Late last year the BC Government introduced two important changes to British Columbia's laws: 1) amending the Human Rights Code to specifically list "Indigenous identity" as a protected ground against discriminatory conduct; and 2) amending the Interpretation Act to make it clear that all BC laws uphold and do not diminish the rights of Indigenous people that are protected under section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.

Previous to the updates, Indigenous identity was interpreted to fall within the existing grounds of "race, colour, ancestry, place of origin" and "religion" under the Human Rights Code, as BC's Human Rights Commissioner put it in her statement regarding the changes:

We know that Indigenous people face significant human rights issues here in B.C.-from over-incarceration to the continued overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care-and yet the numbers show us that Indigenous people are largely not accessing the human rights system to resolve their human rights issues. It is clear that Indigenous people carry an abiding sense of exclusion from the very system that is supposed to serve them. Indigenous people report feeling that the discrimination and exclusion they face in their daily lives is reflected and replicated in the human rights system itself, for example in structures that do not reflect their collective rights or foundational beliefs.

The Commissioner noted that the specific inclusion of "Indigenous identity" as a protected ground under the Code is therefore directed at making BC's human rights system "more inclusive and accessible to Indigenous peoples" - a welcome development and a step forward on the path of reconciliation.

According to the BC Government, in addition to the changes to the Human Rights Code, the Interpretation Act changes "represent important steps to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and ensure B.C. laws are interpreted using the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a guide." As we set out in our previous post on the BC Government's implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act [DRIPA] urgent and committed action is necessary to actually move the dial forward on meaningful reconciliation and protection of Indigenous human rights. The changes to the Interpretation Act are a positive step in the right direction but the crucial work of actually aligning BC laws with the UN Declaration still remains to be done.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.