2014 Human Rights Conference
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Event DateFriday, November 7, 2014 - 7:00pm to Sunday, November 9, 2014 - 1:00pm
Human Rights, Competing Rights, Emerging Rights
The Eaton Chelsea - Toronto, Ontario
November 7-9, 2014
The Aboriginal Circle, the Provincial Human Rights Committee, the Provincial Francophone Committee, the Provincial Young Workers Committee, the Disability Rights Caucus, the Rainbow Alliance and the Workers of Colour Caucus helped to plan the Human Rights Conference and oversaw the selection process.
Download the Call for applications: 2014_hr_conference_call.pdf
The 3rd biennial OPSEU Human Rights Conference was held from November 7-9, 2014 at the Eaton Chelsea in downtown Toronto. The event, Human Rights, Competing Rights, Emerging Rights focused on human rights violations committed against aboriginal communities; employment barriers for Canadian immigrants in the form of the racialization of poverty; and respecting human rights of children and migrant workers.
In planning this event, the Human Rights Conference Planning Committee endeavoured to ensure that a majority of the 115 OPSEU members selected to attend were first time conference participants. The goal was to involve new local activists by giving them exposure to the longstanding commitment that their union has when it comes to equity and human rights.
Conference goals for participants included the following seven poins:
- being able to ask questions on current human rights trends and on competing and emerging rights;
- participating in the use of table discussions and electronic polling (e-polling) as a new and interactive way of conference participation;
- talking about the important role we each play in advancing our human rights work in our union and communities;
- understanding that one person can truly make a difference;
- gaining a better understanding of the importance of our human rights work in building a union that continues to be strongly connected to human rights advocacy and global solidarity;
- confidently speaking about what they have learned from the conference to their local; and
- connecting with at least one (1) person in their local or community who has a keen interest in human rights.
OPSEU President Smokey Thomas opened the conference on Friday evening. His remarks touched on the importance of how everything we do as trade unionists is part of a larger struggle for human rights for all people within Canada and globally. He also highlighted the important contributions that OPSEU's equity committees and caucuses continue to make to ensure that equitable rights and privileges are attained and maintained.
The conference also welcomed a series of innovative and dynamic speakers who shared their experiences in their plight for greater equality not only in Canada but around the world. The six speakers were:
- Cheryl Perera, founder of the organization OneChild, spoke about the horrors of child sexual exploitation and the importance of giving a voice to those who are most vulnerable. She went undercover as a decoy in her native Sri Lanka to nab pedophiles. Empowered by this experience, she returned to Canada and mobilized the Canadian Travel and Tourism Industry to get involved in the fight against Child Sex Tourism. Cheryl's work has brought her to many parts of the world where child exploitation continues to be problematic such as Thailand and the Philippines.
- Chris Ramsaroop works as an organizer with Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW). He gave insight into the plight of migrant workers in Canada. They are a vulnerable group of individuals who are susceptible to egregious violations that range from lack of healthy and safe working conditions to unfair wages.
- Paul Champ is a human rights and labour lawyer from Ottawa. He addressed the issues currently facing First Nations reserves. They are deprived of equality of public services in child welfare, education, policing, water and other major infrastructure. Paul also spoke about Jordan's Principle - affirmed by the Federal Court in the Pictou Landing case that requires all levels of governments in Canada to ensure that First Nations children living on reserves receive the same level of care and services that would be available off reserve.
- Anya Kater works as a Senior Policy Analyst with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). She elaborated on the Commission's Policy on Competing Human Rights. Her presentation allowed participants to gain a better understanding of the meaning behind competing rights and how to address and/or resolve them when faced with situations in their respective workplaces, communities, etc.
- Obispo Rosales Yax is the Executive Director of the Santa Maria Linguistic Project (PLSM). He was on a partner visit and spoke about the support that OPSEU has provided to projects in Guatemala through Horizons of Friendship.
- Peter Thompson is a long time OPSEU activist and current Chair of the Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC). He provided a personal account of his experience traveling to South Africa back in 2012 as part of the work OPSEU has done through the Solidarity Fund.
The event welcomed Eve Haque, Associate Professor at York University, to provide the keynote. She explored the link between immigration and the racialization of poverty and poor employment outcomes as they pertain to official language proficiency. Moreover, conference participants also looked at the government's attempt to address issues of language proficiency through an increased focus on work related immigrant language training programs. The collective discussion explored the experiences of learners in these programs and how they relate to human rights.
The documentary 3rd World Canada was shown on Sunday morning and its filmmaker Andrée Cazabon, was on hand to lead the discussion after the screening. 3rd World Canada focused on three suicides that left eight siblings orphaned in a First Nations (northern Ontario) community struggling with third world conditions. It highlighted the absolute need to deliver more resources to help those struggling to obtain the basic necessities of life. This increased awareness empowered conference participants with many feeling that for this suffering to happen in their own country was unacceptable. The conference was also humbled to welcome Karyn Paishk. She is a resident of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) and graciously shared the reality of the daily struggles people face on the reserve a result from insufficient resources, education, and funding, just to name a few.
The main theme of the conference focused on the idea that one person can make a difference. The presentations and planned activities enhanced the message that every little bit counts when looking at the bigger picture. Conference participants were given three bracelets emblazoned with the words "I Make a Difference." They were asked to present one to an individual involved in human rights or who has a keen interest in advancing human rights in their community, workplace, etc. In addition, they were asked to reflect on why they chose this person (s), how they plan to approach them and how confident they feel in planning human rights events in their respective locals.
This year's conference incorporated the use of electronic polling (e-polling) into its program. This was an innovative and easy way of generating instant feedback from the participants. It proved especially beneficial to the invited guest speakers because it helped to facilitate the question and answer portions of their respective presentations. Based on the resounding positive feedback members of the planning committee received, e-polling seems destined to make another appearance at future OPSEU events/conferences.
As the excitement from this conference starts to wind down, participants have returned to their communities and locals energized. It is also the hope that their enhanced knowledge in human rights advocacy and will empower them to speak out against possible human rights violations they may bear witness to.
Members of the Human Rights Conference Planning Committee would like to thank the many OPSEU advocates who demonstrated their commitment to equity and human rights by participating at the event. They would also like to extend a warm thank you to all of the invited guests whose expertise and personal accounts helped to get the important message out to the masses, to Data on the Spot (DOTS), for supplying the e-polling technology which was favourably received by all in attendance, and to iRoseHa Photography for the many images captured from the conference. Lastly, a special thank you goes out to the staff from OPSEU's Equity and Training and Development Units, and Communications Division, consummate professionals whose guidance, talent and hard work greatly contributed to a successful conference.