Rights in the Heart of the North

Nearing the end of our trip to Yellowknife, we had the pleasure to meet with the Director of the Human Rights Commission of the Northwest Territories, Deborah McLeod, and the Commission’s Deputy Chair, Yacub Adam. We learned quickly about all things human rights related to this great and grand territory.

The Commission began in 2004 through an act that was the most comprehensive and independent in Canada. It’s definition of discrimination included discrimination based on gender identity and expression, far before other provinces and territories adopted such a definition. The Act also stipulated that the Commission would report to the Assembly itself where only the assembly could vote to rescind an appointment of a director – ensuring that the whole Commission is kept quite independent.

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After learning about the history of the Commission, Ms. McLeod and Mr. Adam told us about the Commission’s proposed future. From the many recommendations that the Commission had received, both Ms. McLeod and Mr. Adam, along with the rest of the Commission, are working to include more restorative processes into the Commission’s system. Making the whole complaint process a more restorative endeavour will hopefully encourage more people to bring complaints to the Commission and will promote and defend human rights in the Northwest Territories more effectively than before.

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On the same day, we were also able to learn about the legal processes at the Legislature of the Northwest Territories from the Deputy Law Clerk, Glen Rutland. We deeply enjoyed learning about the process of bills becoming laws and the difference between Private Member’s Bills (PMBs) in the Northwest Territories and Ontario. In the Northwest Territories, due to its consensus government, there are rarely any PMBs, as regular members can work with Cabinet closely to get bills passed. Comparatively, in Ontario, almost every backbencher MPP will create a PMB in order to bring attention or bring forward a solution to an issue that they feel is important, as they usually do not have the same opportunity to work with Cabinet to create legislation as do MLAs in the Northwest Territories.

In general, it was a fascinating day in Yellowknife as we learned about the laws and the rights of our Northern compatriots.

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