I do. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, and thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable members, for the invitation to appear before your committee today as you deliberate Bill C-279.
I thought I would begin by taking a few moments to discuss the mandate of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, as it will inform the scope of my presentation. I will then provide an overview of the legal principles that govern us when dealing with discrimination complaints, and in closing, I will provide the committee with some information on cases decided by the tribunal that raised issues of gender identity or gender expression.
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is one of the two administrative agencies created by the Canadian Human Rights Act, or the CHRA. The other one is the Canadian Human Rights Commission. While the commission's mandate is multi-faceted and includes a wide range of powers, duties, and functions, the statute has only assigned one main function to the tribunal, and that is the adjudication of complaints.
In the context of the CHRA, this adjudication process is referred to as an inquiry. An individual who believes that discrimination has occurred, within the meaning of the CHRA, can file a complaint with the commission. If the commission believes that an inquiry is warranted, it triggers the adjudicative process by making a request of the tribunal to inquire into the complaint.
The inquiry mandated under the CHRA has been described as quasi-judicial, which essentially means court-like. Hence, the tribunal has many of the powers and attributes of a court. It is empowered to find facts, to interpret and apply the law to those facts before it, and to award appropriate remedies.
The tribunal hearings have much the same structure as a formal trial before a court. The parties before the tribunal lead evidence, call and cross-examine witnesses, and make submissions on how the law should be applied to the facts.
This Parliament only assigned to the tribunal the role of adjudication. The tribunal cannot be involved in crafting policy. It has no regulatory role vis-à-vis discriminatory practices in the federal workplace, nor does it have a public advocacy role. These roles are assigned to other bodies.
A number of consequences flow from the court-like structure and focused mandate of the tribunal. First, its members are required to maintain a high degree of independence from the executive branch of government, in particular from our portfolio department, the Department of Justice.
Furthermore, to conserve their impartiality, it is important for the adjudicator of our tribunal to adopt and retain a position of neutrality in respect of issues that can and will be debated in cases they may be called upon to decide.
In the context of your current study, these principles prevent tribunal members, including me, from issuing opinions on many of the matters that will be discussed as you review Bill C-279, which is not to say that tribunal members never make findings on issues of gender identity or gender expression. On the contrary, they have been required to do so previously and will likely be called upon to do so in the future. However, they must make these findings in the context of their adjudicative mandate, based on the submissions of the parties in a particular case, along with the evidence led and the applicable legal principles.
This leads me to my next topic. What are the legal principles that the tribunal applies to discrimination complaints? How do we define discrimination?
The answer to these questions originates in our enabling legislation, the CHRA. A useful starting point is section 4, which succinctly sets out the basic liability scheme. Essentially, in this statute Parliament has identified a number of discriminatory practices. Anyone found by the tribunal to be engaging in or to have engaged in a discriminatory practice may be made the subject of a remedial order.
What does the CHRA consider a discriminatory practice?
There are a number of acts and courses of conduct so designated, including denying access to services facilities or accommodation; refusing to employ or continue to employ an individual; establishing a policy or practice that deprives an individual or class of individuals of employment opportunities; and harassment and adverse differentiation, both in matters related to employment as well as in the provision of services, facilities, or accommodation.
However, almost every discriminatory practice in the CHRA, by definition, must be based on a prohibited ground of discrimination. Here is where we arrive at some of the issues raised by Bill C-279.
The CHRA designates 11 prohibited grounds of discrimination, namely, race, national ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record of suspension has been ordered.
As has been alluded to in the House of Commons debates, to the extent that the tribunal has dealt with transgender issues thus far, it has done so within this statutory framework of prohibited grounds, in particular, under the grounds of sex and disability. However, the tribunal has never had to decide a case where the parties put forward sharply opposed arguments on the question of whether or not gender identity or gender expression is protected by the act.
If you will allow me to elaborate, the tribunal has had four cases dealing with gender identity or gender expression that it has been required to adjudicate.
In the first case, the tribunal has found, on the point that's most relevant to this current discussion, and I quote:
There is no dispute that discrimination on the basis of Transsexualism constitutes sex discrimination as well as discrimination on the basis of a disability.
There have been three subsequent cases that raise gender identity and gender expression issues. In all of them, the tribunal found that discrimination on these grounds fell within the prohibited grounds protected by the CHRA. However, in each of the cases, the key issue relevant to this committee's deliberation does not appear to be a point of contention between the parties.
As you can see, we haven't dealt with a large number of these kinds of cases. That said, in considering the number of cases heard by the tribunal on the given subject matter, there are several important considerations that should be taken into account.
First, not all federal discrimination matters become complaints filed with the commission. Other agencies and boards have concurrent jurisdiction over CHRA matters.
Second, of the discrimination complaints filed with the commission, only a small subset were referred to the tribunal for inquiry. As my friends from the commission have already indicated, some of those complaints end up being resolved through ADR practices or mediation under their process.
Third, of those complaints that are referred to the tribunal, a significant number are resolved by tribunal members mediating the complaints to facilitate settlements by the parties, thus never resulting in a hearing or an inquiry ever being conducted.
In closing, I would simply like to say that I hope this presentation has been of assistance to the committee.