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January 11, 2014

Snowden v. Shannon

Edward Snowden did the world a service by exposing the uncontrolled spying activities of the US National Security Agency. Dave Shannon did no less for the people of Nova Scotia (Human rights vs. red tape in N.S. - Chronicle Herald January 7) by exposing the Byzantine bureaucracy, paralysis and consequent ineffectiveness of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. He makes serious allegations that go to the heart of what makes government legitimate.

Shannon doesn't provide the detailed evidence that Snowden does, and the Chronicle Herald needs to dig deeper with credible investigative reporting.  They must finish what they started.  But the barn door is open.

Shannon`s condemnation of the NSHRC`s "bureaucratic paper-pushing, “internal petty bickering” and personnel problems" exactly mirrors my experience. I filed a complaint in 2006, thinking it could remedy much of the discrimination visited upon disabled Nova Scotians.  I was helped by a professor at Dal Law School, who seemed to think we made a pretty good argument.  We expected at least a consideration of the issues.  Instead we found a secretive organization obsessed with using the proper paper form (Complaint forms prepared by someone other than Commission staff will not be accepted ), sloppy in its "investigation" (no opportunity for me to speak to the Commission`s sources), and relieved to find jurisdictional grounds to dismiss the complaint. In short a culture without any interest and understanding of Human Rights.  Says the Chronicle Herald:
Shannon found he couldn’t steer the ship toward advancing “the dignity and self-worth of the individual” under the terms of Nova Scotia’s Human Rights Act. “Not everyone in the office shared that perspective.”
He doesn't stop there:
“There were also the impediments of having to work around key people who attempted to undermine the vision of the commission, and that was highly frustrating,” Shannon said.
“Essentially, they were individuals trapped in a linear and bureaucratic paralysis that advanced paperwork rather than human rights,”
I'm wondering what other perspective might be at work in a Human Rights organization, especially since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world..........
But this isn't about me, it's about Nova Scotia.  When you are subject to discrimination because you're poor, a minority, fired, bullied, disabled, a woman, gay, ill, a Mormon, over 65, under 12,  a Jew, does Shannon's description of the performance of the Human Rights Commission give you confidence that your interest will be served?  Shannon calls into question the vision and commitment of this commission and the administration of justice in the Province.

There are 12 commissioners, including the present director.  The NSHRC website says commissioners "are responsible for the strategic direction of the Commission as well as for making decisions on human rights issues" By Shannon's account, they have failed at both. For their own credibility, they should explain themselves, embrace transparency, and invite an independent review. They owe us that. Every decision of the NSHRC is under a cloud.

The main asset of acting director Tracey Williams is  "more than 31 years of experience at all levels of government, half of which have been in senior executive roles".  She's an experienced bureaucrat, and that might be exactly the problem.  Surely there are more pertinent job qualifications.  Is she an attorney?  Is she experienced in the field of Human Rights?

Shannon's indictment of the NSHRC should raise alarm bells.  Is it sour grapes?  I doubt it, but the air needs to be cleared before the NSHRC can have a shred of credibility.  The government needs to work very hard to overcome the now widely held perception of the NSHRC as bureaucratic, ineffective and rudderless.  Fortunately, the new premier and his government bear little responsibility for the Commission's shortcomings, and should seize this opportunity to restore confidence in a vital agency. 

The Chronicle-Herald adds: "The government says things have improved at the commission."  Now there's a halfhearted endorsement!  We need evidence.

Gus Reed

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