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.

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