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B.C. Liberals fire head of rights agency

The B.C. Liberals fired the head of British Columbia's Human Rights Commission yesterday, saying the agency needs to be overhauled.

The decision was announced as the new government prepared to review 60 government agencies.

Attorney-General Geoff Plant said changes to the province's Human Rights Commission are necessary to address complaints about the tribunal, including lengthy delays in processing cases.

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"It sends a message to all those who have been frustrated by the failure of human-rights protection in British Columbia," Mr. Plant said. "We have a government in place that is committed to fixing what was wrong."

Mary-Woo Sims's term was to expire in March, 2002. Under the Human Rights Code, deputy chief commissioner Harinder Mahil now assumes responsibility for the commission.

"She has been a passionate advocate for human rights in British Columbia," Mr. Plant said. "The questions I'm looking at are systemic and institutional . . . It is necessary to make a change."

He said the government will review all provincial agencies, including the Liquor Review Board and Workers' Compensation Board.

The B.C. Human Rights Commission came under scrutiny over sexual-harassment complaints against former NDP cabinet minister Robin Blencoe. His case sparked legal challenges to the Supreme Court over the tribunal's prolonged delays. Mr. Blencoe lost the case and was ordered to pay a former female employee $5,000 for the incidents in 1994 and 1995.

NDP Leader Joy MacPhail called the decision to fire Ms. Sims "unacceptable." She described Ms. Sims as world-renowned for her work on human rights in British Columbia.

"I think the protection of human rights in this province is at risk."

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Mr. Plant announced the decision in the legislature during Question Period after a question about the status of the commission from Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt, an advocate for gay and lesbian rights.

Ms. MacPhail said she found it "shocking" that Mr. Mayencourt, the Liberals' openly gay MLA from Vancouver-Burrard, was the one to ask Mr. Plant the question.

But Mr. Mayencourt, who represents Vancouver's West End community, objected to Ms. MacPhail's allusion to his sexual orientation as reason for him asking the question.

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