Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission

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Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission
Agency overview
Jurisdiction Government of Nova Scotia
Headquarters Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia
Employees 23.0 FTE (2009–2010)
Annual budget CAD$2.1 million (2009–2010)
Minister responsible Lena Diab, Department of Justice
Agency executives Eunice Harker, Chair
Norbert Comeau, Vice-Chair
Parent department Independent agency within the Department of Justice
Website NS Human Rights Commission

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) was established in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1967 to administer the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is the first commission in Canada to engage a restorative dispute resolution process.

The Commission is an arm's-length independent agency of government accountable to the Nova Scotia Department of Justice for budgetary issues. The Commission's mandate under the Act includes: helping people prevent discrimination through public education and public policy, and effecting resolution in situations where a complaint of discriminatory behaviour has been initiated.[1]

The Commission offers assistance to those trying to prevent discrimination on the basis of aboriginal origin, age, color, creed, disability (physical and mental and perception of it), ethnic origin, family status (parent-child relationship), fear of contracting an illness, gender expression,harassment based on other protected characteristics, national origin, marital status,sex (including pregnancy), sexual identity, sexual harassment, political belief, race, religion, source of income.[2] It is also a violation to retaliate against someone who files a complaint or expresses an intention to complain or to retaliate against someone who assists in making a complaint.[3]

Organizational structure[edit]

There are currently 23 permanent staff members. The NSHRC staff work in three regions of the province, including the central office in Halifax and two regional offices located in Sydney and Digby. Three units carry out the operational and administrative functions: 1) the CEO's office or unit which includes in-house legal counsel. 2) The Dispute Resolution unit takes complaints, collects information and assists the parties to resolve them. The human rights officers also make recommendations to the Commissioners for further dispute resolution in the form of a board or inquiries or dismissal of a complaint. 3)The Race Relations, Equity and Inclusion unit provides public education and community outreach on matters related to human rights and provides human rights training that arises from the resolution processes.


The director and CEO is a non-voting commissioner. There are a maximum of twelve Commissioners (Board of Directors).[4] The Commissioners screen complaints to determine whether or not a board of inquiry should be appointed. This final process of dispute resolution can assist the parties with an independent adjudicator hearing the full complaint or aspects of it. The Commissioners also make policy decisions. Some prominent Commissioners in the past have included Wanda Thomas Bernard, Daniel N. Paul, Sister Dorothy Moore and Calvin Ruck.[5]

CEO unit[edit]

Part of a series on the
History of Nova Scotia
The Famous Bluenose (Restored).jpg
Port Royal established 1605
Conquest of Acadia 1710
Halifax established 1749
Bay of Fundy Campaign 1755
Fall of Louisbourg 1758
Representative Government established 1758
Burying the Hatchet ceremony 1761
First significant Scottish immigration 1773
Battle of Fort Cumberland 1776
Birchtown established 1783
Capture of USS Chesapeake 1813
Freedom of the Press 1835
First Acadian MLA elected 1837
Responsible Government established 1848
‪Chesapeake Affair 1861
Co Op Movement begins 1861
‪Anti-Confederation Party elected 1867
Saxby Gale 1869
Launch of William D. Lawrence 1873
First airplane in the British Commonwealth 1909
Halifax Explosion 1917
Nova Scotia [Women’s] Franchise Act 1918
Launch of Bluenose 1922
Coal Miners' Memorial Day 1925
Pugwash Conferences established 1957
Springhill mining disaster 1958
NS Human Rights Commission established 1967
First 'Treaty Day' 1986
First Black MLA elected 1993
Mi'kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite Forum 1997
Viola Desmond Apology 2010

Portal icon Nova Scotia portal

Portal icon History of Canada portal

The CEO Unit includes a director and chief executive officer at the commission, currently Tracey Williams. Former CEO's of the Commission have included: Marvin Schiff (1968–1971); Dr. George McCurdy (1971–1983); Cathy MacNutt (1984-1985); Dr. Anthony Johnstone (1985–1989); Dr. Bridgial Pachai (1989–1994); Wayne MacKay (1995–1998); Mayann Francis (former Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia) (1999–2006); Michael Noonan (Acting)(2007–2008); Krista Daley (2008–2011); Karen Fitzner (Acting) (2011); David Shannon (2011-2013).[6]

Legal Unit[edit]

In April 2012, the Commission enhanced its options for boards of inquiry processes, philosophically moving away from the adversarial civil litigation model which was observed to compound the harms of the dispute. The Commission innovated to create a restorative approach to conflict resolution and adjudication. On December 10, 2012(International Human Rights Day), the world's first restorative human rights adjudication was heard in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.[7] There are five reported decisions using these restorative inquisitorial procedures at a board of inquiry.[8]

Boards of inquiries that take a restorative approach use an inquisitorial model to adjudicate: the adjudicator, rather than lawyers, ask the questions. There is no cross or direct examination. Lawyers or the parties refer their questions to the adjudicator who asks them. The parties come together in a circle to share the information/evidence needed to make a decision on whether there is discrimination. Witnesses use a secular talking piece; the party with the talking piece is the only one permitted to speak by the adjudicator.[9]

The legal unit, within the CEO's unit, has in-house counsel and a restorative facilitator.

Nova Scotia Human Rights Award[edit]

To mark International Human Rights Day each year, the Commission awards a Human Rights Award on December 10 to an individual and an organization to recognize the work of Nova Scotians in promoting and protecting human rights. Some of the recipients were: the late Pat Skinner (2006), Percy Paris (2005), Senator Donald Oliver (2006), Dr. Hetty Van Gurp (2006), Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op’s Jeff and Deborah Moore (2005), M. Lee Cohen (2002), Henderson Paris (1999), and Amnesty International(1994). [10]

Dispute Resolution unit[edit]

Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is the first commission in Canada to engage a restorative dispute resolution process. With this change, the Commission moves away from the traditional investigation with optional mediation. The traditional process was often long and seldom involved bringing parties together except for an adversarial public inquiry.

The current dispute resolution program uses a more collaborative, restorative approach between the parties involved, which facilitates a more responsive and timely resolution. In less than a year and a half, the Commission eliminated a three-year backlog using this process.[11]The complaint information is now collected in person by the human rights officer. Also, if appropriate, the parties are brought together to share the impacts and to build a forward looking plan. In-person restorative processes can provide better emotional closure for both of the parties since each has an opportunity to discuss how events impacted them and how to create changes for the future. The process also enhances learning about human rights since it involves a sharing of stories rather than a blaming and defending of harms.

This shift from an adversarial to a collaborative model represents an understanding of the need to minimize traditional legalistic processes, inherited from the civil litigation system. Human rights law is public law and is concerned not just with individual harms (like the civil tort system)but also the broader social context which contributes to the harm. The public interest in a human rights context also concerns itself with the way discriminatory harm impacts the greater social community. Canadian Human rights historically and currently is concerned with remediating private and public harm as opposed to punishing the respondent.

Race Relations, Equity and Inclusion unit[edit]


Symposium on Inclusive Employment and Education Conference[edit]

This symposium is focused on assisting awareness on disabilities in education and employment sectors.

Halifax Metro Transit Accessibility Improvements[edit]

Disabled transit riders in Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia, have seen improved accessibility. Halifax Metro Transit engaged in a wide-ranging dialogue, facilitated by the Commission, with two passengers who use wheelchairs. These conversations created many striking improvements in services. The resolutions, available on the Commission's website, resolve the accessibility concerns shared by larger disabled communities around Halifax's public transportation. For those with mobility challenges, public transportation is an essential service to participate in work, school, and cultural life.

These significant changes were implemented in the fall of 2011. All low floor buses, for example, will accept wheelchair passengers unless the physical stop cannot accommodate the bus ramp and/or other safety concerns. These changes address complaints that passenger access to buses was unduly restricted due to policy rather than actual operational needs or limitations. Previously, policy dictated that low floor buses could pick up passengers only when the entire route was designated accessible (i.e., every stop on the route was determined to be an accessible stop). A full inventory and upgrade has now been completed. Details on the changes are found on the Halifax Metro Transit website.[12]

International Day of Persons with Disabilities[edit]

The Commission co-hosts an annual symposium in celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.


Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission Staff - Pride Parade, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2011

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Act provides protection for the lesbian and gay communities and transgendered persons (LGBTI community). The Commission supports the Pride Parade and participates in it annually.

Employment Equity Partnerships[edit]

The Commission has been involved with affirmative action initiatives, now referred to as "employment equity," since 1972. The change in term also represents a philosophical shift from a contractual model to a collaborative model, with the Commission working in partnership with organizations to improve diversity at their workplaces. Between 1971 and 1991, the Commission developed a six-month training program which targeted disadvantaged people to assist them in entering the work force. Some of the more prominent people to participate in this program were Linda Carvery, Kyle Johnson and Jean Knockwood.[13]

The Commission has also addressed affirmative action with institutions of higher education, working with Dalhousie University, Acadia University, and St. Francis Xavier University to develop recruitment initiatives for disadvantaged people. The Commission has also worked with the public school boards to do the same.[14]

See also[edit]


  • Bridglal Pachai, (Ed). Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission: 25th Anniversary: A History 1967-1992. 1992.


  1. ^
  2. ^ The Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, s. 5, RSNS; Bridglal Pachai, p. 91
  3. ^ (NS Human Rights Act, s. 11)
  4. ^ Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, s. 22, CHAPTER 214 OF THE REVISED STATUTES, 1989
  5. ^ Pachai, p. 10
  6. ^ Pachai, p. 2
  7. ^ Hewey v. Peterbilt, NSBdInq, Dec. 10, 2012, website: CanLii
  8. ^ The other four are: Gavel v. NS Province NSBdInq July 2012(approval of resolution), Gilpin v. Alehouse NSbdInq Feb. 2013, Gregory v. Central Stations Hair, NSBd Inq December 2013, HABFF v. HRM fire service(website: CanLii).
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Pachai, p. 97
  14. ^ Pachai, p. 98

External links[edit]