Are human rights still relevant Today?

Photograph supplied by Ashanti Leadership & PDS

Photograph supplied by Ashanti Leadership & PDS

I believe that Human Rights are still relevant today, as they were 70 years ago when the Member States signed the United Nations Universal Declaration. As well as in 1967, when Nova Scotia Human Rights legislation was passed to protect the rights of those who denied fair treatment and injustices. It is the Rights of all peoples to have their voices heard – women, minorities, people of African descent, persons with disabilities, youth, LGBTQ, the poor and marginalized, and those who will emerge as different in the eyes of our ever-evolving societies.  Those of us who seek to advocate must continue to do so. Today we live in an environment where attempts are being made to intimidate, harass, and silence defenders of human rights. We owe it to the next generation to "Stand up for Human Rights." 

We must be prepared to pass on the mantle, and with the same vision the founding members, commissioners, staff, politicians and the public had signed up for decades ago.

In 1992, some 25 years after the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission was founded and legislation passed in 1967, this is what their vision for the next 25 years was:

The vision of the Commissioners in 1992, "It is the year 2017 and the Human Rights Commission is commemorating its 50 years of operation. The Race Relations Division is pleased to offer the following report, as a result of the process, programs and procedures launched twenty-five years. 

  • The consciousness of the oneness and wholeness of the human race has been firmly established throughout Nova Scotia society.
  • Police services throughout the Province have achieved fair representation of First Nations, racial and ethnic groups.
  • We now live in a society in which racial minorities no longer feel inadequate, or inferior, not where majority groups people feel superior or act in condescending ways towards others. (Pachai, B., 1992)

The Commissioners futurist vision as listed above believed that it is within the capacity of Nova Scotians to achieve equity, diversity inclusion in our society.

Even though legislation has been established to hold people accountable for their discriminatory behaviours, individual segments of our communities continue to face barriers to success.

Every day, across our province people continue to face racism and discrimination at work while purchasing goods and services, denial of opportunities and mistreated because they are different. In 2013, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and students at the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design conducted a study in the community based on issues occurring in people lives. The results were capture through images.

More recently, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission was invited to research the controversial Halifax Police Street Checks data related to persons of African Descent.

Every Nova Scotian has rights which are protected under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act 1967, and need to feel confident that if there is an allegation or complaint, they can seek help and guidance at the Nova Human Rights Commission.

How are you protected in Nova Scotia?

There are 17 characteristics which you are protected and cannot be discriminated against.  They are Age; Colour; Race; Gender Identity and Gender Expression; Association; Sex; Religion; Disability; Ethnic Origin; Mental Disability; Political Belief; Affiliation; Physical Disability; Family Status; Creed; Source of Income; Irrational Fear of Contracting a Disease; Sexual Orientation and Marital Status. (NSHRC Know Your Rights)

Under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, there are seven areas where discrimination is prohibited:

  • Employment
  • Housing and Accommodation
  • Services and Facilities (stores and restaurants)
  • Purchase or sale of property, Volunteer, and public service
  • Publication, broadcasting or advertisement
  • Membership in a professional or trade association. (ibid)

Over the years, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has had a unique role in our society. As an independent government agency tasked with administering the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, it has been the instrumental in breaking down stereotypes especially those about women, and other diverse groups. The leaders were ahead of their time. They were actively engaged in challenging issues about the unfair treatment of disadvantaged groups to foster diversity and inclusion.

The pioneers, trailblazers, and leaders in the community had a clear vision about the future of human rights because they were informed about the issues of the day which impacted their communities and equipped themselves with the necessary tools to bring about transformative change.