The Harper-appointed head of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, Shirish Chotalia, is no stranger to controversy. She apparently runs her shop with hob-nailed boots, and her staff is quitting in droves. And the work of the Tribunal is simply not getting done.
Earlier this month, Chotalia was once again in the news, accused by the Canadian Human Rights Commission of dragging her feet on an important case that had been before her since the Fall of 2009. (I first wrote about that case—and her quirky delays—at the time.)
The lawyer for First Nations communities, meanwhile, had to ask the Federal Court to force the tribunal to act.
“It’s not simply about money or financial damages,” said lawyer Paul Champ, “it’s about vulnerable children who are being denied the equal right to stay in their homes and communities. It’s no exaggeration to say that more children are harmed every month that passes without this complaint being resolved.”
The case is simply put. Needy non-Aboriginal kids get social services from the provinces, while Aboriginal kids on reserves get up to 22% less from Ottawa for the same services. The argument is that Ottawa’s obligation to Aboriginals under the Charter should include child services funded at the same rate as for everyone else.
Chotalia obviously doesn’t like being pushed. She issued her long-awaited ruling earlier this week, a couple of weeks after the public criticism. And she tossed the case on a technicality, claiming that no comparison could be made because the same level of government isn’t funding both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children. It took nearly eighteen months to do that?
The ruling legitimizes discrimination against Aboriginal children, and the case is heading swiftly for the federal court. Until this matter is resolved, of course, inferior services will continue to be provided to the most vulnerable members of Canadian First Nations reserves. And that’s just fine, according to Shirish Chotalia.
I’ll add a link to the decision once it appears online.
UPDATE: Text of the ruling.
UPPERDATE: The turmoil within the CHRT is a developing scandal.
“It’s a complete mess right now,” human rights lawyer Paul Champ told the Ottawa Citizen. “The entire human rights system is in gridlock — it’s in crisis.”
As first reported by the Citizen in January, more than half the tribunal’s staff has left for other public service jobs or has been sidelined by stress since the appointment of Shirish Chotalia, a Calgary lawyer named to the post by the Harper government in late 2009.
According to the Public Service Alliance of Canada, five employees — roughly a quarter of the staff — have filed harassment-related complaints against Chotalia.
Now, more details are emerging. The key position of executive director, vacated by the previous incumbent’s retirement last April, still hasn’t been filled by a permanent replacement, despite two completed competitions.
…Aside from her internal staffing issues, Chotalia surprised and irritated human rights lawyers inside and outside government for changing — without prior consultation — well-established key rules and procedures, a move she says will make the tribunal more efficient.
…As well, the Harper government has refused to renew contracts of experienced tribunal members and has been slow to appoint new ones. For a brief period last year, Chotalia was the only full-time tribunal member. [emphasis added]
Chotalia, in other words, may not be solely responsible for the current gridlock at the Tribunal. It appears, in fact, that Harper is hell-bent on hamstringing a number of agencies that have incurred his ideological displeasure. The clownish board members of Rights and Democracy presently driving that agency into the ground, the beheading of the Military Police Complaints Commission looking into Afghan detainee transfers, and the wretched reign of Christiane Ouimet at the Public Integrity Office come immediately to mind.
Is it conspiracy-mongering to suggest that a deliberate strategy of disruption is at work? It’s not the first time, after all, that the Cons have played that game.