Defining Rights and Wrongs

Bureaucracy, Human Rights, and Public Accountability

Rosanna L. Langer

  • Published: 2007. Paperback 2008
  • Subject Listing: History
  • Bibliographic information: 224 pp.
  • Territorial rights: US rights only
  • Distributed for: UBC Press
  • Contents

The domestic processing of human rights complaints attracts a great deal of public attention and interest. Yet despite this scrutiny, there is still much below the surface that we don't know. When people contact the human rights commission or a human rights lawyer, how do they think about and use human rights discourse? How do the legal professionals involved characterize the experiences they describe? How are complaints turned into cases? Can administrative systems be both effective and fair?

Defining Rights and Wrongs investigates the day-to-day practices of low-level officials and intermediaries as they manage the gap between social relations and legal meaning in order to construct domestic human rights complaints. It documents how agency staff struggle to manage a huge body of claims within a system of restrictive rules but expansive definitions of discrimination. It also examines how independent human rights lawyers and advocacy organizations challenge human rights commissions and seek to radically reform the existing commission/tribunal structure.

This book identifies the values that a human rights system should uphold if it is to be both fair and consistent with its own goals of promoting mutual respect and fostering the personal dignity and equal rights of citizens.

"Human rights agencies have been the subject of intense scrutiny, and sometimes criticism, over the past decade. There have been numerous studies, reports, and commissions across the country, but none of them ask the questions that this book asks about how the perceptions and values of the participants in the process shape the outcomes. This is important work that will add new information to the discourse around human rights reform and may lead it in new directions."
-Tom Patch, Associate Vice President, Equity, University of British Columbia

1. An Overview of Public Administration of Human Rights Enforcement in Canada
2. The Roles of Frontline Staff and Independent Lawyers in the Public Administration of Human Rights Enforcement
3. Transforming Human Rights Complaints into Cases
4. Publics, Counterpublics, and the Public Interest

Appendix: Excerpts from the Ontario Human Rights Code