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Human Rights Complaint concerning the Canada Research Chairs Program

As posted on PAR-L, 22 October 2002

Dear Parleuses, Women's Studies faculty, and all female faculty in Canada,

We are interested in hearing from female faculty who would be willing to participate as complainants in a human rights complaint (s. 5 of the Canadian Human Rights Act) against Industry Canada regarding systemic sex discrimination in the structure of the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program. As we have reported and discussed on PAR-L several times since the launching of the 5-year and $900 million CRC program in 2000, there are numerous problems, not least of which is the under-appointment of women. Only 15% of these new chairs have gone to women faculty thus far, as reported by the CRC itself. There are apparently no data kept about other equity groups.

A number of academic organizations and individuals have expressed their concerns about the gender gap, ranging from "disappointment" to "outrage." These groups include the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canadian Women's Studies Association, and the Canadian Association of University Teachers. The CRC program's own mid-term review has flagged the issue. But to date no targets for women have been set by the CRC or participating universities, to our knowledge, although there are three "non-merit" criteria recognized and targets set by province, by university, and by scholarly discipline. Many women and men are not optimistic that there will be significant change unless immediate structural changes are made. In other words, we see a case of systemic discrimination against women which will have to be addressed by legal means.

The Canadian Human Rights Act (s. 5) prohibits discrimination in the provision of a service to the public (Industry Canada is providing the CRC as a service to the public, i.e. universities and faculty). Discrimination on the basis of sex is one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination under that Act (along with sexual orientation, race, age, disability, and several other grounds identified in s. 3 of the Act).

A number of concerned women, including Wendy Robbins at UNB (co-moderator of PAR-L), who has received preliminary legal advice from Rosemary Morgan, legal counsel to CAUT in Ottawa, are now seeking to identify at least 6 individuals from different universities across Canada to join in and sign a group complaint. You do NOT have to have been a recipient or an applicant for a CRC in order to be a complainant as this will be a "policy" complaint alleging systemic gender discrimination pursuant to s. 5 of the Act. However, it would be preferable that you are an associate or full professor (professeure agregee ou titulaire). [See next two messages for elaboration of why this is a section 5 Canadian Human Rights Act complaint, why it is against Industry Canada, and other details].

Please note that to facilitate a co-ordinated and forceful political strategy, it would be useful if, in addition to becoming a complainant yourself, you could try to obtain your own faculty association's commitment to supporting your complaint (moral and political, not fiscal support).

While there is no guarantee that the Canadian Human Rights Commission will accept such a complaint (that is at their discretion) or indeed process it effectively, the attempt in itself will facilitate public discussion and political action. Of course, it is hoped that the Commission will accept the complaint, investigate the allegations, and attempt to bring about a resolution expeditiously.

In addition to this effort, CAUT and other organizations and individuals, including, we understand, some senior university administrators, are continuing their efforts to address the evident gender and other inequities in the CRC program and other granting programs through direct contact with CRC and the other granting agencies. These continuing commitments would be facilitated greatly by other efforts such as human rights complaints.

If you are a woman faculty member who is interested in filing a "group" or individual complaint against Industry Canada as part of an integrated strategy to effect positive change for women in this program and other granting programs, please contact Wendy Robbins ( to identify yourself and/or for further information.

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