Looking back, I believe that 2017 will be remembered as a pivotal year for the advancement of equality in Canada – a tipping point. People across Canada joined the chorus of voices around the world speaking out against intolerance and the status quo in ways we have not seen in decades.
The groundswell of marches, protests, rallies and social media campaigns all shined a light on the fact that racism, misogyny and bigotry affect us all. They are far more common, personal and pervasive in Canada than most want to admit.
The truth is: we all know someone who has experienced discrimination or harassment – we may not have thought to ask, or we may not have been willing to listen or acknowledge it.
All this in the same year that we celebrated our inclusive and diverse society – from Canada 150 events, to 35 years of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to the 40th anniversary of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
In many ways, the issues and revelations that dominated our headlines stood in stark contrast to the milestones we were celebrating. The contradiction served to make it all the more clear that who we are and who we want to be are not always aligned. It underscored that equality, respect and inclusion are an ongoing pursuit, in an ever-changing society. We are not there yet – not even close. But we continue to make progress.
This year, thanks to the tireless efforts of human rights advocates, we saw two new grounds of discrimination added to the Canadian Human Rights Act – making it explicit that people are protected from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression, or their genetic characteristics.
“The simple actions of one person can inspire others, can start movements, can change laws, can change workplaces and so much more. ”
These additions to the Act are proof that when our laws no longer reflect the reality of our society, they can change. They can evolve. We just need people to speak out and challenge the status quo.
That is why the unprecedented engagement that we witnessed in 2017 is so encouraging. Some of the people who came forward this year may very well have been reluctant to do so in the past, but they saw an opportunity to bring about change.
Time and again, human rights complaints show the negative impact one individual can have over another. Yet the courage of complainants also shows us that one individual has the power to do good – not just for themselves, but for society as a whole.
The simple actions of one person can inspire others, can start movements, can change laws, can change workplaces and so much more.
As we marked the 40th Anniversary of the Canadian Human Rights Act this past year, we looked back on some of the individual actions that changed the lives of so many, for the better. It is in that spirit that our Annual Report features the stories of individuals looking to create positive and lasting change for countless others.
Each organization, each person, each individual, has the power to make a difference in people’s lives and to contribute to making Canada a more inclusive, greater country. Every employee at the Commission is an example of this – working together to bring about change. Each of their unique efforts and contributions has helped move human rights forward. I am proud to lead this team of human rights defenders, and I know that the work we are doing now is helping to shape the next 40 years of human rights in Canada, for the better.
One story at a time.
Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Canadian Human Rights Commission