Response to virus must uphold human rights, B.C. commissioner says
Policy statement issued by province acts as guide for employers, landlords
VANCOUVER—British Columbia’s human-rights commissioner is urging policy-makers, employers, landlords and service providers to keep humanrights principles at the core of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s such a scary time and it’s so important that we don’t let our fear metastasize into discrimination,” Kasari Govender said in an interview.
Her office recently released a policy statement focused on COVID-19 that’s intended to provide guidance under the B.C. Human Rights Code to ensure an adherence to human-rights protections.
It outlines specific advice, such as reminding landlords they cannot turn away an applicant, harass a tenant or evict someone who has or appears to have COVID-19.
It stipulates that employers must accommodate employees who are considered particularly vulnerable to the virus, including elderly or immunocompromised people.
Landlords, employers and service providers are also prohibited from making decisions based on whether a person comes from, or appears to come from, a “COVID-19 hot spot” such as China or Italy.
Parents who need to care for their children because schools are closed cannot be discriminated against, and the statement notes that additional child-care needs are likely to disproportionately affect women and single parents.
“We must be vigilant about how racism, economic inequalities and classism, ableism, ageism and misogyny may all be factors in how people are treated and how people experience the pandemic,” it reads. The surest way to guard against discrimination during the pandemic is to ensure that policies are based on evidence, Govender said, adding it’s important to fight against misinformation and biased assumptions.
Her statement also recognizes that some people face fewer barriers than others when it comes to accessing support and following public-health advice.
The pandemic is also exposing the extent to which people are falling through the cracks of Canada’s social-safety net, Govender said.
“This is an unprecedented time, so the cracks in our social systems are showing in unprecedented ways.”
In particular, she said, it shows that homelessness is a “massive public-health problem.”
“When push comes to shove, we’re able to support people. So, why don’t we do that all the time?”
For people who have contracted COVID-19, the question is whether the disease classifies as a disability that’s afforded protections under the Human Rights Code, Govender said.
There hasn’t been enough time for the courts or the province’s Human Rights Tribunal to weigh in, Govender said, but in her view, contracting COVID-19 “very much qualifies” as a disability.