B.C. human rights commissioner to intervene on court case involving Afro-Indigenous mother

Commissioner says the case is important ‘to enforce Human Rights Code protected rights’

B.C. Supreme Court. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The B.C human rights commissioner is asking permission to get involved in a judicial review of a ruling from the province’s human rights tribunal and an Indigenous-led child welfare agency.

The case involves an Afro-Indigenous mother of four who, in 2017, complained to the tribunal that she was discriminated against by the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (VACFSS).

The woman, known as R.R., brought a complaint against the agency under the Human Rights Code for discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, ancestry, and mental disability.

According to the tribunal decision, “VACFSS’s decisions to retain custody and restrict R.R. access to her children were informed by stereotypes about her as an Indigenous mother.”

The agency appealed this finding to the B.C. Supreme Court.

“It is essential to request a judicial review because the B.C. [human rights tribunal] overstepped its jurisdiction in this decision,” said Linda Stiller, chair of the VACFSS. “VACFSS regrets having to file a judicial appeal on this case, particularly as an Indigenous-led agency committed to restorative practice and the advancement of provisions in the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families”.

On May 23, the Human Rights Commissioner applied to participate in the case at the B.C. Supreme Court as an intervener stating that it believes the tribunal has jurisdiction.

“This case will be crucial in determining whether people facing discrimination in the child welfare system will be able to enforce their Human Rights Code-protected rights,” said Commissioner Kasari Govender in a press release.

“We will argue that the Provincial Court lacks jurisdiction to decide allegations of discrimination, so it is important that people are able to access the Human Rights Tribunal to address discriminatory conduct.”

APTN News reached out to VACFSS for comment on the news that the human rights commissioner intervening in the case. They replied that they have no comment on this news.

The judicial review will be heard in B.C. Supreme Court Aug. 22–24, 2023.

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