A HISTORY OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN SASKATCHEWAN
Chief Commissioners: 1972-2021
Tillie Taylor – Chairperson (1972-1979)
Tillie Taylor was the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission’s first chairperson. A Canadian judge who was known for being Saskatchewan’s first female magistrate, she was an advocate for social justice in areas such as poverty, women’s rights, and prison reform. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan in 1941. Later, after having married and having two children, she returned to her studies and obtained her LLB in 1956. She was the only woman in her class. After law school, Tillie worked in the Saskatoon Land Titles Office as deputy registrar. In 1959, she became the first woman to be appointed as a provincial magistrate in Saskatchewan. Presiding over misdemeanours, she became more aware of the association between crime and poverty, and began to push for reforms through such organizations as the John Howard Society, the Medical Care Insurance Commission of Saskatchewan, and the Provincial Commission of Inquiry into Legal Aid. Collaborating with Roger Carter, the law school dean at the University of Saskatchewan, Tillie helped build opportunities for Aboriginal people to enter the field of law. When the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission was created in 1972, she was named its first chair. In 1976 she was elected as a director on the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. From 1977 to 1987, Tillie served on the board of governors of the Canadian Council on Social Development. Tillie Taylor passed away in 2011 at the age of 88.
Ken Norman – Chief Commissioner (1979-1983)
“I am happy to have been asked to write a few words on this occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. Tillie Taylor occupied its inaugural chair for the first five years. Though established under The Saskatchewan Human Rights Act, the Commission’s jurisdiction covered other existing anti-discrimination statutes, The Fair Employment Practices Act, The Fair Accommodation Practices Act and The Blind Persons’ Rights Act. The Commission’s primary mandate was reactive, to enforce the anti-discrimination provisions in these laws from investigation to adjudication. For the Commission’s second five years, I served first as chair and then, from May 1979, as Chief Commissioner under the newly proclaimed Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. The Code was comprehensive – incorporating all existing anti-discrimination laws as well as The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, 1947, the very first such legislation in Canada. Beyond that, what I found most exciting was the Code’s pioneering proactive regulatory provisions aimed at systemic institutional change in the direction of diversity. The Commission identified four “target groups” in this regard. These groups remain to this day as “the four equity groups” – Indigenous persons, women in underrepresented occupations, visible minorities (or racialized persons and groups), and persons with disabilities. In its previous annual report, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission stated, “The Commission’s Equity Targets for these groups help organizations structure their efforts to have their workforce mirror the makeup of the larger population of our province.” Forty-four years ago, our eyes were on that very prize. It was with some satisfaction that I read a report card in the Commission’s most recent annual report: “At present, there are over 160 employers and organizations across Saskatchewan that have signed on to the Commission’s employment equity program as employment equity partners. These organizations represent many of the province’s largest employers.” This is a systemic legacy worth celebrating. I am thankful to all who have served and continue to serve the Commission and the province in this worthy cause.”
Ron Kruzeniski – Chief Commissioner (1983-1989)
Ron Kruzeniski, K.C., obtained a Bachelor of Administration and a Law degree from the University of Saskatchewan. He was called to the Saskatchewan Bar in 1973, and was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1984. Ron was in private practice in Regina for 16 years, eventually becoming a partner at the firm Alexander, Kruzeniski, Goudie & McLaren. He was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission in 1983. As Chief Commissioner, he spearheaded a report calling for equal education in First Nation and Metis communities. His tenure was marked by significant advances in the area of affirmative action, both in the workplace and in school systems. Accessibility standards guidelines developed by the Commission were strengthened and promoted under Ron’s guidance, setting a much needed standard of accessibility for public buildings and facilities for those with disabilities. Ron practiced law in the Ministry of Justice and, in 1995, was appointed the Public Guardian and Trustee. In 2014, he was appointed the Information and Privacy Commissioner for the Province of Saskatchewan. Ron has been involved in various senior volunteer roles over the years including: the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan, the Canadian Bar Association National Elder Law Section, the Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Legal Aid Commission, the Law Society of Saskatchewan, the Regina Catholic School Board, the Campion College Board of Regents, the Regina Public Library Board and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, and the Canadian Institute for the Blind. Ron is a recipient of the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal, the Canadian Bar Association Community Service Award, and the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal.
Theresa Holizki – Chief Commissioner (1989-1992)
Theresa has an honours degree in history, a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Saskatchewan, and received a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree in May, 1990. She was a partner in two private law practices in Saskatoon, as well as a member of the Saskatchewan Law Society, the Saskatoon Bar Association, and the Canadian Bar Association. In 1989, she was appointed Queen’s Counsel. Theresa served as Deputy Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Commission from 1983 to 1987. In August, 1989, she was appointed Chief Commissioner. At the time of her appointment, Holizki was Chairperson and General Manager of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. During her time as Chief Commissioner, mental disability was added to The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code as a prohibited ground. Section 14 of the Code was also broadened to provide greater protection for minority groups from published articles or broadcast statements that exposed them to hatred or ridicule or belittled them or affronted their dignity. As Chief Commissioner, Theresa ensured that the Commission worked closely with schools in Saskatchewan. During her tenure, the Commission co-ordinated the development of a lesson plan for Grades 4-6 on the topic of racism. The package was sent to all elementary schools in the province. The Commission also working with school boards throughout Saskatchewan to develop a series of initiatives designed to make schools more supportive of Indigenous students. This included hiring more Indigenous teachers, providing cross-cultural training, and ensuring policies and procedures were non-discriminatory. In 1991, under Theresa’s guidance, the Commission refocused on developing new partnerships, and reinforcing existing ones, throughout the province in an attempt to build bridges between the Commission and all areas of the province.
Donna Greschner – Chief Commissioner (1992-1996)
As a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan from 1982-2003, Donna Greshner taught the first seminars in feminist legal theory at the U of S and helped create the Women’s Studies Research Unit. Donna holds a business degree and two law degrees. Over the years she has been a visiting professor at the University of Toronto, McGill University and Griffith University (Australia), and taught comparative constitutional law in southern California. From 1992-1996, Donna served as Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. Some of the highlights of her four-year tenure include the addition of three new prohibited grounds to The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code – sexual orientation, family status, and receipt of public assistance. She also initiated and carried out a Code review process, which was a substantial achievement. Early resolution, a form of mediated settlement early in the complaint process, was implemented during her time at the Commission. Donna was also keenly interested in the Commission’s equity programs. As a member of the Saskatchewan and California Bars, Donna has advised many governments, First Nations, and non-profit organizations on constitutional questions. She was a member of the Government of Saskatchewan’s negotiating team for the Charlottetown Accord in 1992. She was a consultant to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1990-1991) and the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada (2003). Her international work includes advising the African National Congress on constitutional issues (1991) and consulting on anti-discrimination policies for the Commission of Labour Co-operation (2004-2005). From 2008-2013, Donna served as the Dean of the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law, where she is currently Professor Emeritus.
Donna Scott – Chief Commissioner (1996-2006)
“I was honoured to serve as Chief Commissioner and to work alongside dedicated colleagues from 1996 to 2007. I extend my congratulations and appreciation to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission on 50 years of protecting individual rights and freedoms, addressing systemic discrimination, and engaging in meaningful human rights education.” Judge Donna Scott received her B.A. and LL.B from the University of Saskatchewan and was called to the Saskatchewan Bar in 1992. She engaged in private practice of law until becoming a Crown Solicitor with Saskatchewan Justice in 19896 and then Local Registrar for the Unified Family Court. Judge Scott was appointed as the Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission in October 1996. She was reappointed for a five-year term in November 1997 and re-appointed for another five-year term in 2022. During her time as Chief Commissioner, amendments were made to The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code in response to Renewing the Vision – a Code review report that put forward a number of recommendations for modernizing the Code and the human rights system in Saskatchewan. For the first time, a human rights tribunal panel was established, paving the way for a consistent body of human rights jurisprudence in Saskatchewan. The amendments also added flexibility to the complaint process, changed some of the grounds of discrimination, and enhanced the remedy and enforcement provisions. While Chief Commissioner, Judge Scott served as president of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA) from 2003 until the spring of 2006, and was CASHRA’s representative to the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies. In 2007, she was appointed a judge of the Saskatchewan Provincial Court in Saskatoon
John Hill – Acting Chief Commissioner (2007 and 2008-2009)
John Hill is a member of the Oneida Nation of the Thames near Southwold, Ontario. He received his LL.B. from the University of Saskatchewan and was called to the Bar in Saskatchewan in 1997. John served as a senior advisor to the Saskatchewan Indian and Métis Affairs Secretariat on interjurisdictional and Aboriginal affairs, and assisted in the development of the provincial Aboriginal framework policy and the First Nations self-government policy. John also represented Saskatchewan as a negotiator in the tripartite self-government negotiations with the Meadow Lake Tribal Council. A member of the Regina Bar Association, John practiced law with two private firms before establishing his own practice in 2004. He is recognized as a Mediator, having completed the Saskatchewan justice program on mediation. He has represented a number of First Nations governments and individuals on governance, treaty rights, economic development and residential school claims. John also served as a sessional lecturer in Aboriginal Studies at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College. Appointed to the Commission in July 2002, John was made Deputy Chief Commissioner in October 2003. He served as Chief Commissioner (Acting) from May through October 2007 and June 2008 through January 2009. In May, 2007, while John was acting Chief Commissioner, the Government of Saskatchewan announceed legislative amendments to The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code that would effectively end mandatory retirement in Saskatchewan.
Marilou McPhedran – Chief Commissioner (2007-2008)
Senator Marilou McPhedran is a Canadian lawyer and human rights advocate. She graduated with a law degree from Osgoode Hall, York University and was called to the Bar of Ontario, Canada in 1978. She was granted an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Winnipeg in 1992 and completed her Masters in Law (LL.M.) in comparative constitutional law at Osgoode Hall in 2004. She founded the International Women’s Rights Project in 1998 and the Institute for International Women’s Rights at Global College in 2009 – based on her intergenerational models “evidence-based advocacy” and “lived rights”. When Chief Executive Officer of a Federal Centre of Excellence based at York University, Canada, she directed staff and programs that included a cyber research network on women’s health and rights. Marilou was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission on November 1, 2007 – suceeding Donna Scott who was appointed a judge of the Provincial Court for Saskatoon. Her first day on the job, Chief Commissioner McPhedran hosted Commission staff and others at the Chains & Links Human Rights Activism Conference. The conference was part of her responsibilities as Ariel F. Sallows Chair in Human Rights at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law which she resigned from in order to take on her role as Chief Commissioner. The conference brought together members of the university community with local, national and international leaders using law, arts, technology and philanthropy as tools for positive social change. The following year, she was named Principal (Dean) of The University of Winnipeg Global College in Manitoba from June 2008 to July 2012, then served as the Human Rights Fellow in the UNFPA Geneva Liaison Office and taught as a Visiting Professor at the UN-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica in 2012-13. In October 2016, Marilou was named to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to sit as an independent.
David Arnot – Chief Commissioner (2009-2021)
“In my first Message from the Chief Commissioner, published in the 2008-2009 annual report, I wrote that “respect for one another and working towards respect for one another are integral components of every successful community and every successful human endeavour.” I also spoke about the importance diversity, harmony, and inclusion. About how human rights, and the universal respect and responsibility those rights engender, are the foundation on which Saskatchewan is built. As the Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission from 2009 until 2021, those words and ideas helped guide and inform the decisions made by, and changes made to, the Commission – which were many. During my early years as Chief Commissioner, the Commission underwent a substantial and significant transition. In 2011, legislative changes were made to The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code and an internal staff restructuring created a new and revitalized Commission. Best practice tools were implemented. A new approach – reflected in the Four Pillar Strategic Business Plan – focused the Commission’s energies on litigation, mediation, systemic advocacy, and public education. The results were considerable. We decreased complaint wait times, reduced the use of litigation, used restorative justice principles to achieve appropriate case resolution, and bolstered the Commission’s public education initiatives. We spearheaded the creation of the Concentus Citizenship Education Foundation, which is designed to education and empower students to understand their rights; encourage responsible, respectful, and participatory citizenship; and promote a commitment to justice in our pluralistic society. We changed the discourse on hate speech in Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision in Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott remains the Commission’s greatest contribution to Canadian jurisprudence. And we ensured that people could live in a province where human rights were both respected and protected. In doing so, we created what I believe is, and will continue to be, the best human rights commission in the country.”
HUMAN RIGHTS TIMELINE
The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights Act, 1947
The bill was the first legislation of its kind in North America. It provided people in Saskatchewan with inalienable democratic freedoms like the freedom of expression and association, freedom from arbitrary imprisonment, and the right to vote.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
In response to the tragic lessons learned from World War II, nations of the world came together to establish common principles for protecting the rights of “all members of the human family” and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Saskatchewan Expands Rights
Saskatchewan expanded equality rights with The Equal Pay Act, 1952, which prohibited employers from paying women less than men for comparable work in the same establishment, as well as with The Fair Employment Practices Act and The Fair Accommodation Practices Act, which expanded the prohibitions against discrimination in employment and accommodation contained in the Bill of Rights.
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission is established
On April 21, 1972, The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission Act, Chapter 108 (1972) was assented to by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council. On November 1, five people were appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in-Council to serve five-year terms as Commissioners. Rather than seeking ineffectual criminal prosecutions, people could bring a complaint to the Commission, which would investigate the complaint and seek vindication of the individual’s rights using civil procedures. The Commission was given the responsibility of administering Saskatchewan’s anti-discrimination laws and promoting the principle of equality through public education.
The Commission opens
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission opened its office doors in Saskatoon. The Commission also held its first formal inquiry to hear a complaint alleging discrimination based on ancestry.
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code comes into effect
Amalgamating and improving upon previous human rights statutes, the Code governed relationships between people in important public areas of life like employment, education, and public services, and prohibited discrimination in these areas on a number specific grounds: race, creed, religion, colour, sex, marital status, physical disability, age, nationality, ancestry, and place of origin.
Employment and Education Equity
The Commission gave approval to its first employment and education equity programs to promote equity and prevent discrimination in workplaces and classrooms throughout Saskatchewan.
Charter of Rights and Freedoms passes
On April 17, 1982, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was passed. It was a watershed in human rights protection that made all Canadians more conscious about rights as a legal tool to protect their interests.
The Code is amended to include mental disability
Mental disability was added to the Code as a prohibited ground. The Code was also amended to provide greater protection for minority groups from published articles or broadcast statements that exposed them to hatred.
Three new prohibited grounds added to the Code
Sexual orientation, family status, and receipt of public assistance were added to The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code as prohibited grounds.
Early Resolution introduced
The Commission introduced a settlement process called “Early Resolution” as an alternative method of resolving human rights complaints.
Court of Appeal and the Code
The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal established that The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code is quasi-constitutional, meaning it takes precedence over other provincial legislation – except where otherwise provided.
The Commission goes online
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission launched its first website.
Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal
The Code was amended so that the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal, a permanent panel of adjudicators with human rights expertise, replaced the former system of Boards of Inquiry appointed by the Minister or Justice on a case-by-case basis.
Code amended to end mandatory retirement
In May, 2007, the Government of Saskatchewan announced legislative amendments to The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code that effectively ended mandatory retirement in Saskatchewan.
Four Pillars and Concentus
The Commission introduced its Four Pillar Strategic Business Plan which focused on: efficient and effective investigation of complaints of discrimination; increased use of mediation and other forms of dispute resolution; systemic advocacy for complaints that affect multiple persons or groups; and preventative education regarding the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
The Commission partnered with the Ministries of Education and Justice to establish the Concentus Citizenship Education Foundation. The purpose of the foundation was to develop a citizenship education program that would educate and empower individuals to understand their rights and to be responsible, respectful, and participatory citizens committed to justice in our multicultural, pluralistic society.
Code changes help revamp process
Changes to the Code helped the Commission fulfill the vision of its new Four Pillar Plan. These procedural changes were set in place to increase efficiency, enhance restorative justice measures, and move the adjudication of human rights complaints to the Court of King’s Bench. Section 48 of the Code would allow positive measures to assist disadvantaged people without triggering possible Code violations.
Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott
The Supreme Court of Canada sided with the position advanced by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission in delivering a unanimous decision defining and prohibiting hate speech.
Gender identity is added to the Code
In December, 2014, legislation was passed that clarified The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code and explicitly protected gender identity as a prohibited ground under the law.
Working systemically with the City of Regina, the Commission was able to facilitate widespread change for people with disabilities who use public transit.
Systemic Advocacy and a bilingual Code
The Government of Saskatchewan announced it would invest in a new program to ensure babies born in Saskatchewan hospitals are screened for hearing loss. This investment would come as a direct result of the Commission’s systemic advocacy initiative. The Systemic Advocacy Committee that made this initiative possible consisted of persons with lived experience, parents, audiologists, ASL interpreters, as well as the Ministries of Justice, Education, Health and Social Services. Also in 2018, The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code became bilingual legislation, being translated into French for the first time.
Thanks to funding from a Government of Canada grant, a coalition was formed to address sexual harassment in Saskatchewan workplaces. It consisted of the Commission, the University of Saskatchewan College of Law, the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, the Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan, and the Saskatoon Industry-Education Council. The initiative was called Enough Already. The 5-year project has helped educate thousands of Saskatchewan employers and employees on how to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace.