Re­sponse to virus must up­hold hu­man rights, B.C. com­mis­sioner says

Pol­icy state­ment is­sued by prov­ince acts as guide for em­ploy­ers, land­lords

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - BRENNA OWEN THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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