Your human rights are protected by legislation
On January 4,
The Royal Gazette ran a story on Philip Ingham who complained that he had been subjected to discrimination throughout his working life on account of his physical disability. In that article, Mr Ingham called on the Premier to bring in new legislation which would hold managers accountable for the discriminatory acts of their employees against disabled people.
On January 7,
The Royal Gazette published my response to that story. In that submission, I said that the Human Rights Act provides a means of pursuing a complaint that one’s human rights have been violated before a Human Rights Tribunal. I said that such tribunals have powers similar to that of a civil court and can order the perpetrators of unlawful discrimination, and their employers, to pay monetary awards to a successful complainant. I also said that there is presently a system in place whereby a complainant may ask the Human Rights Commission to provide the complainant with a lawyer, at the Government’s expense, to argue the complainant’s case before a Human Rights Tribunal.
On January 13, I received an anonymous letter which thanked me for my response to the article concerning Mr Ingham. The writer of that letter went on to state that the “abuse of the disabled … is widespread and extremely common” in Bermuda. The anonymous author also described terrible harassment that he or she had personally endured on account of a physical disability which was dismissed by that writer’s employers as mere “hazing”. The anonymous writer then asked if I could provide guidance as to how one can initiate a complaint pursuant to the Human Rights Act.
In answer to that question I advise that anyone whose rights, as guaranteed by the Human Rights Act, have been breached should immediately call the Human Rights Commission for the purpose of laying a formal complaint. The investigative arm of the Human Rights Commission has a duty to receive and investigate such complaints for the purpose of resolving the cause of the complaint and, where necessary, see that the complaint is prosecuted before a Human Rights Tribunal. The Human Rights Commission’s investigative arm has the power to thoroughly investigate complaints and, where necessary, obtain a subpoena from a Magistrate which will allow its officers to search a premises and seize evidence. If, at the conclusion of the investigation, the executive officer of the Human Rights Commission is satisfied that there is merit to a complaint, the matter may then be referred to a Human Rights Tribunal for a hearing if the matter has not yet been settled.
To the members of the disabled community in Bermuda, I say this: strong legislation specifically designed to protect your human rights and dignity is already in place and has been in effect for some time. If, for whatever reason, you feel that your rights have been violated, call the Human Rights Commission. It will not cost you anything. You do not need to see a lawyer first. The Human Rights Act, the investigative arm of the Human Rights Commission and the Human Right Tribunals are specifically designed to provide all victims of unlawful discrimination with effective remedies to enforce their legal rights.
To anyone in Bermuda, who is physically disabled, or the victim of other unlawful discrimination I also say; do not keep silent. The Human Rights Act specifically prohibits an employer from retaliating against a complainant for having laid a human rights complaint. If you are a victim of a human rights abuse, go to the agency that is in place to help you and provide its investigators with the specifics which will allow them to investigate and put a stop to the abuse. Your human dignity is something that is recognised and protected by one of the most powerful pieces of legislation in Bermuda. Use the legislation that is already there to protect you.
Allan Doughty is a Senior Associate who is employed by Trott & Duncan Limited.