HRC wants rights to reflect social change
Bermuda’s human rights laws need updating to reflect social change, according to a civil liberties watchdog.
Tawana Tannock, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission, said: “Upholding the integrity of the Human Rights Act underpinned our engagement with the former and current government during the course of 2017.
“The Constitution was written at a time when racial segregation still existed in Bermuda and it remains limited and dated in its scope.
“The Human Rights Act emerged to address stark omissions and provide both a practical and aspirational framework for protecting distinct, yet intersected, rights in our community.”
Ms Tannock was writing in the HRC’s annual report for last year.
She said: “Amendments that seek to manipulate or weaken the function of the Act risk undermining all protections within it, and must be vigorously guarded against and examined.
“The Act must continue to evolve to meet the needs of our diverse and developing island and to serve as a measure of our commitment to creating an inclusive and equitable community.”
The report, released last Friday, said the commission received 112 complaints last year.
A total of 19 per cent of the complaints alleged racial discrimination, 11 per cent were on the grounds of disability and ten per cent were on the grounds of place of origin.
But 39 per cent of complaints failed to identify a protected ground of discrimination.
The HRC managed 23 investigations over the course of the year, including ten new cases and 13 that were carried over from 2016.
The report said that a quarter of the investigations involved racial discrimination, with 21 per cent based on sex discrimination and 14 per cent on place of origin.
Several of the investigation involved allegations of discrimination on several grounds.
The HRC resolved 11 cases over the course of the year — six through conciliation or mediation and two through a tribunal hearing.
The other three complaints were withdrawn.
In once case detailed by the report, a complainant claimed they had been harassed in their workplace and a co-worker had called them a derogatory name based on race.
The complainant claimed he went to the company’s management, but nothing was done.
The HRC approved an investigation into the case, but the complainant withdrew the allegation and said they had reached an agreement with management.
Another case involved a Bermudian employee who complained that non-Bermudian staff had been given preferential treatment.
The complainant said he had been suspended after it was alleged he confronted a non-Bermudian employee — which he denied.
The HRC conducted a preliminary investigation, but found the complainant’s behaviour had been “less than stellar”.
The HRC report added: “The manager further stated that the investigation into the incident with the non-Bermudian was viewed on camera and another co-worker provided a statement supporting that the complainant approached the staff member aggressively.
“Based on this information, the executive officer determined that there was no evidence that the Human Rights Act 1981 had been violated and closed the complaint.”
The HRC report also detailed several high-profile court cases that took place over the course of the year.
These included the Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche civil suit, which opened the door to same-sex marriage in Bermuda.
The report also highlighted several cases involving controversial speaker Ayo Kimathi, who was banned from the island after he delivered a lecture which included what was described as hate speech.
The HRC said the case highlighted the limits to free speech and the Supreme Court finding that there was no Constitutional protection for hate speech in Bermuda.
The HRC report said: “While it remains a mission of the Bermuda Constitution to attack modern manifestations of historic racial discrimination, there is also the need to suppress, with equal vigour, new manifestations of discrimination as well.
“Moreover, the free speech rights established by the Constitution carry with them corresponding duties and responsibilities because these rights can only be exercised in a way that does not prejudice the rights and freedoms of other people or the public interest.”