UBC’s annual human rights report showed a 50 per cent increase in the number of consultations from 2019/20, and a 100 per cent increase from 2018/19.
The portfolio provided 629 consultations to community members over the past 10 months.
The Human Rights portfolio of the UBC Equity and Inclusion Office assists with consultations, resolutions and filing complaints on concerns related to discrimination on the basis of the 14 grounds protected by the BC Human Rights Code and under UBC’s discrimination policy SC7. The portfolio presented its report to the UBC Board of Governors People, Community and International Committee on June 9.
A large portion of the increase in consultations stems from complaints on the grounds of race, colour, ancestry and place of origin which more than doubled from 91 in 2018/19 to 241 in 2021/21. Complaints on the grounds of disability and sex saw 128 and 127 complaints, respectively, from July 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021.
During the portfolio's presentation to the Board, UBC Associate VP Equity and Inclusion Sara-Jane Finlay noted that a large increase in reporting occurred after Santa Ono’s statements on anti-racism last summer. She added that an increase in reports does not necessarily mean an increase in incidents on campus but rather, potentially more trust in the institution to report. These sentiments were corroborated by Director of Human Rights Roshni Narain.
“The human rights team noticed that very shortly after President Ono made his statement ‘Together against Racism and Injustice’, we had a sharp rise in the numbers of people who reached out to consult with our team,” Narain said.
She also attributed the increase in complaints to a newly-hired human rights advisor designated for UBC’s Okanagan campus.
On the increase in consultations on disability, Narain said it was “difficult to speculate” why exactly that happened.
“It might be that there is greater awareness of the work of the human rights team, as well as support from members of the university administration to refer people to our office for human rights related concerns,” she said.
She said her and Centre for Accessibility Director Janet Mee are chairing a new Accessibility/Disability Working Group to advise the vice-presidents on how to make campus more accessible.
Considerations moving forward
The report also outlined some challenges and recommendations for the upcoming year — most notably the need for more staff, as well as human rights education for senior leaders on campus.
“Administrative and academic heads navigate and balance a number of issues. Human rights is a complex field and cases are often situational and context-specific to the grounds and areas,” Narain said.
“It’s not that there is resistance from [admin]; rather, it’s understanding the different questions and concerns they may have as they make the best possible decision for their unit . . . What we need to ensure in supporting [admin] is that they have the information from a human rights lens to make their decisions,” Narain said.
Sociology Professor Dr. Jennifer Berdahl, noted that a lack of job security in the position may hinder the work of the Human Rights portfolio.
“If you’re a staff working on equity issues and you’re having to bring bad news to administrators or make controversial calls, you have such job precarity that it is hard to do that job effectively,” she said.
Dr. Berdahl also said that the Human Rights portfolio might benefit from more independence rather than being towards the bottom of the institutional hierarchy.
“If we had a relatively autonomous Human Rights Office — perhaps directly underneath the President’s Office, like the Ombuds Office — that would give it a form of institutional autonomy and the president a form of responsibility that might make complaints taken more seriously and acted upon,” she said.
“The better staffed, the better empowered, and the more independent any Human Rights Office is, the more effective it will be,” said Berdahl.