Prior to June 28, 1976, when the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (Charter) came into effect, the mechanism that ensured the protection of rights and freedoms in Québec consisted solely of the Commission des droits de la personne, which in 1995, became the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. Legal recourses based on the Charter were heard by courts of general jurisdiction.
On June 14, 1988, the Committee on Institutions of the National Assembly filed a report which highlighted the restrictive interpretation of the Charter by the courts of general jurisdiction, the delays and complexity of the process at the Commission when one filed a complaint as well as the contradictory roles assumed by the Commission. In response to these concerns, the Committee recommended various measures, notably the modification of the Commission’s mandate and the creation of a specialized tribunal that would adjudicate cases filed by the Commission and that would have large remedial powers with regards to the violation of rights protected by the Charter.
Following these recommendations, a law was adopted by the National Assembly. The objective of this law was to assure greater access to justice and increased efficiency in the adjudication process regarding matters that fell under the investigative jurisdiction of the Commission. Pursuant to this law, with major amendments introduced to the Charter, the Human Rights Tribunal was born on December 10, 1990.
That same year, the Government of Québec appointed the honourable Michèle Rivet, judge of the Court of Québec, president of the Human Rights Tribunal. Soon after, the first selection process of assessors took place.
Within a year of its creation, the Tribunal rendered its first decision on October 10, 1991, in a case regarding the integration of a disabled child into the school system. Since, the Tribunal has rendered an important number of decisions concerning significant issues faced by Québec’s society, including sexual harassment, systemic discrimination in the workplace, the obligation of State religious neutrality, racial profiling and the conflict between fundamental rights.
In order to facilitate “the development and elaboration of critical legal thinking in areas which fall under its jurisdiction” (s. 4 of the General Orientations) and to improve the protection of human rights, the Tribunal has, over the years, organized several conferences in partnership with the legal community. Tribunal members are regularly invited to universities and colleges to give presentations on the Tribunal and its jurisprudence.
The Tribunal celebrated its 25th anniversary on December 10, 2015. Several activities were organized during the year to highlight this event which coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Charter. The honourable Ann-Marie Jones, president of the Tribunal, was invited to deliver a speech at the Conseil général du Barreau as well as during the ceremony of the Journée du Barreau, an annual event that marks the onset of the new judicial year. Interviews given by the honourable Ann-Marie Jones were also published in various magazines and newspapers, including the Journal du Barreau. The Tribunal animated the workshop “L’imagination au service de l’égalité : regard sur les pouvoirs de réparation du Tribunal des droits de la personne” during the Barreau du Québec’s Annual Congress. Furthermore, the Tribunal, in partnership with the Barreau du Québec, organized a seminar entitled “Le Tribunal des droits de la personne : 25 ans d’expérience en matière d’égalité”.
The following are several historical statistics concerning members of the Tribunal:
- The honourable Michèle Rivet was the first president of the Tribunal. In addition to occupying the position of president for the longest period of time (1990-2010), she is the longest sitting judge among the members of the Tribunal.
- Mtre Yeong-Gin Jean Yoon is the longest sitting assessor of the Tribunal (March 2004 to March 2016).
- Mtre Mélanie Samson is the youngest person to have been named an assessor at the Tribunal (28 years old at the time of her nomination), and Mtre Jean-François Boulais is the assessor who was the oldest at the time of his nomination (69 years old).
When it was created, the Tribunal was situated in the Cours Mont-Royal, before moving its offices, a few months later, to the Courthouse of Montreal.