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Equity Watch tells Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, Do your job!

People rally in front of the Nova Scotia Human Rights office on Spring Garden Road. Contributed

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Supporters of Equity Watch rallied outside of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) to urge the Commission to do its job.

You read that right –  what the demonstrators demanded was that the Commission do its job.

This is because over the last three years, many people with human rights complaints have approached Equity Watch about the fact that the Commission has 

  1. not returned their calls, their emails and letters in a timely way
  2. has not properly advised them about their case
  3. has dropped their case without a fair resolution or a hearing

The first such complainant was firefighter Liane Tessier. She had to wait nearly 10 years for justice. She complained to the Human Rights Commission about sexual harassment and sex discrimination she had suffered in the Halifax fire department (HRFE).  The Human Rights Commission dismissed her case.  Tessier had to pay out of her own pocket to hire a lawyer to seek a judicial review to reverse the Commission’s decision to drop her case. The judge ordered the Commission to take her case.  In Dec. 2017 Tessier won her case. She received a public apology from Fire Chief Stuebing, who also had to agree to a list of six major changes in the Halifax Fire service. Tessier’s case kick-started Equity Watch, and Liane Tessier now is a member of the steering committee for Equity Watch.  

Thursday’s highlighted a similar case. Christine Shupe used to work at Beaver Enviro, a bottle depot in Spryfield. She was sexually harassed and taunted; she watched others get demeaned and harassed by the boss/owner.  She quit and went to the NSHRC with her complaint.  

The Commission did nothing for three years. Finally Christine Shupe went to the Nova Scotia Ombudsman’s office to prod them to get the Commission to look at her case. After 3.5 years the Commission agreed to take her case. The case was finally set down for a public hearing (called a Board of Inquiry)– but in March 2021, Shupe was told the hearing would not go ahead. This was because the Commission did not correctly identify the legal name of the company. It turned out that in the first three months after Shupe launched her complaint, the Commission had found out the real company name was 2557617 Nova Scotia, a numbered company.  But the Commission had identified the company as Beaver Enviro on the official documents.  

The Commission then had to dismiss the case because it had made a mistake and had got the name wrong!  The law stated the commission could not alter the form to change the name, which shows the changes needed. 

And because the Commission did not attend to the case in a timely fashion, the case had to be dropped. Under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, complainants have only one year after the last incident to make a complaint. Christine Shupe had made her complaint easily within the year. But because of the Commission’s inertia, 3.5 years had elapsed. So the Commission could not proceed with Shupe’s complaint.

In New Brunswick there is also  a one year deadline to file, but section 18.2 of the New Brunswick Human Rights Act allows: ‘The Commission to  extend the time for the filing of a complaint if, in the opinion of the Commission, the circumstances warrant it.’

That rule does not exist in Nova Scotia. Our Nova Scotia Human Rights Act must be changed to allow an extension for the complaint or complainant when needed. 

Christine Shupe spoke at the rally via telephone and explained she wanted her case heard. Another person who worked at Beaver Enviro spoke in person at the rally.  Samantha Chapman also suffered from sexual harassment by the boss/owner. She said she was flatly denied the chance to make a complaint by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. She also wants her case heard, and gives full support to Christine Shupe. 

Are these two complaints merely one-offs? Not at all. 

Equity Watch’s new report  Justice Impeded: A Critique of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Regime  which is available at equitywatch.ca details case after case of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission not doing its job. If you read Justice Impeded, the treatment Shupe and Chapman received is typical of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission’s foot dragging.   

Equity Watch’s report Justice Impeded makes 25 recommendations for reform including: 

  • Moving to a tripartite set of agencies, similar to Ontario 
  • Clear service delivery standards/time limits, including lengths of investigations 
  • Adequate resourcing 
  • No imposed non-disclosure agreements 
  • Less reliance on “restorative justice,” especially where power resources are tilted toward respondents 
  • A move away from the passive “diversity and inclusion” model of remediation toward more activist approaches

For years the Commission was overseen by Mark Furey, Attorney General and Minister of Justice in the McNeil government.  Now Randy Delorey is his replacement.  Equity Watch is pressing Delorey to act to reform and revitalize the NSHRC.  

Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, a Halifax-based organization which fights bullying, racism and discrimination in the workplace. You can reach her at equitywatchns@gmail.com

See also: Non-disclosure agreements: the rot at the heart of human rights

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