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Exploring Winnipeg as a Human Rights City

University of Manitoba research centres host event in recognition of December 10th signing of Universal Declaration on Human Rights

December 7, 2022 — 

The Centre for Human Rights Research and the Centre for Social Science Research and Policy at the University of Manitoba are hosting a special event in recognition of December 10th, the day on which the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was signed in 1948. The roundtable will explore what makes for a human rights city and how Winnipeg lives up to such a designation.

The event, “Imagining the Peg as a Human Rights City”, takes place on Zoom on Friday, December 9, 2022 at 12:00 p.m. Registration is open to the public. This event is the first of a series of bi-monthly “public policy talks” by the Centre for Social Sciences and Policy, and Director Shayna Plaut will be speaking further about the event with CBC’s Marcy Markusa on Information Radio on Friday.

Guest speakers include Dr. Warren Clarke, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba, Dr. Nathan Derejko, Assistant Professor and Mauro Chair in Human Rights and Social Justice at the UM Faculty of Law, Reanna Merasty, Artist, Author and Chair of the Welcoming Winnipeg Committee, City of Winnipeg, Dr. Joel Pruce, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Applied Research and Learning at the University of Dayton Human Rights Centre, and Karen Sharma, Executive Director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and member of the UM Master of Human Rights Program Committee.

Introductory remarks (via pre-recorded video) will come from Leah Gazan, MP for Winnipeg Centre, NDP Critic for Women and Gender Equality; Children, Families and Social Development; Deputy Critic for Housing. Gazan, together with Reanna Merasty, has called for a state of emergency in the wake of the recent news of the loss of life of several First Nations women, which has redoubled efforts of the MMIWG2S movement to raise awareness and address the lack of response when Indigenous women, girls or two-spirited individuals go missing or are murdered.

“Human rights are always realized bottom up, largely through the unrelenting work of community groups and civil society. Here it is clear that Winnipeg is home to a diverse, dedicated and vibrant civil society, that is without doubt, the driving force of social justice in Winnipeg.” – Dr. Nathan Derejko, Mauro Chair in Human Rights and Social Justice, University of Manitoba

Participants in the event can expect panellists to examine the question of what Winnipeg might look like if human rights and responsibilities were centred, and if human rights were the guiding principles for the decisions made and strategies undertaken at the city level. Currently, Winnipeg is regarded as ground zero for MMIWG2S and has been labeled as one of the poorest and most racist cities in Canada. Organizers hope to spark dialogue and action in the community to make human rights in Winnipeg a lived reality.

In preparing for the event, Derejko shared some thoughts on the idea of a ‘Human Rights City,’ which he explained means different things to different people, “which is not unlike the concept of ‘Human Rights’ itself,” he said. “While there is no universal definition of a human rights city, nor a single or strict blueprint for building one, one of its defining characteristics is the mainstreaming of human rights within by-laws, policies, and programs of a city. Again, there is no blueprint here, nor a minimum quota that must be reached in order to “qualify” as a human rights city.”

Rather, adopting a municipal ‘human rights charter’ that sets out rights, obligations, and guiding principals is the approach to take, Derejko suggested, pointing to the Montreal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities as an example.

“A city could/should, in my opinion must, take a “Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA)” to its municipal policies and strategies, including on housing, education, health care, transportation, planning and development,” he said. “A city should also apply a HRBA to municipal budgets, not only in terms of budget allocation, but also in terms of a participatory and transparent system of budget allocation and taxation to ensure the municipality has the resources necessary to make rights a reality for all.”

Laws, policies and resources are not sufficient by themselves, however. “Political will is also an indispensable ingredient, and time will tell whether, and if so to what extent, Winnipeg’s new mayor will take the steps necessary to make rights a reality in Winnipeg for all,” said Derejko.

Derejko teaches Human Rights Law at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law and works closely with Canada’s first interdisciplinary Master of Human Rights program.

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