Advocate for Persons with Disabilities must have independence from government

Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann seeks to amend Bill 205 to establish the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature.

“This bill is well-intentioned, but having an advocate report to the minister reduces the office’s independence and makes its budget subject to ministerial whim,” says Swann. “A truly independent officer will have a budget set by an all-party committee and report directly to the Assembly.”

Bill 205, Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, proposes the creation of an advocate’s office similar to the Health, Seniors, and Mental Health Patient Advocates, all of whom report to a minister and whose funding is determined by ministry officials.

In the past, this has led to the advocates being unable to fulfill their mandates due to lack of resources. For example, in the 2014-15 Annual Report, the Alberta Mental Health Advocate explicitly stated, “The past year posed challenges to fulfill our legislative mandate in a timely manner. This was largely due to the loss of a position and the subsequent reassignment of duties, along with the Government of Alberta’s restraint measures. It had a direct impact on the number of Albertans we served and the comprehensiveness of our investigations” (pg. 4).

Instead, Swann envisions the disabilities advocate having an expanded role similar to that of the Child and Youth Advocate. This move has the support of stakeholders such as Inclusion Alberta and Calgary’s Disability Action Hall, both of whom are also proposing the creation of an independent advocate.

Swann gave notice of his intention to amend the bill, and requested he be allowed to proceed first in the debate for procedural reasons. However, the NDP did not consent. Now in order for Swann to amend the bill, the Minister of Community and Social Services must withdraw his own pre-emptive amendment, which was moved prior to Swann’s proposal.

“I certainly hope that Minister Sabir and the NDP government do the right thing and consider establishing the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature,” says Swann. “That is what Albertans I’ve talked to want and expect.”


Amendment ensures protections for survivors of sexual and domestic violence

Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann seeks to amend Bill 2 to ensure its protections apply to a broader category of survivors.

“I support the intent of this bill, but I am concerned that its protections may not be afforded to all survivors due to a technicality,” says Swann.

Bill 2, An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence, currently covers survivors who were either a minor, in an intimate relationship with or were dependent on the perpetrator at the time that the sexual misconduct or non-sexual assault occurred.

However, a relationship of dependency might not be an accurate description of incidences where the survivor and perpetrator(s) are co-workers with the same level of seniority, such as in a recent high-profile case of a female police officer who resigned from the Calgary Police Service after enduring years of harassment from her colleagues.

Likewise, it is unclear if dependency applies to harassment or exploitation of an adult student by a university professor or post-secondary instructor.

The bill cannot be amended to include references to co-workers since that would involve altering legislation not currently under consideration. Consequently, Swann proposes reducing the bill’s ambiguity by inserting an additional category of protection:

“the person who committed the misconduct was in a position of trust or authority in relation to the person with the claim,”

“It’s unfortunate that specific mention of co-workers and instructors was left out of the original proposal. Perhaps this is something the NDP can change in the future.” says Swann.

“In the meantime, I call on my colleagues to support my amendment to ensure more survivors are included under these important protections.”

Click here to view Dr. Swann’s amendment


Medicine Hat News: Farmworkers need help in Bill 6 transition period

The Alberta government has made and continues to make efforts to work with farm and ranch owners to adopt Bill 6. However, its implementation continues to be stalled by the legacy of a century of “wild west” attitudes, and no guarantee of safe work standards or compensation for injury.

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Jill Clayton’s re-appointment should prompt more action on transparency

Today Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann praised the recent re-appointment of Jill Clayton as Information and Privacy Commissioner. The Order in Council was issued on January 31st, appointing Ms. Clayton for a term lasting to 2022.

“As Commissioner, Ms. Clayton has been a champion of accountability and strong voice for public access to information,” said Swann. “I am glad to see the office remaining under her capable direction.”

With many government departments much delayed in their obligations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP), Ms. Clayton has a big job ahead of her.

The Ministry of Justice, despite being specifically singled out by Ms. Clayton in the past, routinely fails to meet legally mandated deadlines. An example of this can be found in its reply to a recent Liberal FOIP request, in which they warned that, “due to a high volume of requests at this office,” their response time may exceed the 30 day requirement.

Swann is calling on the government to use Jill Clayton’s reappointment to reaffirm its commitment to openness and transparency. In particular, Service Alberta should restart the practice of posting FOIP statistics publicly, which it discontinued in 2013.

“I look forward to seeing the changes Ms. Clayton will effect – not only in the Ministry of Justice, but in the Government of Alberta as a whole,” said Swann.


Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann responds to CFIB’s Bill 6 Paperweight Award

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann argues the protections provided by Bill 6 outweigh the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB)’s criticisms.

The CFIB recently awarded the bill a Paperweight Award for “outrageous regulatory headaches for small businesses,” arguing that the regulations were not written with the realities of farming in mind.

Swann replies that the protections provided to employers and workers by Bill 6 are paramount, and invites the CFIB to help ensure the bill’s smooth and effective implementation.

“Bill 6 benefits farmers as well as farm workers,” said Swann. “Workers’ Compensation offers no-fault coverage to employers, protecting them from liability in case of an accident. More importantly, Bill 6 gives basic legal protections to farm workers that have been lacking for almost a century.”

The CFIB sits on a technical working group consulting on the bill’s regulatory framework. Swann expects the organization to work to reduce difficulties for farmers, but to ultimately ensure workers continue to receive these vital protections.

“I encourage the CFIB to use its position on the government’s Technical Working Group to improve Bill 6’s implementation, creating a framework accessible to farmers and ranchers while still preserving the fundamental rights of their workers,” Swann concluded.


Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann calls for review of Alberta Human Rights Act

Calgary, AB (January 9, 2017):

In response to the recent Court of Queen’s Bench ruling adding age as a prohibited ground of discrimination, Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann called today for a review of the Alberta Human Rights Act.

“Friday’s ruling will have immediate benefits to a long-overlooked group of Albertans,” said Swann. “However, revisiting the Act to implement the ruling gives us an opportunity to extend leading edge human rights protections to further categories such as pregnancy, social condition, political belief and Aboriginal heritage.

“This government has so far taken a piecemeal approach to the Human Rights Act, which has not been substantially amended since 1996,” Swann continued. “Since that time, our understanding of human rights has evolved to include categories that would never have been considered twenty years ago. Simply put, there is clearly room to modernize and improve the Act, and now we have an excellent chance to do so.

“We have a duty to the vulnerable segments of our population to protect their fundamental human rights from abuse,” Swann concluded. “That protection should start with the Alberta Human Rights Act.”