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NDP says minister appointed Sask. Party supporter to human rights commission

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Saskatchewan’s Justice Minister is receiving criticism after she appointed the former head of her local Sask. Party chapter to the province’s human rights commission.

Sask. Party MLA and cabinet minister Brownyn Eyre appointed Alan Thomarat to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in late January – as part of new board for the organization following the retirement of Chief Commissioner Barry Wilcox.

On Monday, the provincial NDP came forward with information, outlining that as recently as 2021, Thomorat served as the co-president of Eyre’s Sask. Party chapter and was a regular donor to both the party and Eyre’s campaigns.

According to Elections Saskatchewan disclosures, Thomarat donated $500 to the Sask. Party in both 2016 and 2019 as well as $1,000 in 2020.

“When Eyre first appointed Thomorat, she did not disclose any of this,” NDP MLA Meara Conway told reporters. “Instead she played up different aspects of his biography, because she knows full well that this is a clear conflict of interest, and frankly, it reeks.”

“This is the type of backroom back scratching that makes people hate politics and hate politicians,” she added.

News around Thomarat’s appointment comes after it was revealed another recent appointee to the commission has ties to Saskatchewan’s governing party.

Mubarik Syed said he intends to seek the Sask. Party nomination for Saskatoon Southeast – the seat held by veteran outgoing MLA Don Morgan.

The Saskatchewan Party has stated that Syed is currently abstaining from the commission, as the nomination process is underway. The party went on to say that he will resign if he is nominated for the seat.

The SHRC consists of one full time Chief Commissioner and a board of several other volunteer commissioners.

According to the province, the board has no role in the complaint process and “no influence on any aspect of the disposition of any complaint.”

In a statement to CTV News, the Government of Saskatchewan defended the nomination of Thomarat and highlighted his credentials in public policy, human resource management and his service as the mayor of the resort village of Thode and its surrounding municipality.

A Facebook post from Aug. 28, 2021 showing that Alan Thomarat (Right) served as the co-president of Eyre's constituency, Saskatoon Stonebridge-Dakota (Courtesy: Bronwyn Eyre/Facebook)

“Mr. Thomarat has never worked in the Constituency office. Before the constituency boundaries changed, he did serve on the executive, on which his governance experience and expertise were extremely valuable,” the statement read.

The province went on to call the NDP’s criticism of Thomarat’s appointment a “partisan narrative.”

“The very partisan narrative being crafted by the Opposition, suggesting that anyone who has ever been politically active in the community, at any level, cannot go on to serve on a public body in an unbiased, honourable and honest fashion, is disappointing to say the least,” the statement read.

“Along with Mr. Thomarat, other appointees to the SHRC include a passionate advocate against human trafficking, a Dene speaker and former justice worker, an experienced lawyer, a liaison officer who helps diverse groups (including newcomers to Saskatchewan) obtain employment, and a prominent member of the Filipino community.”

In her comments to reporters, Conway said the appointments seem to be motivated by partisanship, not the well-being of the commission and its role.

“I think that a lot of what they're doing in terms of appointments, in terms of policy, in terms of announcement are motivated by hunger to stay in power, rather than really addressing the challenges that we're facing in a way that is going to be effective,” she said.

The SHRC made headlines following the introduction of Saskatchewan’s pronoun policy and the subsequent passing of the Parents’ Bill of Rights.

Saskatoon Commissioner Heather Kuttai resigned from the commission – calling the legislation “an attack on the rights” of vulnerable children in her resignation letter.

Conway said she worries the impartiality of the commission is compromised with the appointments.

She said the opposition is requesting a cancellation of the recent appointments and an overhaul of the process in picking commissioners.

“It's shocking and erodes trust in the Human Rights Commission, and that's why we're calling on this total reset, this overhaul,” she explained.

“We think this is serious enough. Now there's been two issues. The public just won't have trust in this process and their trust in human rights processes is important.”

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