit against the Federal Government. Source: APTN News.

 In 2009, Gary McLean, a survivor of the IDS, launched a class action seeking compensation for the harms suffered by students at IDS. In 2019, a settlement agreement was reached, and in January 2020 the claims process for survivors was opened.  The settlement process differs significantly from that of the IRS.  In 2018, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (the successor to the TRC) released a report detailing how the IRS settlement process retraumatized many survivors.  One of the biggest ways in which former IRS students felt traumatized by the settlement process was the sheer number of times they had to recount the traumatic experiences they had in the residential schools. Survivors were only compensated for the harm they experienced if they provided “sufficient evidence,” and the whole process felt very adversarial for many.  Further, speaking about the abuse they endured in IRS triggered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for many survivors, which stopped them from providing statements. The full disclosure required of survivors prevented many from testifying at all and accessing the settlements they were entitled to.

In response to this process and negative experience of IRS survivors, former IDS students are not required to provide any testimony to receive the level 1 claim amount—they must simply identify the school they attended and the years they attended it.  For those survivors who are eligible for claim levels 2-5 (those who experienced any form of sexual abuse, or physical abuse causing serious harm), they must provide a written narrative that details the events that led to the harm they suffered.  They must also provide some form of proof that they attended the school (e.g. report cards, class photos, yearbooks, etc.) and for claim levels 4 and 5, their narratives must be accompanied by some other form of corroborating records (such as medical, dental, or therapy records).  However, for those unable to attain such records, survivors can submit a sworn declaration in lieu.  Survivors will not be cross-examined or asked to verbally repeat their testimony.  Further, there is a limit on the number of cases that Canada can challenge the eligibility for.  In these cases, the government may provide supplemental factual information regarding eligibility to the Claims Administrator; however, they do not engage directly with the survivor.  The claims process will remain open until July 2022, and it remains to be seen whether survivors will have a more positive experience with this claims process than with the IRS settlement claims process.

In addition to the compensation for former students, the IDS settlement also outlines the establishment of a Legacy Fund, to which Canada has agreed to provide $200 million. The purpose of this fund will be to fund projects that commemorate, provide wellness and healing, or promote the restoration of Indigenous languages and culture. The Legacy Fund was initially estimated to be up and running by fall 2020; however, due to uncertainties caused by COVID-19, this will likely be delayed.  Whenever the Fund is ready to provide grants to Legacy Projects, I hope we will begin to see an increase in the average Canadian’s awareness of IDS and their legacy.  This summer I have informed many of my friends and family members about the history of IDS in Canada—hopefully in a few summers time, Canadians will be just as aware of Indian Day Schools and their impacts as they are now of Indian Residential Schools.


Sur le plaisir de se sentir utile

Jasmine RazaviPar Jasmine Razavi

Comme toutes les bonnes choses doivent un jour prendre fin, cette semaine est la dernière semaine de mon stage à la Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. Je me sens extrêmement chanceuse d’avoir pu compléter ce stage, alors qu’il était incertain que cela puisse être le cas il y a quelques mois à peine.

L’expérience que l’on acquiert en commençant un nouvel emploi ou un nouveau stage est toujours unique. Bien que j’aie fait de nombreuses recherches jurisprudentielles pour appuyer les avocates de la Commission dans leurs arguments juridiques, ce qui se prête bien au télétravail, je n’aurais pas pu apprendre ce que j’ai appris dans les dernières semaines en faisant simplement des recherches seules, durant mon temps libre.

L’apport des avocates supervisant mon travail, me posant des questions pour approfondir mes recherches ou pour que j’envisage de nouvelles pistes, corrigeant au passage les accros et les erreurs de compréhension, m’a permis d’acquérir un niveau de connaissance plus poussé sur le statut des droits de la personne au Québec. Le plus enrichissant reste d’apprendre les secrets du métier – de l’insider information, comme on dit souvent en anglais. Bien que je n’aie pas eu l’expérience habituelle du travail collaboratif aux bureaux de la Commission, la communication constante avec les avocates me supervisant m’a permis d’apprendre de précieuses informations qui ne viennent qu’avec le temps et l’expérience.

J’ai notamment travaillé sur des questions portant sur l’abus de procédure dans les tribunaux administratifs, l’engagement de la responsabilité personnelle des administrateurs et des employeurs lors d’une faute d’un employé, le profilage politique et le désaveu d’experts, les accommodements raisonnables pour les personnes souffrant de limitations fonctionnelles permanentes, et la montée en popularité et la légalité des questionnaires médicaux imposés par les employeurs.

Ces recherches avaient toutes un point commun : elles sont toutes absolument concrètes et basées sur la réalité, contrairement à un travail de recherche académique, qui explore des avenues hypothétiques souvent assez floues. Derrière chaque argument avant-gardiste de la Commission, pour lequel je devais parfois tenter de répondre à des questions jamais posées auparavant, se trouve le dossier d’une personne de Montréal, de Québec ou de la Beauce, attendant anxieusement le résultat d’une action juridique pouvant impacter sa vie de manière majeure.

Le sentiment de faire quelque chose d’utile, ayant des conséquences tangibles parfois même à court terme, ne me quittait pas. Même les recherches plus étoffées que je faisais, qui étaient d’intérêt plus général, serviraient de références futures pour les avocates des services juridiques.

Mes superviseuses de stage parlaient de dossiers qu’elles connaissaient sur le bout de leurs doigts et des cas plaidés à la cour avec passion. Je sentais, à travers elles, que le coup de main que j’apportais avait de l’importance. Aucun argument juridique potentiel ne me semblait tiré par les cheveux, au contraire; les arguments inusités démontraient un véritable désir de sortir des sentiers battus afin de faire progresser les droits de la personne.

Les discussions accompagnant les cas plus pointus m’ont permis de comprendre pourquoi certains arguments ne seraient pas utilisés, d’observer le raisonnement des avocates dans les étapes de remue-méninges et de repérer les erreurs à éviter – des situations que je n’aurais pas vécues et dont je n’aurais pas pu apprendre de manière autonome.

Je suis donc extrêmement reconnaissante d’avoir pu compléter mon stage à la Commission dans les circonstances inédites de l’été 2020. Je tiens à remercier tous ceux et celles qui ont pris le temps de m’écouter et de répondre à mes questions, et j’espère sincèrement que nos chemins se recroiseront bientôt.

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