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Human Rights Complaint concerning the Canada Research Chairs Program

As posted to PAR-L on October 31st, 2004

2004 Update:

Human Rights Complaint re Discrimination in Canada Research Chairs Program

What do the CRC Program and the CBC’s search for “The Greatest Canadian” have in common? If you shouted out “the disgraceful under-representation of women,” you are right. Alas. And, in case you were wondering what ever happened to the human rights complaint filed in 2003 alleging gender and other discrimination in the Canada Research Chairs program, here’s an update.

Would it not be helpful to know the outcome of this important human rights issue before current Chair-holders start clicking the “Renew a Chair” link on the CRC Web site? (They will soon be at their full complement, numbering 2,000.) And would it not be wise for the administrators of the program to take into account all critiques and proposed remedies during the CRC’s fifth-year review. (It is nearing completion.) Over a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money—our money—supports the Canada Research Chairs, a program which now drives a powerful component of university research across the country and thus has a sizable impact on post-secondary education.

The human rights complaint was filed by eight women professors from across Canada. It has the unanimous endorsement of the Council of the CAUT (Canadian Association of University Teachers), which represents unionized academic staff across the country. It is now one full year since the eight complainants attempted mediation (October 2003) with representatives of Industry Canada and the Canada Research Chairs secretariat at the Canadian Human Rights Commission in Ottawa. Mediation failed to produce any satisfactory resolution, and both sides filed further briefs with the Commission, moving the complaint process, in March 2004, into the “inquiry” stage.

Despite the evidence contained in a gender-based analysis commissioned by the CRC secretariat itself, which, though far from complete, nevertheless clearly documents the under-appointment of women, especially in the highly gender-sensitive field of health research, Industry Canada does not concede that there is a “prima facie” case. “Prima facie” refers to a legal case that, even at first glance, presents sufficient evidence for the plaintiff to win and thus allows the case to go forward. And the Canadian Human Rights Commission apparently is too understaffed to respond in a timely manner. There has been no action whatsoever in the more than six months since these further briefs were filed. Yet we know, from the results of the recent federal election and its many polls, that health and education are what Canadian care about most.

Many CRC’s are permanent appointments (Tier 1), but others are five-year renewable term appointments (Tier 2). If women and members of other equity groups—for whom data is not even collected--do not get justice BEFORE the renewal of Chairs begins, it will be a classic case of “justice delayed is justice denied.” The complainants have also challenged the small allocation of Chairs to the humanities and social sciences, disciplines which involve the majority of Canadian students and professors.

Roughly one-third of Canada’s professoriate is female: the figure for all female university teachers is 33.9% (CAUT Almanac 2004, Table 8.3). For Canada Research Chairs, it is only 18% (CRC Web site, last updated in April 2004). Data have not been made available for other equity groups, which continues to be a major issue.

With respect to the percentage of women in the professoriate, Canada compares unfavourably with most of our OECD partners, ranking 12th out of 30. The new program is not helping, quite the opposite. And trying to fix things has been an uphill battle. The percentage of women appointed as Canada Research Chairs stood at 14.2% in 2001, when we first began documenting the data by gender; it stood at 17% in 2003, when last we posted an update on PAR-L; it currently stands at a dismal 18%,

You can see the CRC numbers, such as they are, online at:

And in the annual Ivory Towers: Feminist Audits at:

The complainants are: Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Simon Fraser University; Louise Forsyth, Emerita - University of Saskatchewan; Glenis Joyce, University of Saskatchewan; Audrey Kobayashi, Queen's University; Shree Mulay, McGill University; Michèle Ollivier, Université d'Ottawa; Susan Prentice, University of Manitoba; Wendy Robbins University of New Brunswick.

We salute the CAUT for having initiated its own independent five-year review of the CRC program with faculty associations across the country. Your suggestions for other kinds of action are most welcome, as are comments on the Chairs program or on university research in general in Canada as it impacts on women in all our diversity.

Wendy Robbins and Michèle Ollivier (University of New Brunswick) (Université d'Ottawa)

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