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National Committee on Human Rights

When the Trades and Labour Council and the Canadian Congress of Labour merged in 1957, each had its own human rights committees with mandates to undermine racial discrimination in the labour movement. A new National Committee for Human Rights (NCHR) was formed at the time of the merger and the Jewish Labour Committee's Canadian Labour Reports, which highlighted the human rights work of organized labour, became the Human Rights Review in 1960. The NCHR’s mandate was to focus on the “elimination of racial and religious discrimination in all areas of Canadian society and the promotion of equality of opportunity in employment, housing, and public accommodation for all residents of Canada.” The NCHR worked with local and regional human rights committees in the labour councils and federations to campaign for anti-discrimination legislation, education, research, publicity, the investigation of cases of discrimination and work with government and non-governmental organizations to promote tolerance and fair practices. By 1957 seven municipal labour councils with human rights committees were located in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia. Provincial labour federations in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec also had their own human rights committees. The role of the NCHR was to coordinate the activities of these various labour committees and advise the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) executive on how best to lobby the federal government.

Most of the NCHR’s work in the 1960s involved funding local labour committees. Through the CLC it was also able to secure an amendment to the National Housing Act to prohibit government contracts to companies which discriminated in their employment practices. In 1968, when the country was celebrating International Year for Human Rights, in its most ambitious project the CLC funded a newly graduated social worker, Pat Kerwin, to work in Kenora, Ontario, one of the poorest regions of Canada surrounded by native reserves, to educate and train natives to be their own advocates. The project was successful in implementing several local projects, from securing welfare benefits for individuals to building ice rinks with government funding.

After 1968, the CLC became increasingly less active within the human rights movement. As the leader of the labour movement in Canada, the CLC continued to play a significant role in the lobbying for rights-related issues in general. The CLC was one of the few organizations outside Quebec to oppose the use of the War Measures Act in 1970, and it continued to lobby on issues including abortion, capital punishment, wiretapping, RCMP activities and the federal Human Rights Act. But the NCHR was unquestionably playing a diminished role. The Human Rights Review had been discontinued and by 1977 the CLC no longer provided grants to the local and provincial labour committees. While its advisory role to the CLC executive on human rights issues continued, and remains today, the new Department of Social Action and Community Affairs (created in 1970) took over responsibility for a variety of human rights issues, notably Indian affairs. By the late 1970s a separate women’s bureau had been created, taking even more responsibility away from the NCHR. Whereas the labour movement had been one of the most vocal advocates of an entrenched bill of rights in the 1940s and 1950s, it was absent from the special joint committees on the constitution in 1970 and 1981 when hundreds of other groups presented. With the exception of a few organizations, most notably the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the CLC had virtually no relationship with any rights association.

 

 

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