Advocacy News - Visibility is key to protecting human rights
September 24, 2007
Visibility is key to protecting human rights
By Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell
On Monday, September 17, media reports began appearing about a Halifax lesbian couple, Jamie and Emily O'Neill, and their human rights complaint over the way Nova Scotia registers the birth of a child. Three days after the couple made their case known to the public, the government of Nova Scotia announced that the issue had been resolved.
"We made the changes when we found out there was a difficulty in complying with the (charter)," Service Nova Scotia minister Jamie Muir announced after a cabinet meeting (“Jordan wins right to have 2 mommies”, by David Jackson, The Chronicle Herald, Sept. 21, 2007). "We’ve known about it for some time and have been working on it, trying to find the most efficient way to do it."
In fact, Muir’s government has known about this issue for at least six months and only acted when they were faced with a human rights complaint. It’s obvious that when it comes to efficiency in the Nova Scotia government, a human rights complaint goes a long way towards improving operational effectiveness.
We first reported this item when couples began contacting us last spring. Awaiting childbirth, these couples requested anonymity, unable to face a hearing or the attending media. We documented the problems faced by these parents on April 20th, in our report “Maritime mothers plan childbirth in exile”. Nova Scotia legalized same-sex marriage three years ago. What took the government of Nova Scotia so long?
“It was the right thing for government to do and, ultimately, look how simple it turned out to be,” columnist Peter Duffy wrote in the Sept. 23 edition of The Chronicle Herald. “What on earth took so long, especially with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act pointing the way? It makes you wonder what other rules and regulations are lurking out there, waiting to trip people. It’s time to reexamine any and all legislation affecting relationships — without waiting until ordinary people have a jarring collision with the law. We need to incorporate the realities of our world. We need to reflect human dignity and self worth. We need — heart.”
This case underscores how important it is that couples and individuals across Canada come forward, publicly, to be the human in human rights. As soon as a face, a name, or a family becomes associated with an issue, the matter becomes real and tangible to the public, and therefore to lawmakers.
Academic problems can take 6 months, or more, to solve. Human rights issues, affecting real people gets attention much sooner, and with results that have proven effective and lasting.
Congratulations to the ONeill's and to everyone else who step forward to claim their rights.
The LGBT community must continue to increase visibility within our communities in order to claim and sustain the rights we all fought so hard for. We all have a role to play in protecting our rights from those who oppose Canada’s acceptance of diversity.