Barry Wilcox, who has spent his entire legal career in Prince Albert, is the new interim chief of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. Photo delivered.
Reporter for the local journalism initiative
Improving the lives of everyone in Saskatchewan is a passion of Barry Wilcox QC, an attorney for Prince Albert who was recently appointed interim chairman of the provincial human rights commission.
His appointment marks the first time in the past decade that a person has held the position outside of Saskatoon.
Wilcox has lived his life and career in the city and has served on the commission’s board since 2011.
“I’m passionate about human rights, and I’m passionate about making sure we protect the most vulnerable. By doing this, and by making life better in Saskatchewan for everyone, it will be a lot more livable, ”he said in a telephone interview on Aug. 12.
The Human Rights Commission was first established in 1972, but received an updated Code of Cooperation a few years ago. Wilcox firmly believes in the direction the Commission has gone.
“The HRC has an enforcement process, but it is heavily mediated,” he explained. “We are looking for a solution between the parties themselves instead of being forced upon them.”
This is an approach that makes Saskatchewan the best human rights council in the country, he said, and it has also garnered international attention.
“I am a firm believer in the direction that the SHRC was given in my 10-year tenure,” said Wilcox.
The Saskatchewan Commission focuses on mediation and education versus other methods to achieve its goal of an equitable society.
“I and the previous boss pretty much agreed on the direction we wanted the SHRC to take,” he said. “We use education so that we can educate people about their rights and duties and the need to respect all their fellow citizens. When people do that, it ultimately addresses things like bullying and racism. “
The commission is also linked to a program teaching anti-bullying messages and related issues in schools from kindergarten onwards.
“It teaches responsibility and respect from the start,” explains Wilcox. “You can’t start approaching bullying and racism from an educational perspective in grade 12. You have to start early and keep building it up, so we tried to make that happen. “
Wilcox was named interim chief of the commission on August 9, a sudden move after previous chief David Arnot was appointed to the Senate.
Appointments in the Senate require immediate resignation from all other offices, which in the case of Arnot meant the Human Rights Commission as well as a position as provincial judge.
The board of directors themselves have a variety of backgrounds that help them in their work. With Arnot’s departure, Wilcox is the only member with a legal background and other members have prospects that include a disability officer, a Jewish officer, a Muslim officer and a Filipino representative.
“It’s a really wide range of people and we try to get different perspectives because that makes an organization stronger,” he explained.
Most people operating outside of the Code aren’t doing it on purpose, they have no understanding of how the Code is supposed to work, Wilcox said.
“It’s not just about protection, it’s about creating an environment where everyone is as equal as possible. Everyone can enjoy the same comforts in life undisturbed, ”he said.
Although progress has been made, there is much to be done and it will likely never end.
“We know that bullying is an issue. We know racism is an issue. It’s a long road and it will take many, many years. Every journey begins with a single step and we have taken more than one step. We actually started to go the way. ”
Wilcox is a familiar face in Prince Albert, having been born and raised in the city and having spent his professional career here as a lawyer.
After graduating from the University of Saskatoon’s College of Law in 1977, he left the job temporarily to pursue business interests, played for the Huskies soccer team for two years, and volunteered at various organizations including the Lakeland Citizens on Patrol, the Neighborhood Watch and Prince Albert Crimestoppers.