Canadian Human Rights Commission
The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians 2016 National Conference
April 29, 2016
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Thank you very much for that kind introduction.
Good afternoon everyone!
It is a pleasure to be here with you today. Meeting with people and discussing how we can work together to make meaningful change is the best part of my job.
It’s what inspires me. It’s what gives me energy.
Since becoming Chief Commissioner, I have met with as many groups and as many individuals as possible.
In fact, speaking with people about how to best advance human rights in our society has been central to the work the Commission has been doing for over a year now.
We wanted to hear from Canadians—what do they expect from their national human rights institution.
So, we heard from employers, advocacy groups, law societies, NGOs, First Nations leaders. And we talked to Canadians who are blind.
Everyone that I have met has one thing in common: they all care deeply about human rights in Canada.
And they all wanted to work together to advance human rights in Canada.
I also asked our staff to come together and re-envision the work of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. I wanted to put people first in everything we do.
I told them nothing was off limits and that we needed to put everything on the table.
I told them we should be bold.
We should be transformational.
And we should do it together.
Consulting outside and consulting within the Commission was part of a first step in changing how we do business.
We continue to meet and listen to people so that together we can build momentum and find ways to work together.
For example, in January the Commission held a roundtable discussion to hear more about the barriers facing blind Canadians.
This past Monday, I participated in a follow-up discussion to talk about how we can work together to address some of the issues raised during the meeting in January.
While many of the issues we talked about on Monday are unique to blind Canadians, the underlying themes are similar to what we heard from people across Canada.
Time and again, we were told the Commission needs to be a bold and independent voice on human rights issues in Canada.
We were told we need to transform our process into one that is easily accessible for everyone in Canada.
And we were told we need to collaborate more closely with our friends and partners in the human rights community.
Thanks to all these conversations, we are changing the way we work.
We are making the changes needed so that we can be the national human rights institution that Canadians have told us they want us to be.
Let me be more specific.
First, we will be more bold and outspoken.
This starts with re-affirming our independence from government.
It’s about speaking out on behalf of those who are not getting heard.
It’s about holding our governments to account.
It’s about influencing new laws before they are created—new laws such as the proposed “Canadians with Disabilities Act.”
Because while much progress has been made, we cannot be satisfied until all Canadians live with equality.
Being bolder and more vocal may also mean speaking out on human rights issues even when they fall outside our legal jurisdiction.
Because our job is to help promote inclusion and equality across all sectors of our society, regardless of jurisdiction.
This year, in our Annual Report to Parliament, we featured the story of a Dr. Sukhai, a cancer researcher in the Cancer Genomics Program at the University Health Network in Toronto.
I am sure his name is familiar to many of you.
He is a gifted man and a renowned scientist in his field.
As a blind man, Dr. Sukhai has had to overcome many barriers just so he can do the work he was born to do.
Accommodating a scientist with vision loss was not something the University of Toronto had any experience with.
Dr. Sukhai spoke candidly about the difficulties he faced when seeking accommodation.
This brings me to the second way that we are changing how we do our work at the Commission.
We are transforming our processes so that every person in Canada can access human rights justice swiftly and easily.
We are in the process of exploring ways to make our complaint process faster, simpler and more accessible.
We are changing this process so that it becomes a more positive experience for those that have to use it.
This brings me to my final point for today…
We’re going to be more collaborative.
For us, the word “we” is not just the Commission, but all of us.
…all of us in this room….
…and anyone who advocates for equality in Canada.
I have already talked about how we want to be more bold.
Well I believe the more united our efforts are, the bolder we can be.
And the bolder we can be, the greater the change we can create.
I believe the English expression is: Strength in numbers!
Indeed, it is our strong and effective networks that are the building blocks of all that we will accomplish.
There is an expression we are using lately around the Commission: advocacy through coalition.
That phrase encapsulates exactly what I’m talking about.
If we really want to create change in Canada, if we really want to get our voices heard and if we really want to have an impact, then we have to come together.
It is why Ian and I are excited to be here today.
It is why we are looking forward to further collaboration with each and every one of you.
So before I turn it over to Ian, I want to leave you with the words of Helen Keller.
“Alone we can do little; together, we can do so much.”
I believe that our country and our economy will be stronger when Canadians embrace diversity to its fullest.
That means ensuring that everyone has equal opportunity to fully participate in society – and it means recognizing that our Canada includes everyone.