Lawyers with the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline Join Calls for Day of Remembrance for Mosque Attack

For Immediate Release | BCPIAC

VANCOUVER, BC – Lawyers with the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline are joining other groups across Canada to call on the federal government to designate January 29th as a “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.” January 29th is the anniversary of the 2017 attack on a Quebec City mosque by a far-right extremist that left six Muslim men dead and 19 others wounded.

In 2016, nine legal organizations and several concerned individual lawyers came together to launch the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline. The Hotline provides people who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim and who have experienced discrimination with free, confidential legal advice and information. The number is 604-343-3828. Members of the public can learn more about the service on the Islamophobia Hotline website at www.islamophobiahotline.ca

“The January 29th mosque attack is part of a larger—and escalating— pattern of bigotry and hate crimes against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim in Canada,” said Zool Suleman, a Vancouver lawyer who volunteers with the hotline. “As a legal community, it is our duty to pull together and ensure that people who are affected by this racism are able to protect their rights.”

“Islamophobia can be experienced in many different ways,” said Sarah Khan, staff lawyer at the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “We have heard reports of harassment, violent attacks, racial profiling, property destruction and threats. Islamophobia affects everyday Canadians as they go about their lives, their schooling and their work. As a legal community, it is our duty to pull together and ensure that people who are affected by this racism are able to protect their rights.”

“We want to empower people to respond to this discrimination by making legal support more readily available,” said Aleem Bharmal, “Many people who experience this sort of discrimination might not even know that there may be legal options available to respond, depending on what happened, such as filing a discrimination complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. We want to make sure people can get the legal advice and assistance that they need.”

“Discrimination against Muslims, and people perceived to be Muslims, is an intolerable and ongoing reality in Canada,” said Hasan Alam, a Vancouver lawyer who volunteers with the hotline. “It’s important to make sure that people who experience this hateful treatment can access help, which could include filing a complaint or contacting the authorities.”

The hotline was launched with the support of Access Pro Bono Society, the BC Civil Liberties Association, the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Community Legal Assistance Society, the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch, the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, Western Chapter, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers – BC, and the South Asian Bar Association of BC.

For more information, please contact:

Hasan Alam             778-995-6786
Aleem Bharmal       604-673-3126
Sarah Khan              604-687-3063
Zool Suleman          604-685-8472

Evicted for smudging, First Nations woman files human rights complaint

June 15, 2017 | Josh K. Elliott | CTV News

Link to original article

A First Nations woman from Burnaby, B.C. has filed a human rights complaint after she was evicted for holding a traditional smudging ceremony indoors.

The ceremony, which involves burning sage in a dish and sweeping the smoke around one’s head and body, is a traditional practice among many of Canada’s indigenous peoples.

But Crystal Smith says her landlord, Parminder Mohan, won’t let her do it in the apartment she’s renting.

“I’m being forced to move because my landlord is not allowing me to practice my spiritual ceremonies,” Smith, a single mother from Burnaby, told CTV Vancouver.

So Smith says she’s filing a complaint with the province’s Human Rights Tribunal, in hopes that this does not happen to others.

“The human rights complaint will create grounds for indigenous tenants to say, ‘You can’t evict me because there is this case,'” she said.

Smith’s landlord, Mohan, first noticed her activities from the house’s upstairs apartment in March, and mistook her activities for smoking drugs.

“He smelled it and I got a text message saying that I smell marijuana,” she said.

Smith invited Mohan into her apartment to explain what she was doing, but that didn’t change his mind.

“My upstairs suite is totally full with all the smoke,” Mohan told CTV Vancouver. “I almost passed out. I actually had to stumble out.” He added that he had fans running “24-7” at the house, and that the smell “doesn’t go away.”

Smith received a letter two days after her encounter with Mohan, informing her that she had breached the conditions of her tenancy contract.

An arbitrator at the city’s residential tenancy branch ultimately ruled in favour of Smith. However, Mohan continued to pressure her, issuing three eviction notices after the ruling was made.

“I naively thought that, after the RTB decision, that he would abide by their decision, and he hasn’t,” Smith said.

Smith is now turning her attention to her human rights complaint.

“I’m moving, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up,” she said.

With files from CTV Vancouver

Woman evicted over smudging ceremonies files human rights complaint

June 14, 2017 | Andrew Weichel | CTV Vancouver

Link to original article

An aboriginal woman who claims her landlord tried to evict her for performing traditional smudging ceremonies in her Burnaby, B.C. home has filed a human rights complaint.

Crystal Smith of the Tsimshian and Haisla First Nations said she’s had problems with her landlord, Parminder Mohan, ever since he noticed her smudging at home with her children in March.

The ceremony involves burning herbs to cleanse the body and spirit; to perform it inside, Smith burns sage in a shell and uses a feather to waft the smoke.

“My landlord happened to be in the upstairs unit and he smelled it,” Smith said. “I got a text message maybe 10 minutes after we’d finished smudging saying that ‘I smelled marijuana.'”

Smith, who told CTV News she doesn’t smoke drugs or even cigarettes, assured Mohan that wasn’t the case, and even offered to demonstrate how smudging works. The landlord wasn’t satisfied, and allegedly told her to stop.

Smith said she has since been served three eviction notices, and faces continued pressure to leave despite a Residential Tenancy Branch ruling in her favour.

“Basically I’m being forced to move because my landlord doesn’t allow me to practice my spiritual ceremonies and practices,” she said.

For Smith, smudging is a crucial part of keeping her son and daughter in tune with their heritage.

Having lost her grandparents when she was a young teenager, Smith said she missed out on learning about aspects of her culture at a young age, and she doesn’t want her children to be deprived in the same way.

“I need my children to grow up in culture so they could love who they are, so that they can grow up and be proud,” Smith said.

She’s given up on remaining in their Burnaby home, however. She intends to move out this week, though she’s disappointed at having to upend her family again so soon.

They have only been living in the apartment for a few months, and previously had a brief stay at a safe house where they moved after she left an abusive relationship.

“It’s frustrating,” Smith said. “We were supposed to be in this home until December at least, and I was even hoping to stay a little longer because me and my children have been through so much.”

Mohan sees things differently. He spoke to CTV News by phone Wednesday, and said he’s actually an accommodating landlord who has become the victim of an unappreciative tenant.

Mohan said he reduced Smith’s rent and gave her a dishwasher when she moved in, but he’s concerned about how smudging might impact the property and her neighbours.

He claims the smudging ceremony he witnessed in March sent smoke wafting in the upstairs suite.

“I almost passed out. I actually had to stumble out,” he said. “I had fans running 24/7 trying to get rid of the smell, the smell doesn’t go away.”

Smith said the ceremony does create a smell, but it fades after a day or two. When their dispute was heard by the Residential Tenancy Branch, the arbitrator ruled Mohan hadn’t provided sufficient evidence the smudging had disturbed or adversely affected other tenants.

Most importantly, though, Smith feels smudging is a religious right that shouldn’t open up aboriginal people to evictions or any other form of pressure at home, which is why she has filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

“The reason I’m fighting, the reason why I’m pushing this forward is so that my children, my great grandchildren, will not have to do this,” she said.

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Shannon Paterson 

Tenant fights eviction for smudging, takes case to B.C. Human Rights Tribunal

June 7, 2017 | Tereza Verenca | Burnaby Now

Link to original article

A Burnaby woman has filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal alleging her landlord is denying her the right to smudge.

Crystal Smith of the Tsimshian Haisla First Nation has smudged – the indigenous practice of burning herbs like sage for prayer or cleansing – for about 15 years.

“It’s been on and off because I really had to find my way,” says the mother of two and UBC master’s student.

Smith’s maternal grandparents died before she was born, and as she puts it, she “didn’t grow up in culture.”

“This is something I had to do on my own. Now that I have children, it’s very important to me to pass on these cultures and these spiritual practices so they can grow up and be proud of who they are.”

At the last home she rented, Smith says she had a unit on the top floor and the landlord had no issues with her smudging.

“They understood the spiritual practice, that it was meant to support me, in my growth and in my culture,” she tells the NOW, noting she received her entire damage deposit back when she left.

Smith moved into a duplex, an address she did not want to disclose for privacy reasons, on Jan. 1, 2017, and signed a one-year lease. But her landlord, Parminder Mohan, was not as understanding, she says.

Since January, Smith has been given three eviction notices, including one to end tenancy early and another one for renovation purposes.

“It’s actually really gross. He’s actually trying to say I’m smoking marijuana and that I’m covering it up with the sage,” she says. “I don’t smoke at all. I’m not doing any damage to the place. It produces white smoke, which does no damage to surrounding walls. The smell does dissipate after maybe a couple days.”

Smith adds Mohan promised her she could move from the basement to the upstairs unit on April 1.

“He won’t let me move upstairs unless I sign an agreement saying I won’t smudge,” she says.

Smith took her eviction notices to the Residential Tenancy Branch for dispute resolution. In the first meeting, the arbitrator found there was “insufficient evidence to conclude that the tenant has unreasonably disturbed or adversely affected the other tenants.”

The arbitrator dismissed Mohan’s application for an early end to tenancy.

In the meantime, Smith was referred to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre for free legal counsel.

After hearing her case, lawyers Kate Feeney and Erin Pritchard advised Smith to submit a complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

“From a legal perspective, smudging’s a spiritual practice, so it’s protected under the Human Rights Code. … The landlord must justify his conduct,” says Feeney.

As far as Feeney knows, Smith’s case is the first of its kind to come before the tribunal.

“There’s been some cases that touch on similar issues in the prison context, like the right for prisoners to smudge, but not in the residential tenancy context,” she says.

When reached for comment, Mohan didn’t shy away from saying why he wants Smith out.

“What she does is she smokes up the whole place. We agreed there was no smoking or anything like that in the unit,” he tells the NOW, reiterating that he thinks Smith is smoking weed.

The first time Mohan realized Smith was smudging, he says he had to “stagger out” of the house.

“I was absolutely going to go unconscious. That’s how much smoke there was. … All of our air circulates and that’s how unaccommodating she’s trying to be. She doesn’t care. She says, ‘It’s my right,’ but she doesn’t care about anybody else,” says Mohan.

The property owner, who owns both sides of the duplex but lives with his parents down the road, notes he’s a “very, very good, fair landlord,” and has been very accommodating to Smith. He says he put a dishwasher in her two-bedroom suite and reduced her rent from $1,350 to $1,200.

“I thought I was helping her. … I try to do my best, but when tenants try to take control and be vindictive like this, it’s unacceptable,” says Mohan, adding he’ll likely file a fourth eviction notice. “I have cultural and religious practices as well, and they require a lot of incense and burning things, but we have fans; we make sure that our practices don’t disturb other people.”

© 2017 Burnaby Now

Retail Action Network intervenes in Schrenk v BCHRT at Supreme Court

ran-logo-circle-150x150 Retail Action Network intervenes in Schrenk v BCHRT at Supreme CourtThe Retail Action Network (RAN) is intervening in the appeal of a human rights case in the Supreme Court of Canada. Schrenk v. British Columbia (Human Rights Tribunal) is about the extent to which the BC Human Rights Code (“the Code”) applies to discriminatory harassment in the workplace.  BCPIAC has teamed up with Catherine Boies-Parker and Robin Gage, from Underhill, Boies-Parker, Gage and Latimer LLP, to represent RAN in this intervention.

In the decision on appeal, the BC Court of Appeal held that the Code only applies to situations of harassment where the harasser is the victim’s workplace superior. Further, the Court of Appeal appeared to roll back the liability of employers for the harassment of their employees while at work.

As an organization that is made up of retail, food service and hospitality workers, RAN brings the perspective of workers who are particularly vulnerable to discriminatory harassment by workplace superiors, as well as co-workers and customers, due to their insecure and precarious working conditions. RAN says that in order for the Code to fulfil its essential purpose of identifying and preventing workplace harassment, it must apply to situations of harassment regardless of the harasser’s position in the workplace’s organizational chart, including where the harasser is a customer. Further, RAN says that employers must be liable for the harassment of their employees because of their overarching responsibility for maintaining a discrimination-free workplace.

Read RAN’s factum here.

Campaign calls on BC government and official opposition to “step up for Women’s equality”

West Coast LEAF, a BC organization dedicated to promoting women’s equality through the law, along with a long list of endorsing BC organizations, have called on the BC government and the official opposition to step up for Women’s equality and “commit to implementing – fully and without delay – the UN’s recommendations to demonstrably improve the lives of women in our province”

Read the letter to the BC government and official opposition here. (text below)

West Coast LEAF’s campaign page can be found here.

Read the UN’s recommendations here.

Dear Premier Clark and Mr. Horgan,

WCL-legal-aid-shareable-300x300 Campaign calls on BC government and official opposition to "step up for Women's equality"We write to ask you to commit to implement, fully and without delay, the enclosed recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The recommendations were issued on November 18, 2016 after the Committee’s review of Canada’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) at its 65th session.

We cannot stress enough the importance of implementing these recommendations. Women’s equality in Canada has regressed over the last two decades. In 1995, Canada held 1st place on the United Nations Gender Equality Index; Canada is now at 25th. Recently, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada 35th on gender equality out of 144 countries. To make matters worse, equality for women in BC is lagging behind the rest of Canada on multiple measures. For example:

  • BC consistently has among the highest poverty rates in Canada, and poverty rates for single women, and particularly single women caring for children, are shockingly high. Further, BC is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan.
  • Families led by women parenting alone experience the highest rates of food insecurity in BC, and the rate is higher than the Canadian average for comparable households.
  • The average earnings of women in BC are well below the Canadian average female earnings and the pay gap between male and female workers in British Columbia is larger than the national average.
  • At BC’s current minimum wage, the earnings of a full time, full year worker are below the poverty line and the majority of minimum wage earners are women. In addition, BC maintains a lower liquor server wage despite research showing that dependency on gratuities increases the risk that these mostly female workers will be subject to sexual harassment.
  • Mothers’ workforce participation rates in BC, access to regulated child care spaces in BC, and provincial public investment per space are all below the Canadian average. Meanwhile, parent fees for regulated child care are higher than the national average.
  • Front line services for women and children harmed by violence have been chronically underfunded, despite the fact that BC has a growing rate of domestic violence-related homicides.
  • BC remains the only province without a human rights commission, which means there is little to no systemic education and monitoring related to gender discrimination in key areas such as employment, housing and public services.
  • British Columbia’s per capita spending on legal aid, services that are crucial to enable women to enforce their legal rights and leave violent relationships, is far lower than the national average.

We know that Canada and British Columbia can do better.

WCL-over-incarceration-shareable-300x300 Campaign calls on BC government and official opposition to "step up for Women's equality"However, Canada, and in particular British Columbia, has a serious implementation gap. For years, Canada and British Columbia have ignored UN treaty body advice and recommendations, to the detriment of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable residents and to the detriment of British Columbia as a whole. Canada has no national mechanism for monitoring and facilitating implementation of treaty body recommendations, and British Columbia has no provincial mechanism for implementation of recommendations within its jurisdiction. Further, there is no mechanism for co-operation between federal and provincial governments on implementation in areas where co-ordination among all levels of government is critical. Because of this, treaty body recommendations tend to be ignored rather than realized in a substantive way through government planning, policy, and programs.

The Canadian and British Columbia governments can take a huge step forward for women and for human rights by immediately beginning to plan for implementation of the CEDAW Committee’s most recent recommendations. The CEDAW recommendations cover a wide range of issues crucial to women’s advancement, many of which are all or partly within provincial jurisdiction: access to legal aid; the gender wage gap and pay equity; housing and poverty reduction; child care; political participation; violence; the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous women; the needs of women with disabilities; detention of racialized women and women with mental health issues; access to abortion; harm reduction strategies; and much more.

Given the legal responsibility and leadership role of the Government of Canada, we have called on the federal government to establish an accountability mechanism and to, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, develop a national gender equality plan so that we can move forward in a coordinated and strategic way to fully implement women’s human rights and advance women’s equality. British Columbia’s commitment and cooperation will be crucial to ensure that implementation is meaningful for women in our province.

The CEDAW Committee recommends two mechanisms for implementation of the Convention rights and treaty body recommendations:

  • WCL-MMIW-shareable-300x300 Campaign calls on BC government and official opposition to "step up for Women's equality"an effective mechanism for ensuring accountability and the transparent, coherent and consistent implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women throughout all jurisdictions (at para 11); and
  • a comprehensive national gender strategy, policy and action plan that addresses the structural factors causing persistent inequalities for women and girls, including those who are Indigenous, Afro-Canadian, racialized, disabled, immigrant, refugee and LGBTQ (at para 21).

Coordinated, robust work to advance women’s equality is particularly timely in light of burgeoning attacks on women’s rights and dignity globally. We urge you to publicly commit to take a leadership role and lead British Columbia to provide a model for other provinces by working with the federal government to take progressive, determined action to implement the CEDAW Committee’s concrete and detailed recommendations. We need action now that demonstrates British Columbia’s genuine commitment to fulfilling women’s human rights.

We look forward to your response and to working with you on a new plan for women’s equality in British Columbia and for the realization of women’s human rights.

Sincerely,

The BC CEDAW Group*

This letter is endorsed by:

Battered Women’s Support Services
BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre
BC Society of Transition Houses
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office
Canadian Federation of University Women BC Council
Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC
Disability Alliance BC
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
Hospital Employees’ Union
Ending Violence Association of BC
First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
Isabel Grant, Professor and Co-Director, Centre for Feminist Legal Studies, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
Justice for Girls
Living Wage for Families Campaign
Lynne Kent, Chair, Learning Disabilities Association of BC
Margot Young, Professor of Law, Allard Hall Law School, University of British Columbia Poverty and Human Rights Centre
Single Mothers’ Alliance BC
Susan Boyd, Professor Emerita, Peter A. Allard Law School, University of British Columbia
Together Against Poverty Society
University Women’s Club of Vancouver
Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter
Vancouver Women’s Health Collective
West Coast LEAF
Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Centre
Women Transforming Cities

*The BC CEDAW Group is a coalition individuals and organizations committed to advancing the rights of women and girls in British Columbia. Formed in 2002, the Group has participated in United Nations periodic reviews before a variety of treaty bodies, reporting to the UN on BC’s progress. The 2017 BC CEDAW Group includes the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC, Hospital Employees Union, Justice for Girls, Poverty and Human Rights Centre, Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, West Coast LEAF, Single Mothers’ Alliance BC, and the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective.

B.C.’s Islamophobia hotline responds to recent events in U.S. and Canada

January 31, 2017 | Nathan Hutton |  Global News
Link to original article

B.C.’s Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline is calling the recent attack at a Quebec City mosque, which left six dead, a “despicable act of terrorism.”

Hasan Alam, a community liaison for the hotline spoke harshly about Islamophobia in Canada, “These tragic killings are a harsh reminder of the fact that Islamophobia exists here in Canada, and Muslim Canadians are unfortunately often victims of it.”

Alam was joined on Tuesday in his condemnation of the attack by the president of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers in B.C., David Namkung.

“The attack is a reminder that our country may be more progressive on many issues [than Americans] but we as Canadians are not immune from hate crimes and discrimination,” Namkung said.

Lawyers from legal groups, who launched the hotline last March, responded to the Quebec City attack, and the White House immigration orders temporarily banning passport holders in seven Muslim-majority countries from entry into the United States.

“We want to take this opportunity to add our voice as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to the growing chorus of calls on the Canadian government to take action in light of what is happening in the United States,” said Laura Track, a staff lawyer with the association. “It’s important to remember that a refugee is someone who is unable to continue to live in safety where he or she is, due to the dangers of war, of generalized violence, or serious civil disturbance. Fleeing or seeking asylum is the only realistic option for these people and their families.”

Track went on to speak out against the Safe Third Country agreement, which states refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in,  currently in place between the Canadian and American governments. The agreement currently prevents refugees from seeking asylum in Canada after being refused entry by the United States immigration.

Alam also touched on what he calls the increasing Islamophobic and Xenophobic rhetoric presented by the Trump administration in the United States and even during the last Canadian federal election, “During the last federal election a divisive form of Islamophobic rhetoric was used to single out Muslim Canadians as being a threat. In the present, Canadians are being further exposed to a similar but more extreme form of Islamophobic or Xenophobic rhetoric from the Trump administration in the United States.”

The hotline was started last March after a nationwide increase in the number of reported incidents related to racial and faith discrimination against Muslims. The hotline connects individuals with others who have also experienced discrimination.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline launched by legal community

For Immediate Release

BCPIAC, CLAS, BCCLA, FACLBC, SABABC, CBABC, NCCM, CABL, Access Pro Bono

VANCOUVER (March 9, 2016) – Today the legal community in British Columbia launched the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline, after a nationwide increase in reported incidents of racial and faith-related discrimination against Muslims in recent months. The hotline will connect individuals who have experienced discrimination with free, confidential legal advice and information. The number is 604-343-3828. Members of the public can also learn about the service on the Islamophobia Hotline website.

As a legal community, it is our duty to pull together and ensure that people who are affected by this racism are able to protect their rights.

“Islamophobia can be experienced in many different ways,” said Sarah Khan, staff lawyer at the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “We have heard reports of harassment, violent attacks, racial profiling, property destruction and threats from across the country. Islamophobia affects everyday Canadians as they go about their lives, their schooling and their work. As a legal community, it is our duty to pull together and ensure that people who are affected by this racism are able to protect their rights.”

The hotline is being run by Access Pro Bono Society of BC, a non-profit that assists individuals of limited means to obtain free legal services. Staff at Access Pro Bono will receive the calls and connect those in need of assistance with lawyers who are willing to provide a free legal advice or information. Interpretation will be available in order to provide services in multiple languages.

FB_graphic Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline launched by legal community

“We want to help empower people to respond to this discrimination by making legal support more easily available,” said Aleem Bharmal, Executive Director of the Community Legal Assistance Society. “Many people who experience this sort of discrimination may not even know that there might be legal options available to respond, depending on what happened, such as filing a discrimination complaint at the Human Rights Tribunal. We want to make sure people can get the advice that they need.”

“Discrimination against Muslims, and people perceived to be Muslims, is an intolerable and ongoing reality in Canada,” said Hasan Alam, a Vancouver lawyer who has helped to organize the hotline. “The heated rhetoric of last year’s election built on years of divisive politics that repeatedly singled out Muslim Canadians and treated them as less worthy. This has made Muslims more vulnerable to discriminatory treatment and hate crimes. It’s important to make sure that people who experience this hateful treatment can access help, which could include filing a complaint or contacting the police.”

Krisha Dhaliwal of the South Asian Bar Association of B.C. added: “Anti-Muslim racism, discrimination and hatred affect members of many different communities in B.C. It extends beyond Muslims to others who may be mistaken for Muslims, including Sikhs. Lawyers and law students are standing together, shoulder to shoulder, to combat discrimination against Muslims and other people of colour.”

The Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline will also document, without individually identifying information, the types of issues that are being reported in order to better understand the scope of the problem in British Columbia.

The Hotline was launched with the support of Access Pro Bono Society, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Community Legal Assistance Society, the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch, the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, Western Chapter, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, and the South Asian Bar Association of B.C.

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Khaira tree planters win EI appeals after six years

For Immediate Release | BCPIAC

Almost 6 years after closure of the Khaira Enterprise Ltd. camp in Golden, BC, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has sided with former Khaira tree planters in EI and income tax appeals stemming from work they did in 2010.

Most of the workers came to Canada through the refugee resettlement process from various countries in Africa and worked long hours for Khaira, but were not paid for much of their work, which included long hours traveling between campsites and worksites in remote locations around BC.

CRA initially found that the travel time between campsites and worksites and unpaid overtime did not count towards time being worked for EI purposes. This meant that many workers did not have enough hours to qualify for EI in 2010, despite having worked these hours (and more in many cases).

The BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC) filed appeals on behalf of the workers, and following a lengthy process, the Minister of National Revenue decided that unpaid overtime must be included in EI insurable hours and travel time must be included in EI insurable hours and earnings. The workers now have to wait for Service Canada to issue decisions accepting CRA’s appeal decisions, and to get the EI they are entitled to.

This is the latest victory in a long saga of legal proceedings for the workers, who have endured almost 6 years of investigations and appeals

Sarah Khan, BCPIAC lawyer

“This is the latest victory in a long saga of legal proceedings for the workers, who have endured almost 6 years of investigations and appeals”, said Sarah Khan, a staff lawyer with BCPIAC. The workers have previously been successful in unpaid wage claims before the BC Employment Standards Branch (ESB) and Employment Standards Tribunal, and in race discrimination proceedings before the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

John Betts, Executive Director of the Western Silviculture Contractors Association, stated that “It is important for silviculture contractors and workers to know that CRA views travel time to and from camps or motels to the worksite to be insurable for EI purposes. This is consistent with the BC Employment Standards Regulation for silviculture workers, which specifies that time spent traveling between worksites and camps or motels must be considered hours of work for calculating minimum wage for piece work employees.”

Ngakira Gazire, a former employee of Khaira in 2010, added “I am glad that we have finally won these appeals, I hope that Service Canada issues decisions quickly as we have waited a long time to get EI for 2010”.

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Download the Press Release

Tim Hortons: Human rights complaint to proceed against fast food giant

Company fails in bid to have complaint thrown out

For Immediate Release | BCPIAC and CLAS

Last Friday, the BC Human Rights Tribunal rejected Tim Hortons’ attempt to have a human rights complaint against it dismissed at an early stage.  The complaint was brought in 2012 by four temporary foreign workers from Mexico who say they experienced discrimination in the workplace while they were employed at two Tim Hortons locations in Dawson Creek, BC, while the franchise owner was also their landlord. The workers allege that they were given less desirable schedules and tasks than locally hired workers, were subject to derogatory and racist comments, and were coerced to live in substandard housing.  BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC) and Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) are representing the workers in their complaint against both the individual franchise owner and the franchisor, Tim Hortons.

The Tribunal rejected Tim Hortons’ argument that the workers’ relationship was solely with the franchise owner, not the company. The workers countered that the company contributed to the discrimination they experienced by promoting the use of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) among its franchisees, yet failing to adopt business practices that would protect those workers from being mistreated. The workers also argued that since the company exercises strong control over all aspects of its franchise locations, Tim Hortons must be considered to be their employer in addition to the individual franchisee.

We are encouraged by the Tribunal’s decision, and are eager to move forward with the merits of the complaint

Erin Pritchard | BCPIAC staff lawyer

The Tribunal has not yet made a decision on the merit of the complaint, but has said that if the workers’ allegations are proven at hearing, Tim Hortons could be found responsible for the discrimination in employment the workers have alleged.

“We are encouraged by the Tribunal’s decision, and are eager to move forward with the merits of the complaint,” said, Erin Pritchard, one of the lawyers representing the workers.  “Tim Hortons must take responsibility for the way workers are treated in its restaurants.”

The Tribunal’s decision follows hot on the heels of another decision on November 5, in which the Tribunal rejected Tim Hortons’ attempt to have a second complaint about discriminatory treatment of its temporary foreign workers dismissed.  That case concerns the treatment of Filipino temporary foreign workers at Tim Hortons location in Fernie BC.

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Download the Press Release

Download BC Human Rights Tribunal Decision

Download the human rights complaint against Tim Hortons

Changing the meaning of citizenship

Lobat Sadrehashemi

Originally published in Cultures West Magazine Fall 2015 Issue

The government of Canada introduced the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24) in February 2014, and the bill received royal assent in June 2014.As of June 11, 2015 all the provisions are now in force. This new law fundamentally changes our citizenship laws including the requirements for obtaining citizenship and expanding the grounds to take citizenship away.

Citizenship is now harder to obtain

Citizenship is now harder to obtain The government has increased the fees for filing an application from $400 to $630. The language testing requirements are also much stricter, now requiring applicants until the age of 64 to take the test; prior to the changes, applicants older than 54 were exempt. Permanent residents will also take longer to be able to apply for citizenship as the new requirement means they must be physically present in Canada four out of six years instead of three out of four. Further, applicants can no longer count their physical presence in Canada while they were not yet permanent residents. This means people who were working or studying legally in Canada can no longer include this time when calculating their physical presence in Canada. This will create even more delays for temporary workers, students, refugees, and live-in caregivers to be eligible for Canadian citizenship.

Applicants must now declare that they “intend to reside in Canada”

There is a new requirement for the granting of citizenship – applicants must now declare that they “intend to reside in Canada.” The “intent to reside” condition makes the nature of a naturalized Canadian’s citizenship different than those of Canadians who were born in Canada. It is only the naturalized Canadian who will have to wonder whether they are violating their declaration if they decide to study, accept a job, or move in with a romantic partner outside of Canada.

There are more grounds to revoke citizenship and less procedural protections for those subject to citizenship revocation proceedings. Before this law came into effect, the government could only revoke citizenship in cases where a person was found to have misrepresented on their immigration application. The new law allows the government to revoke the citizenship of people convicted of serious offences like terrorism or treason. Yet these laws do not apply to all Canadians – the new revocation power only applies to dual citizens. Moreover, the new law lessens a person’s procedural rights in these circumstances. Most revocation proceedings will now happen without a hearing. It will be a paper process with a government bureaucrat.

This law has created different classes of citizenship in Canada

This law has created different classes of citizenship in Canada, providing some citizens with a better more robust citizenship than others. Dual citizens have less secure citizenship than mono-citizens; newly naturalized Canadians have an even less secure citizenship. The government has already begun issuing revocation notices. BC Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers have announced that they intend to file a constitutional challenge to the new law.

REPORT: Refugee Reform & Access to Counsel in British Columbia

August 26, 2015 | Lobat Sadrehashemi, Peter Edeldmann & Suzanne Baustad

Since December 2012 the refugee determination process in Canada has undergone drastic changes. This report is based on in-depth interviews and focus groups with refugee claimants, their lawyers and service providers in British Columbia about the impacts of these changes on refugee claimants’ access to legal representation.

refugee-report-300x292 REPORT: Refugee Reform & Access to Counsel in British Columbia   Canada’s refugee determination system fundamentally changed in December 2012 as a result of the coming into force of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act (formerly Bill C-11) and the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act (formerly Bill C-31). The sweeping amendments were given Royal Assent only four months after the legislation was introduced and were implemented six months later, with limited time to digest the impact of the changes.

Refugee claimants are among the most vulnerable people attempting to navigate the legal system in Canada, and for whom the consequences of decisions are among the most significant – refugee decisions are often literally matters of life and death. The vulnerability of claimants, the serious consequences of the legal proceedings and the lack of an established right to a state-funded lawyer, make it critical that the first years of implementation of the redesigned system be closely monitored.

This report, based on focus groups and in-depth interviews with lawyers and service providers working with refugee claimants in British Columbia, considers the impact the legislative changes have had on refugee claimants’ access to legal counsel throughout the refugee determination process.

Download the report here.

Call for Independent Human Rights Commission as BC fails to meet standards

Report points to “gaping hole” in BC’s system of human rights protection

December 10, 2014 | Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Link to original article

Today—December 10th—is International Human Rights Day. But what does that mean here in BC—the only province in Canada without a human rights commission?

A new report published by the Poverty and Human Rights Centre and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives addresses BC’s lack of a commission, and examines the volatile history and partisan treatment of the BC human rights system. Strengthening Human Rights: Why British Columbia Needs a Human Rights Commission by Gwen Brodsky and Shelagh Day discusses the role that a human rights commission plays in identifying and preventing human rights violations, and calls for the creation of a new, independent Commission.

Since BC’s commission was scrapped in 2002, the province has had a human rights tribunal, which deals only with complaints—discrimination after the fact. The onus to identify and report human rights violations rests on individual British Columbians, who must know their rights, navigate the complaints process, and handle the risk of failure.

A commission would have a different and crucial role: taking steps to prevent discrimination, educate the public, undertake inquiries on broad systemic issues, develop guidelines and promote human rights compliance. A commission would also bring BC into compliance with Canadian and international standards for human rights protection.

According to Kasari Govender, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF, “A commission can help reduce and prevent common forms of discrimination, such as pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment. We need a Commission to produce guidelines, and provide advice and education for employers and employees, so that everyone can understand their rights and their responsibilities. Simply processing complaints does not eliminate discrimination.”

Thérèse Boulard, a human rights consultant, adds: “Employers and service‑providers in British Columbia should be able to access human rights education as a public service, rather than paying for it out of their own pockets. It is in the public interest to provide the education that will foster discrimination‑free workplaces and services.”

Sarah Khan of the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre says: “A BC Human Rights Commission could do ground‑breaking research, and consult on conditions of work in this province for temporary foreign workers and workers who are not permanent residents. Human rights abuses and complaints can be prevented when problems are addressed openly and proactively. That’s what BC needs.”

Eyob Naizghi, Executive Director of MOSAIC says: “Why is it that British Columbia is the only province in Canada without a human rights commission?  British Columbia is one of the top destinations for immigration in this country and it is critically important that there is proactive education and advocacy of human rights so that the public, employers, service providers and disadvantaged groups all understand that we respect and support diversity in BC too.”

Robin Loxton of Disability Alliance BC adds: “Many people with mental or physical disabilities face discrimination in their lives, especially in the areas of employment and tenancy. A new BC Human Rights Commission could make an important difference in addressing these challenges for our community.”

Despite its key role, the BC Human Rights Commission has had a volatile past. It was first formed in 1973 and operated for 11 years before being disbanded in 1984. After an interim Human Rights Council, the Commission was later re-instituted in 1997, but this time lasted for only five years, until 2002.

“The province should not be playing ‘political football’ with the human rights system,” says Gwen Brodsky, a senior equality rights litigator and one of the report’s authors. “Regardless of their political stripe, governments need to be committed guarantors of human rights and supporters of strong, stable human rights systems.”

BCPIAC Submissions on Budget Bill C-43

Lobat Sadrehashemi

Submission of the British Columbia Public Interest Advocacy Centre to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on Bill C-43 and Standing Committee on Finance on Bill C-43

Introduction

  1. The amendments proposed in sections 172 and 173 of Bill C-43 fundamentally dismantle the last remaining national standard governing all provincial social assistance Bill C-43 narrows the national standard, leaving the most vulnerable out of its protection. If these amendments pass, provinces could, without penalty, change their social assistance legislation to require refugee claimants, certain groups of immigrants, and/or people without regularized status, to meet a minimal residency requirement prior to being able to obtain social assistance. Some of the most vulnerable people in our communities could be denied access to social assistance at the time they most need it.
  1. The British Columbia Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC) is opposed to the proposed amendments and asks that the Committee reject sections 172 and 173 of Bill C-43.
  1. BCPIAC is a non-profit, non-partisan, public interest law Its creation in 1981 reflected the fundamental belief that it should not only be the rich and powerful that are represented before our courts and regulators. For those bodies to function as they should, they must hear from all of those affected by their decisions. Much of our work has focused on the legal rights of social assistance recipients.

The proposed amendments in their historical context 

  1. The Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (FPFA) provides that no province receiving a transfer of federal money through the Canada Social Transfer (CST) can impose a minimum residency period as a pre-requisite for receiving social assistance. The CST is the primary way that the federal government provides financial support for territorial and provincial social programs. The only condition for this funding is that there is no minimal residency requirement for obtaining social assistance. This is called the “national standard” in the FPFA.
  1. Sections 172 and 173 of Bill C-43 amend the sections in the FPFA relating to the national Instead of a standard that provides a safeguard for equitable access to all those applying for social assistance, the amendment takes away the protection of this national standard for some groups, most notably, refugee claimants. Residency requirements would still be prohibited for citizens, permanent residents, accepted refugees, and persons on Temporary Resident Permits as survivors of human trafficking.
  1. Under the now extinct Canadian Assistance Plan (CAP), established in 1966, there were a number of national conditions requiring compliance by provincial social assistance programs in order to receive federal funding, including the ban on minimal residency When the Canadian Health and Social Transfer (the predecessor to the current CST) came into force in April of 1996, the only national condition remaining was that no province could impose a minimal residency requirement.
  1. It is not without precedent that a provincial government has attempted to impose residency requirements for the receipt of social For example, the government of British Columbia attempted to put in a minimum residency requirement of 90 days in the early nineties when the CAP program was still in place. The federal government withheld $46 million in transfer payments due to the province’s non- compliance with one of the national standards set out in CAP.1
  1. The significance of the decision to amend the national standard in the FPFA should be seen within the historical context of social welfare legislation in For nearly fifty years the “no minimal residency national standard” has been a safeguard for equitable access to social assistance across Canada. It is alarming that such a fundamental change to the oversight of provincial social assistance programs is being sped through Parliament as part of an omnibus budget bill, foreclosing the possibility of adequate debate.

Social Assistance as a program of the last resort

  1. Social assistance is a program of last It provides financial relief to those most on the margins of our society. There are strict eligibility requirements for the provision of social assistance in every province. These are financial safety-net programs for adults, couples, families with children, and people with disabilities; all of whom turn to social assistance when they are in desperate need of financial relief. Requiring a minimal period of residency is antithetical to the underlying purpose of social assistance programs as a safety-net of the last resort.
  1. It is difficult to contemplate a circumstance where it would seem just to deny assistance to someone who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements simply because they did not live in a particular province for the deemed correct amount of time before In fact, the period in which someone is new to a province, and as is often the case with refugee claimants, also new to a country, is likely the time where they need financial assistance the most.
  1. The decision to amend these sections of FPFA is not a neutral In taking this myopic step the federal government is stripping away the last remaining safeguard for certain classes of people. This a deliberate measure to erode the national standard, with the effect of permitting the targeting of particular marginalized groups, like refugee claimants. While it is true that the provinces would have to legislate in order to impose the minimal residency requirement, narrowing the national standard in this way suggests that the federal government is giving its approval to the provinces to legislate away immediate access to social assistance for classes of people for whom the national standard no longer protects.

Targeting refugee claimants at their time of greatest need 

  1. Refugee claimants are legally entitled to be in Canada during the course of their refugee determination If the amendments are passed, provincial governments could specifically require refugee claimants to meet a residency requirement prior to being found eligible for social assistance. The particular circumstances of refugee claimants make this allowance particularly callous and not at all connected to the needs of refugee claimants during the refugee determination procedure.
  1. The Federal Court recently found that refugee claimants, those seeking the protection of Canada, to be “an admittedly poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged”. Many refugee claimants arrive in Canada with little money or possessions. Many are disoriented in their new country, without social supports or family upon whom they can rely. Many have been victims or torture and violence. Many do not speak English or French.
  1. On top of these many barriers, refugee claimants are required to present evidence of their persecution and proceed quickly through the refugee determination procedure, a procedure that as result of the changes implemented in December of 2012 has extremely fast timelines. Some claimants will have to present their case at a hearing 45 days after they first arrived in Canada.
  1. Refugee claimants are not permitted to work without a work permit in Some claimants from certain countries (Designated Country of Origin) are specifically prohibited by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations from obtaining a work permit until they have been in the country for 180 days.3 Others are able to apply once they have made a claim but due to processing delays are not likely to receive one until they have already been in Canada for at least two or three months.
  1. Allowing provinces to impose a residency requirement on refugee claimants would mean that at a time that this disadvantaged group needs assistance the most – a time where they are a) new to the country, b) not legally able to work, and c) required to present their legal case at a hearing, a refugee claimant and her children could be turned away from social

Conclusion

  1. For the foregoing reasons, BCPIAC asks the committee to eliminate sections 172 and 173 of Bill C-43. The proposed amendments significantly alter a national standard governing all social assistance programs in These amendments are unjust, and can ultimately result in devastating consequences for some of the most marginalized people in Canada.


(1) In the court challenge to the provision brought by the Federated Anti-Poverty Groups of British Columbia, the Supreme Court of BC ultimately held that the Province was ultra vires the Guaranteed Available Income for Need Act and therefore the provision was found invalid. See [1996] B.C.J. No. 2088 (QL) (S.C.).

(2) See Canadian Doctors For Refugee Care v. Canada (Attorney General), 2014 FC 651 at paragraph 1078

(3) See s.206(2) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations

Tree planter case workers awarded $700,000 for injury to dignity

For Immediate Release | BCPIAC

The BC Human Rights Tribunal today issued its decision in favour of 55 tree planters who worked for Khaira Enterprises Ltd. in 2010, finding that the workers were subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour and sex.  All but one of the Complainants are of African origin.  The Tribunal has awarded the workers close to $700,000 in injury to dignity damages.

Tribunal Member Norman Trerise made a number of important findings, including:

  • Unlike the South Asian and white workers, the African workers were not paid all of the wages they were owed. It is more probable than not that Khaira chose to pay its South Asian and white workers out in full rather than to equally distribute available funds amongst all of the workers in order to preserve its relationship with South Asian and white workers because it valued those relationships more than its relationships with the African workers.
  • The African workers were subjected to racial slurs and racial harassment.
  • Khaira had a duty to ensure a respectful workplace and erase a poisonous workplace environment. Khaira failed in its obligations to normalize the working environment for its workers and is responsible for the discrimination of its principals against its African workers and white female worker.
  • The complaint was fully justified due to the discrimination endured by the workers.
  • The Complainants were not motivated by money in pursuing this complaint.

Sarah Khan, one of the lawyers representing the Complainants, said “We are very pleased that the Tribunal has recognized that the discrimination the workers endured harmed their dignity and self worth.”

We are very pleased that the Tribunal has recognized that the discrimination the workers endured harmed their dignity and self worth.

“This decision is a victory for the Khaira workers. The BC Federation of Labour has been involved with this case from the start and I am relieved that the efforts of these workers to stand up for their dignity and rights have been rewarded,” said Jim Sinclair President of the BC Federation of Labour. “But we need to remember that the conditions that led to this deplorable situation are still in place today. The provincial government needs to step up to the plate, apologize to these workers and immediately pay them the money ordered by the Human Rights Tribunal. These workers were planting trees under contract from the provincial government and they were working on public lands.”

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