Towards transformative human rights practices : a reconsideration of the role of Canadian legal institutions in achieving social justice


University of British Columbia

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Doctor of Philosophy - PhD




This thesis examines the tension between the evolving demand for the protection and promotion of human rights and the dissatisfaction with the legal institutions charged with these responsibilities. This problematique is examined and reconstructed with the objective of determining how Canadian legal institutions could be structured so as to more effectively contribute to the achievement of social justice. A critical theory approach is undertaken in this thesis. This method involves the development of a transformative ideal against which current practices are examined. This juxtaposition illuminates both the problems with, and the possibilities of, the courts and human rights commissions in interpreting and applying human rights norms. The transformative ideal comprises two elements. The first element postulates that the legal institutional role should be conceived as contributing to a broad and evolving discourse on human rights and responsibilities within the public sphere. The second element holds that this role should be enhanced through the development of transformative human rights practices and their integration into legal processes. The transformative ideal is constructed through a series of six discussions comprising: (1) the development of an analytical framework based on the concepts of social transformation, social justice, human rights and the right to equality; (2) an examination of the critique of the role and functions of courts and human rights commissions; (3) an elaboration of a normative account of the public sphere and discourse together with a discussion of the role of human rights norms therein; (4) a discussion of current mediation practices in the human rights context leading to the development of a normative model of transformative mediation; (5) an examination of the transformative ideal in human rights commission practices; and (6) an exploration of the transformative ideal in court practices. The thesis concludes that the transformative ideal and particularly the concept of transformative human rights practices, will assist in reform of Canadian legal institutions so as to enhance social justice.


Human rights -- Canada; Administrative courts -- Canada; Equality before the law -- Canada; Social justice

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