The Equal Opportunity (No. 2) Bill, 2011
2 Apr 2012
AN END TO DISCRIMINATION ….
The Equal Opportunity (No. 2) Bill, 2011 was introduced in the House of Representatives on 9 November, 2011 in the name of the Honourable Herbert Volney, Minister of Justice.
The following is a brief explanation of some aspects of the Bill
The full text of the Bill is available in PDF format on this website, you can download it via this link
. You may also place your comments directly on this Bill page, which can be accessed here
What is Equal Opportunity?
Equality of opportunity is a principle that all people should be treated similarly, unhampered by artificial barriers or prejudices or preferences, except when particular ‘distinctions’ can be explicitly justified.
What is discrimination?
According to this Bill, discrimination occurs where a person (the discriminator) treats another person (the aggrieved person) in relevant circumstances, which are the same or are not materially different, less favourably than the discriminator treats another person.
What is the purpose of the Bill?
Equal Opportunity legislation seeks to provide a legal framework and legally enforceable right of redress to persons who are discriminated against by individuals or organizations.
The Equal Opportunity (No. 2) Bill, 2011 seeks to amend the Equal Opportunity Act Chap 22:03 by prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of age and a person’s HIV/AIDS status, removing the requirement of intention, motive or mala fides in the establishment of direct or indirect discrimination, expanding the categories of complainants and allowing the Attorney General to assist the Tribunal in certain circumstances as amicus curiae.
What are the key features of this proposed legislation?
- The Commission is charged with the responsibility to encourage and support the development of a society in which there is respect for equality and human rights
- Amends a number of definitions including:
- HIV/AIDS status
- Marital status
- Amends the definition of “Relative” to include any person:
- Adopted by the family
- Dependent on the family
- A member of the household of the family
- The Bill imposes a duty on an alleged discriminator to make adjustments as are reasonable for disabled persons, unless such adjustments would impose unjustifiable hardship.
- The Bill enables aggrieved persons to seek redress for alleged discrimination that occurred during the period when the Act had not been operationalized i.e. between January 31, 2001 and April 21, 2008 no later than one year after the date of commencement of this Act
- The Bill allows the Commission to accept complaints lodged after six months from the date of the alleged act of discrimination where the Commission thinks it is reasonable to do so.
- Complaints of discrimination may be lodged with the Commission by:
- A person allegedly discriminated against
- A person who was part of a group/class of persons who were allegedly discriminated against
- An organization who was allegedly discriminated against
- An interim injunction may be granted at any time after a complaint is lodged with the Commission by the Tribunal
- The Bill empowers the Commission to issue a certificate of non-compliance where a request has not been complied with and to make an ex parte application to the tribunal for an order directing persons to comply with the Act as well as impose other conditions which it sees fit after the expiration of twenty-one days of the issuance of a certificate of non-compliance
- The Bill enables third-parties who are directly concerned about alleged discrimination, victimization or offensive behavior to seek redress, and also empowers the Commission to initiate an inquiry in the absence of a specific complaint.
- In instances where a complainant is dissatisfied with the Commission’s decision that there is no evidence of discrimination, he may request, within forty-two (42) days of the decision, that the Commission refer the complaint to the Tribunal
- The Attorney General is given the responsibility of assisting the Tribunal in proceedings where the AG believes that the relief claimed may affect rights of persons who are not parties to the proceedings significantly and proceedings that involve matters in the public interestA new complaint form is inserted
Important issues for consideration:
- The Commission is responsible for deciding whether there is evidence of discrimination or not
- Discrimination is generally difficult to prove.
- Sufficiency of penalties
- The determination of what is “reasonable” or an “unjustifiable hardship” is subjective.
- What mechanism will be used to measure whether the Commission encourages and supports the development of society where persons have equal opportunity?
- What role will the Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago play in equal opportunity rights?
- Is the Commission properly staffed to efficiently and effectively handle discrimination claims in a timely manner?