“Birth alerts” in BC refer to the controversial practice where social workers flag expectant parents to hospital staff without their consent when they believe the expectant parent poses a risk to the newborn. The birth alert directs hospital staff to alert the social worker when the baby is born. Ministry of Children and Family Development (“MCFD”) records from 2019 show that birth alerts result in the removal of a newborn from their parents “approximately 28% of the time.” Indigenous families are disproportionately affected by the birth alert system. According to MCFD’s records, 58% of parents impacted by birth alerts in 2018 were Indigenous. Birth alerts have been referred to in a report by the National Inquiry Into Missing Indigenous Women and Girls as “racist and discriminatory” and a “gross violation of the rights of the child, the mother, and the community.” Former Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond stated the following to IndigiNews about the practice:
“Apologies and amends are necessary, as there has been harm done, including promoting the stereotypes that Indigenous families require intense surveillance because they cannot safely care for their own children,”
However, the practice was not banned by the BC government until September 16, 2019.
If a newborn has been traumatically removed from your family shortly after birth, you may not even know yet that the removal resulted from a birth alert. According to MCFD, it has not advised families that their privacy rights have been breached with the issuance of birth alerts.
One spokesperson for MCFD claimed in a statement to IndigiNews that this was because MCFD did not want to “retraumatize” affected families by providing notifications of past birth alerts. In my view, this response only reinforces that the MCFD takes a discriminatory and paternalistic approach in its interactions with Indigenous families. The baby alert approach promoted a stereotype that Indigenous families are not capable of safely caring for their own children. The comment from the MCFD about retraumatization again reinforces a stereotype that Indigenous families are not capable of deciding what is best for them.
The MCFD should notify families that their privacy was breached by the issuance of a birth alert and then the families can decide for themselves whether they wish to potentially face retraumatization by going through a process of seeking an apology and amends. MacIsaac and Company is currently investigating potential claims regarding this matter.
Last Monday, March 6, 2023, our Attorney General Niki Sharma gave first reading to the Intimate Images Protection Act, a bill that enables British Columbia to reclaim control over their intimate images online.
The Attorney General began her introduction of the Bill by pointing out that it can be normal for intimate, consenting partners to share nude or nearly nude sexualized images. However, she stated, when those images are shared non-consensually, “it is a devastating form of sexualized violence that disproportionately impacts young people, women, girls and gender-diverse people.” Distributing intimate images without consent strips a person of their privacy and autonomy, and the consequences can be severe, far-reaching, and long-lasting.
The proposed Intimate Images Protection Act would give persons who have experienced the harm of having their intimate images distributed without consent the ability to stop the distribution by applying for an expedited intimate image protection order from BC’s Civil Resolution Tribunal or Supreme Court. If the applicant for an order advises the tribunal or court that they are the person in the image and that they do not consent to the image being shared, the tribunal or court can order that the person who distributed the image destroy and delete it, and make all reasonable efforts to make the image unavailable to others. The tribunal or court can also order that any “internet intermediaries” (such as google, onlyfans, etc) remove the image, delete or destroy it, and de-index it from internet search engines.
And when it comes to consent, there is a provision in the Bill which affirms that consent can be revoked. Even if at one time, the person in the image told the distributor they consented to the image being shared, the legislation affirms the ongoing nature of consent – it can always be revoked. If you consented years ago to your image being shared and you now want it taken down from the internet, that is your right. You need only advise the distributor of your image and the tribunal that you do not consent to it being shared.
The Bill makes it unlawful not only to share intimate images without consent, but to threaten to share those images. If someone is threatening to distribute a person’s intimate image without their consent, that person can also apply for an order that the one making the threats refrain from sharing the image and delete and destroy the image.
Orders made by the tribunal or court are binding on whoever they are directed at. If the order is made at the civil resolution tribunal, it can be filed at the Supreme Court and enforceable as if it is an order of the Supreme Court. That means those who do not obey these orders could end up in contempt of court, which carries serious legal repercussions.
Privacy is of course a concern with this legislation. Thus, in most cases, there is an automatic publication ban provision for applicants aimed at providing reassurance that taking legal action will not result in their name being shared publicly. Distributors of intimate images are not protected from the publication ban unless they are a minor or the court or tribunal sees other reasons for protecting their identity.
Provisions in the Bill allow persons who have had their intimate images distributed non-consensually or received threats that their image will be distributed to apply to the tribunal or court for damages. That means that if the legislation comes into force, you can claim that a distributor of your intimate image pay you compensation for having done so. You can also claim compensation if they only threaten to distribute the image
One interesting thing about the legislation is that if it comes into force, it will be retrospective. Wrongdoers are on notice as of last Monday that their conduct is unlawful if they are distributing intimate images non-consensually. Those depicted in images will be able to apply for orders after the legislation comes into force for any wrongdoer conduct that is occurring right now. The Attorney General stated the following about this: “people who distribute or threaten to distribute intimate images without consent are on notice that they will face new legal consequences even if the wrongful conduct happens before the legislation comes into force.”
Since the Bill has been introduced for First Reading by the Attorney General, it is likely that it will actually come into force. New legislation in BC needs to go through a first, second, and third reading at the legislative assembly before it receives royal assent and comes into force. Sometimes this process only takes a few weeks, sometimes it can take longer. Here’s hoping it comes into force soon.
In a recent decision, the BC Human Rights Tribunal held that an Indigenous mother was discriminated against in her interactions with a child protection agency that retained custody of her children and strictly restricted her access to them for nearly three years. The mother was awarded $150,000 as compensation for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect. This is the second highest award under this category in the tribunal’s history.
Governments in what’s now called Canada have interfered with the relationships between Indigenous caregivers and their children for generations. First, governments, police, and churches forcibly removed children from their homes and families and brought them to residential schools. Then there were the Sixties and Millennium Scoops. Indigenous children in care continue being overrepresented and underserved.
Indigenous families have also been resisting these colonial efforts at assimilation for generations. The Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (“VACFSS”) was meant to be one means of combating the the colonial and racist problems with child “protection.” The purpose of VACFSS was to apply a restorative child welfare model. However, it remains bound by provincial child welfare legislation.
Over 21 days spread out in 2020 and 2021, the BC Human Rights Tribunal Member Devyn Cousineau heard a complaint from an Afro-Indigenous mother, “RR,” that the VACFSS discriminated against her on the basis of her Indigeneity, race, ancestry, colour, and mental disability, in violation of section 8 of the BC Human Rights Code. In a decision issued on November 22, 2022, the Tribunal held that VACFSS discriminated against the complainant mother.
The Tribunal described RR as follows:
RR is a racialized Afro-Indigenous woman. She is the single mother of five children, one who passed away too soon and three who have complex needs. She has a low income and insecure housing. She is an inter-generational survivor of residential schools with disabilities stemming from trauma. She is resourceful, affectionate, a leader in her community, connected to her culture, and loves her children.
According to the Tribunal, VACFSS apprehended RR’s fourchildren for nearly three years and strictly regulated her access to them in a discriminatory way. It held as follows:
For the reasons that follow, I find that VACFSS discriminated against RR. VACFSS’s decisions to retain custody and restrict RR’s access to her children were informed by stereotypes about her as an Indigenous mother with mental health issues, including trauma, and her conflict with the child welfare system. Because of RR’s Indigeneity and trauma, she had a heightened need to be empowered and included in decisions respecting her children and to have complete, ongoing, and accurate information about their wellbeing. Instead, VACFSS responded to her with escalating assertions of power and control, reducing and suspending her access to the children, limiting her communication with their caregivers, and ultimately prolonging their time in care. I find that VACFSS did not have reasonable grounds to continue custody and that none of these adverse impacts can be justified as reasonably necessary to protect RR’s children.
In issuing its decision, the Tribunal made several important findings. Of note, it found that the VACFSS did not have reasonable grounds to believe RR’s children were in need of protection. The Tribunal held as follows about the VACFSS:
Its focus on RR’s trauma, mental health, and relationship with the child welfare system was not related to the actual impact of these characteristics on her children. Rather, it rested on stereotype and assumptions about RR as a parent, and conflict with RR that was connected to her Indigeneity and required accommodation.
According to the Tribunal, VACFSS’s records and evidence in the hearing demonstrated “numerous comments about RR that were derogatory and judgmental.
Further, the Tribunal held that the VACFSS failed to adequately respond to RR’s needs as an Indigenous mother. RR had a negative experience in her interactions with VACFSS because of her Indigeneity and trauma and these impacts led to conflicts with VACFSS. RR did not understand or accept the child protection concerns that VACFSS had and lost trust that VACFSS was working toward returning her children to her in good faith, so resisted. The Tribunal recognized that in these circumstances, Indigenous families sometimes respond by retreating and giving up. RR instead chose resistance. And this resistance “required a human rights response.” Instead, VACFSS “wrongly conflated RR’s resistance with her ability to safely parent her children.” The Tribunal recognized that this pattern was not new and was reflective of the way the state-sanctioned system treated parents in the context of residential schools. It’s a continuing discriminatory trend in the child protection system.
Lastly, the Tribunal Held that VACFSS’s were not reasonable or justified.
In deciding to award RR $150,000 for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect, the Tribunal stated as follows:
Throughout this time, RR was excluded from key parts of her children’s young lives, including their education. She did not see any report cards, she did not get them dressed for picture day, or see a class photo. She was alienated from their school, whose administrators were told at various points to phone the police if she was seen at the school. She was given little information about their lives, which stoked her worst fears. She learned about many significant things that happened to her children, including the level of violence and dysregulation they were experiencing in the Hollyburn residence, for the first time in this hearing.
The Tribunal also reminded child protection agencies of the great responsibility that comes with their power:
As I have explained, the power that VACFSS exercises as a child protection agency is almost unparalleled in Canadian society: the power to take a person’s children based on an allegation. With such power comes a grave responsibility to exercise its duties free of discrimination. As this case demonstrates, the consequences for failing in that responsibility could not be more severe – for the parent and for the child. In my view, the extraordinary power that VACFSS exercises within its mandate is a factor which weighs in favour of a higher award.
Some of RR’s feelings were described by the tribunal as follows:
RR was pushed to the brink of hope: “It’s hard to even have hope when you don’t have your children with you. It’s hard to even want to live anymore when you don’t have your kids”. She felt labelled as “another single mother drunk Indian that’s basically disposable” and who would “end up giving up for her kids”. She described the feeling of “so many different fresh workers coming on and they all have an opinion about me”. By the end of the period in the complaint, she says:
I was emotionally, mentally, and physically and emotionally, just exhausted. Like I felt like I was under water and VACFSS is sitting here on a rowboat, and sitting here watching me drown and not even helping me and I’m swimming and trying to catch a breath and trying to breathe. And I’m not getting any help, or … support. I felt like I was drowning.
The injury to dignity award was the second highest ever awarded at the BC Human Rights Tribunal. The Tribunal decided it should be high because the complaint was unprecedented, and it exposed systemic forces of discrimination and their profound impacts on an Indigenous mother.
The Tribunal also ordered VACFSS pay RR $5,000 as costs for improper conduct because it disclosed critical documents late and its former counsel briefed a witness on the evidence of other witnesses who testified before them.
According to the decision, Complainant Craig MacLean requested that Respondent Black Card Books pay for ASL interpreters to accompany him to a three-day workshop in October, 2018 in Vancouver, BC regarding writing and publishing books. The bookstore declined. It suggested that the complainant bring his own interpreters and provided the complainant with the workshop materials in print format. Mr. MacLean attended the workshop without interpreters. He was not able to understand the presentations or communicate with other participants.
In British Columbia, persons with characteristics listed in the BC Human Rights Code(including physical disability) are protected from discrimination when they are accessing publicly available services. To make out a complaint regarding services successfully, complainants must show that they have a protected characteristic, that they experienced a negative impact in relation to the services, and that there was a connection between their protected characteristic and the negative impact. Once this is proven, the respondent needs to justify the impact to avoid a finding against them.
In this case, the complainant showed that there was a connection between his disabilities and his adverse experience at the workshop. He cannot hear and he has a small range of vision within which he can see things up close. To communicate in person, he requires ASL interpretation. Usually he has two interpreters sit close to him to communicate. He did not have the interpreters at the workshop and so was not able to understand the material or communicate. He arrived in what seemed like a large dark room where there were around 100 attendees. This made the room difficult for him to navigate visually. He felt excluded and disheartened.
In finding that Mr. MacLean experienced an adverse impact, the tribunal noted the following at paragraph 22:
As the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized, “the disadvantage experienced by deaf persons derives largely from barriers to communication with the hearing population”: Eldridge v. British Columbia (Attorney General),  3 SCR 624 at para. 57. To enjoy equal access to public services, a DeafBlind person may require that information be communicated in a different way than for people who are not DeafBlind. This principle is at the heart of human rights legislation, which is intended to examine “the way institutions and relations must be changed in order to make them available, accessible, meaningful and rewarding for the many diverse groups of which our society is composed”
Once the Tribunal found that the complaint experienced an adverse impact in connection with his disabilities, the Respondent Black Card Books needed to demonstrate that it did everything necessary and practical to accommodate Mr. MacLean and anything more would have amounted to undue hardship. Black Card Books was unsuccessful. When the complainant initially asked for interpreters and the respondent told him he could arrange his own, he offered to send the respondent an invoice. The respondent would not agree to pay. They said they would not pay because the event was free. It should be noted that the respondent’s purpose for putting on the event was largely to entice attendees into buying their publishing program, which cost around $35,000. It only made one sale at the event, which according to the respondent witness’s testimony, did not cover the costs of putting on the event.
In considering whether the respondent proved undue hardship, the tribunal held at paragraph 27 that the issue is not whether an accommodation costs money. Usually accommodations cost money. It will always seem cheaper to maintain the status quo. The question is whether the cost is undue, considering factors like the respondents’ size, economic conditions, and available funds. The Tribunal held the following at paragraph 27:
I accept that paying for ASL interpreters would have increased the cost of putting on the workshop. But that does not end the analysis, because “[i]t will always seem demonstrably cheaper to maintain the status quo and not eliminate a discriminatory barrier”: VIA Rail at para. 225. The Human Rights Code requires service providers to meaningfully assess the cost of a required accommodation before concluding that it is too expensive. “Impressionistic evidence of increased expense” is not enough: Eldridge at para. 41. Ultimately, the issue is not whether an accommodation costs money – it often does – but whether that cost is undue, considering factors like the respondent’s size, economic conditions, and available funds: Dunkley v. University of British Columbia, 2015 BCHRT 100 at para. 427
The Respondent did not demonstrate that the cost was undue because it did not investigate whether it could afford the cost before refusing to pay it. The store did not make inquiries about what ASL interpreters would be available in Vancouver, how much they would cost, and how that would affect their event budget and the company’s overall financial situation. Further, the offer of allowing the complainant to bring his own interpreters was not reasonable because it put the entire burden of accommodation on the complainant. This would require the complainant to “assimilate into a service that was not designed for him, rather than requiring the service to adapt to meet everyone’s needs.” That would be inconsistent with the purposes of the Human Rights Code, which is meant to ensure that services are inclusive and accessible.
After finding that discrimination occurred, the Tribunal decided to award the complainant $2,500 as compensation for injury to his dignity, feelings, and self-respect. The tribunal also ordered that the respondent provide the complainant the opportunity to participate in the workshop with the interpretation services of his choice.
The Respondent housing co-op did not deny the presence of mould in the unit, but denied discriminating.
The complainant had advised the co-op that there was mould in her bathroom which was effecting her health. The co-op hired a company to investigate and the company found that there was a small amount of mould in the townhouse. It made recommendations regarding what had to be done to prevent mould from continue to grow. The complainant hired another company to inspect the air afterwards and that company found a “significant presence of mould and the high potential for health issues in correlation with long term exposure.” The complainant was subsequently diagnosed with a mould allergy. The doctors who saw her found that she had rhinosinusitis, sensitization to mould, hypersensitized airways, and allergy to mould. These were caused by the mould inside her home.
The co-op attempted renovations to remove the mould; however, the tribunal considered them inadequate and not done in a timely enough manner.
The tribunal held that the rhinosinusitis, sensitization to mould, hypersensitized airways, and allergy to mould were disabilities covered under the BC Human Rights Code. The tribunal also held that the mould exacerbated her disability, which was considered an adverse impact.
Regarding whether the mould was related to the disability, the tribunal held as follows:
 Overall, I find the medical evidence shows Ms. Cameron’s disability is related to the mould in her home and that the mould exacerbated her disability. Dr. Stepaniuk’s comment does not dissuade me given the other doctors arrive at a different conclusion. While there is not enough evidence to show the mould caused her disability, I am persuaded that nexus has been established because the medical evidence shows the mould contributes to her disability symptoms.
Regarding the connection with her disability, the tribunal also held the following:
 However, I find Burrardview indirectly discriminated against Ms. Cameron when she reported in 2016 that her health was being affected by the mould and Burrardview did not act, but acted in 2017 when another unit complained of mould. I find the nexus is proven between the differential treatment and her disability.
The Tribunal also held that the housing co-op failed to accommodate the complainant’s disability, stating as follows:
 This situation has turned into a battle of mould inspection reports. Ms. Cameron does not trust Burrardview or its experts. The experts she retains produced different results than Burrardview’s experts. I cannot conclude the final Metro report and final remediation is the last reasonable and practical step that Burrardview has taken to the point of undue hardship. Given that Ms. Cameron gave evidence that the problem returned, at the very least, there should be some follow up on that, and there is no evidence of Burrardview addressing this.
 I find Burrardview has not taken all reasonable and practical steps to accommodate Ms. Cameron to the point of undue hardship and has not discharged its duty to accommodate.
It ordered that the respondent pay for some of the expenses the complainant incurred in relation to retaining the reports. It also ordered the co-op pay the complainant $20,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self respect.
In a decision issued on July 29, 2022, LaFleche v. NLFD Auto dba Prince George Ford (No. 2), 2022 BCHRT 88, the BC Human Rights Tribunal held that an employee of NLFD Auto dba Prince George Ford experienced work-related disadvantage due to her pregnancy and family status. This constitutes sex discrimination in accordance with human rights law in BC.
Tribunal Member Amber Prince introduced the tribunal decision with the following paragraph:
For over 30 years the law in Canada is clear: a pregnancy should not lead to work‐ related disadvantages: Brooks v. Canada Safeway Ltd.,  1 SCR 1219 [Brooks]. Discrimination based on pregnancy undermines substantive equality along gendered lines. In this case, Mellissa LaFleche suffered a work‐related disadvantage because she was pregnant. She filed a complaint to this Tribunal seeking redress.
According to the decision, the complainant employee started working at Prince George Ford in 2015. She became a marketing manager around December 2016. She went on maternity leave in May, 2018, during the later stages of her pregnancy. The complainant asserted she was terminated from her employment while on maternity leave. The respondent asserted that she could have returned to work, but abandoned her position. The tribunal held that she was removed from her marketing manager position while on leave, and; thus, she was constructively dismissed. As such, Prince George Ford discriminated against her as her employer based on her sex and family status contrary to section 13 of the BC Human Rights Code.
The tribunal held that someone was hired expressly and temporarily to fill the complainant’s position while she was on maternity leave. The Complainant had a meeting with representatives of Prince George Ford while on leave. The meeting led her do believe that her job duties were being changed as a result of her absence to such an extent that she was being constructively dismissed. One of the main factors leading to this conclusion was that the employee previously hired to covered the maternity leave was set to stay on permanently in the role.
The tribunal held that the complainant experienced an adverse impact in the complainant’s employment for the following reasons:
She was removed from her marketing manager position;
She was humiliated during the meeting where she was told her duties would change;
She was constructively dismissed.
The complainant did not do anything to try and return to work after she was given the impression that her duties were being changed; however, according to the tribunal, it was not her job to:
 It was not Ms. LaFleche’s responsibility to mitigate the position Ford unilaterally put her in: an atmosphere of humiliation from being removed from her marketing manager position; a reasonable perception that Ford did not really welcome back; and an uncertainty of what position if any she would return to at Ford: Evans v. Teamsters Local Union No. 31, 2008 SCC 20 (CanLII),  1 SCR 661 at para. 30, cited with approval in Morgan‐Hung v. Provincial Health Services and others (No. 4), 2009 BCHRT 371 [Morgan‐Hung] at paras. 464‐465.
 The adverse impacts that flowed to Ms. LaFleche, as a result of not being returned to her marketing manager position lay at Ford’s feet: Morgan‐Hung at para. 463.
After finding that discrimination occurred, the Tribunal considered remedies. It awarded the complainant $12,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect. It awarded over $66,000 in lost wages after reducing the award by the amount that her employment standards act complaint settled for. This covered a period of time that she was not able to work or find work and that she missed out on maternity and parental leave EI benefits while parenting her second child.
In a decision issued on June 1, 2022, Martin v. Grapevine Optical and another (No. 2), 2022 BCHRT 76, Tribunal Member Devyn Cousineau held that employer Grapevine Optical in Oliver, British Columbia, discriminated against the complainant optician/store manager by terminating her employment one month after her husband quit. Before quitting, the Complainant Mrs. Martin’s husband Mr. Martin had an altercation with the owner of the store. After quitting, he filed a WorkSafeBC claim. Under the BC Human Rights Code, it is discrimination for an employer to refuse to continue to employ someone due to their marital status.
For the first 8 years that the complainant worked at Grapevine Optical, she had a good relationship with the store owner. She planned to work at the store in the long term and potentially buy and take over the business one day. She started working there in 2008. In 2016, her husband was hired to work at the store to relieve her of some of the burden of her workload. This worked okay until around June, 2019.
On or around June 10, 2019, the store owner and the complainant had a disagreement over a sign that was going to be changed at the store. It was a heated exchange. When the complainant went to leave the store with her husband at the end of the day, she said goodbye to the store owner. The store owner did not respond. Her husband made a remark to the store owner about not responding to his wife. The store owner followed the Martins out of the store and onto the street, where he confronted them. The store owner and Mr. Martin were yelling and angry at eachother. Angry words were exchanged. The Martins then left and went home. Mr. Martin filed a worksafeBC complaint for bullying and harassment.
Mrs. Martin attended work the next day and told the store owner that her husband would not be returning. The relationship between Mrs. Martin and the store owner became strained. On July 10, 2019, the store owner and Mrs. Martin had a conversation where the store owner told her he would be taking over all management duties that she previously did. There was disagreement between the parties about whether the complainant quit during the conversation because she asked to be let go, or was fired. The Tribunal found the following about this:
 Mr. Fellnermayr says he asked Mrs. Martin twice if she was quitting and she said yes – a claim which she fervently denies. I accept Mrs. Martin’s evidence that she would not have quit her job, which she was relying on to feed her family. At the same time, it is apparent that Mr. Fellnermayr had not completely thought through the natural consequences of his actions. He wanted to reassert control over his workplace by stripping Mrs. Martin of most of her essential job duties. Whether he intended it or not, this amounted to the termination of her employment. When she accurately perceived what was happening, he made no efforts to reverse or correct what was happening. Instead, he blamed – and continues to blame – her.
According to the Tribunal, the Respondent was also estopped from arguing that Mrs. Martin quit her job because the Employment Standards Branch already had an oral hearing and determined that Mrs. Martin was fired from her job further to a complaint made under the Employment Standards Act.
Overall, the tribunal stated the following about the discriminatory nexus between Mrs. Martin’s termination and her marital status:
 I accept that Mr. Fellnermayr was increasingly unhappy with the dynamic in the workplace and that some of the above issues were factors in that unhappiness. However, I do not accept that these issues amount to a complete explanation for why he suddenly decided to remove all of Mrs. Martin’s managerial responsibilities and terminate her employment. They had worked together successfully for years, and he relied on her heavily. He never took any steps to correct the behaviour before the incident with Mr. Martin. In my view, the factor that pushed Mr. Fellnermayr to take this extreme step was that he perceived he could no longer trust Mrs. Martin because of what had happened with her husband and the subsequent decline in their relationship. This perception was not based on Mrs. Martin’s behaviour at work in the month after the incident, but arose because of her relationship with her husband. The “final word” in Mr. Fellnermayr’s written submission reveals the event which marked the beginning of the end: “OMG!!! We were changing a sign. How did that get so wild and crazy?” The heated discussion about the sign led to Mr. Fellnermayr not saying goodbye to Mrs. Martin, which led to Mr. Martin making his sarcastic comment, which led to Mr. Fellnermayr following them out onto the street, which led to a shouting match and the end of Mr. Martin’s employment. Mrs. Martin kept coming to work, and doing her job as she had before. But in Mr. Fellnermayr’s mind, this altercation triggered the ultimate decline in a previously positive working relationship, and led to the end of Mrs. Martin’s employment.
 Mr. Fellnermayr’s conduct after the termination supports that he viewed at least part of the problem to stem from the fact that he had hired spouses to work for him. This prompted him to implement a new policy prohibiting the hiring of spouses. This supports an inference that Mrs. Martin’s marriage to Mr. Martin was a factor in her termination.
The tribunal decided to award the Complainant wage loss. It declined to award lost wages to the date of the hearing, but award lost wages for the period between July 10, 2019 when the complainant was fired and December 31, 2020 when she started working part-time at a coffee shop, for a total of $50,836.53. The tribunal also awarded $20,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.
Complainant Suzana Kalyn had a history of making two prior human rights complaints against VIHA, and the tribunal noted at paragraphs 24 and 116 that her decision to do so was not made lightly. Her first complaint against VIHA was for terminating from her position in a male-dominated department due to her “gossiping” and generally being tenacious in raising concerns about discrimination regarding herself and other women (the “First Complaint”). In a decision issued on October 9, 2008, the Tribunal found that Ms. Kalyn’s sex (her identity as a female) was a factor in her termination. It ordered that her position as a protection services officer team leader be reinstated.
Ms. Kalyn made another complaint in the Human Rights Tribunal about VIHA reorganizing and changing her position in 2015 (the “Second Complaint”). Not much information about the Second Complaint is publicly available, as it was ultimately settled.
Ms. Kalyn continued working for VIHA. She oversaw dozens of protection services officers in the south island region. Since her return following the First Complaint, she wanted to advance in VIHA. She sought mentorship and was told that most people moving forward in management roles had Master’s degrees. So she obtained one from Royal Roads University in Health Leadership in 2014. Subsequently in 2014, she applied for a position posting at VIHA titled “Manager, Protection Services.” She was interviewed; however, she did not get the job. It was awarded to a man.
She later applied for 12-14 more positions with Island Health that she was not awarded. Island Health argued that it was because she was not qualified.
In November, 2018, the man who was previously awarded the position of “Manager, protection Services” in 2014 vacated the position. Ms. Kalyn applied. She met all of the qualifications for the position. The Executive Director had Ms. Kalyn and her colleague, who was also a team leader, share the responsibilities of the position while the hiring process was conducted. Both she and her colleague applied. He was a man who did not have a Master’s degree. He was ultimately awarded the position. The job posting required a Master’s degree or “equivalent” experience. VIHA argued that the colleague had equivalent experience. Ms. Kalyn argued that he did not.
Ms. Kalyn and two other applicants, including her colleague, participated in interviews. The interview panel ranked Ms. Kalyn’s performance last out of the three.
The Tribunal held the following about job interviews at para 95:
Interview and hiring processes always carry a degree of subjectivity, and as such are ripe for unconsciously biased decision making that can favour certain types of applicants over others. Ageism and sexism are two commonly held biases, as is the bias that tends to associate white, cisgender, men with strong leadership. While it may not be realistically possible to completely eliminate biases from a hiring process, there are ways to mitigate their potential impact – a number of which were employed in the hiring process at issue here.
The Tribunal summarized its findings as follows:
 I understand why Mrs. Kalyn believes that discrimination was a factor in the decision. She has worked hard to improve her qualifications and advance within the organization. The Position at issue in this complaint is perhaps the management role she is best qualified for, and she was humiliated when it was awarded to her younger male colleague. In light of her history with Island Health, and feeling that her advancement has not been supported, she reached the conclusion that this was another manifestation of discrimination in her employment.
 However, viewing the evidence as a whole, I am not satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that Mrs. Kalyn has proved that her age and/or sex were a factor in the decision – consciously or unconsciously. I accept Island Health’s non‐discriminatory explanation as a complete explanation for the decision to prefer Mr. L and Mr. Clarke over Mrs. Kalyn. The allegation of discrimination is dismissed.
In a decision issued on February 16, 2018, the BC Human Rights Tribunal held that an employee was discriminated against when his employer terminated his employment following absenteeism due to his depression and anxiety (considered mental disabilities per the BC Human Rights Code).
The Complainant was a shop helper employee in the fabrication department of the Respondent employer Axton Inc, a global heavy industry manufacturing company. Soon after he started working there in 2019, he began missing work due to his depression and anxiety. He was reluctant to disclose this to the employer due to the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. When he became completely disabled from working for a period, he decided to disclose the depression and anxiety. Rather than inquiring into whether he had a mental health condition disabling him from working and accommodating that condition, the employer terminated his employment.
Axton argued that it terminated the Complainant’s employment before it knew or reasonably ought to have known that he had a mental disability. Alternatively, it argued that it accommodated his disability to the point of undue hardship.
The Complainant was 34-years-old at the time of the hearing. He had suffered experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety for most of his life. Following a significant personal loss in 2017, he was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive disorder and treated for same starting in 2018.
The Complainant started work in February, 2019. He began leaving work early and missing work soon after that. There were occasions when he did not call in to the workplace to report his absence because of his anxiety and depression symptoms and trying to find a tactful way to explain it. His last day of work was in March, 2019. His anxiety and depression symptoms made him unable to continue attending. He had only mentioned “personal issues” to the employer before that. He had not yet disclosed his disabilities.
A couple of weeks after the Complainant’s last day attending work, the employer sent the Complainant an email asking how he was doing because they had not yet heard from him. The Complainant called a representative for the employer later that day and explained that he was dealing with mental health issues. The Complainant later sent an email confirming that he was dealing with mental issues and did not know when he could return to work, but that he liked his job and wanted to return.
The employer later terminated the Complainant’s employment without making further inquiries about whether he might be experiences issues relating to a mental disability.
The Tribunal held that there was a nexus between the Complainant’s disability and the adverse impact he experienced (job termination) because he was terminated due to absenteeism and the absenteeism was mostly due to the disability. Discrimination was thus established.
The Complainant was awarded $75 for the cost of his steel toed boots that were left at the workplace and not returned to him. In awarding the Complainant $20,000 in compensation for injury to his dignity, feelings, and self-respect, the Tribunal recognized at paragraph 115 that termination is considered the “ultimate employment-related consequence” and that the loss of employment warrants compensation at the high-end of the range.
The Complainant had gone on EI sickness benefits from the time of termination to August, 2019 and then started to look for work in September 2019 before starting a new job in October, 2019. The Tribunal awarded him lost wages for the 4 weeks that he spent looking for work as well as for the difference between incomes at the two jobs for a period of one week. The total wage loss awarded was $2,962.50.
The Tribunal also ordered that the employer take remedial steps regarding the discrimination and pay the Complainant costs in the amount of $250.
The BC Government Website has their own summary of where and when the orders apply here. It is only a summary. The website is not the law itself. This post offers information on what is stated in the orders. It is only legal information and should not be taken as advice.
General Organization of the Orders
Service providers and unvaccinated potential service users are likely to be confused about exactly who can attend what facilities and services, when. The government announcement on August 23, 2021 framed the vaccination passports as being required primarily at “non-essential” services. However, the orders are framed differently. One order applies to post-secondary housing (the “Post-Secondary Housing Vaccine Order”), the second to food and liquor service premises (the “Food and Liquor Services Vaccine Order”), and the third to “gatherings and events” (the “Gatherings and Events Vaccine Order”). Together, I will call these the “Orders.”
Determining whether one of these orders applies, from a strictly legal standpoint, is not so much about determining whether the service is essential or non-essential. With respect to the third order, the determination is about whether the service constitutes an event or gathering covered by the order.
Who the Orders do not Apply to
The orders do not apply to people who are under 12-years of age.
These three orders do not require employees/staff to have a vaccine passport (unless, for example, the staff member attends a restaurant as a patron, or a faculty member lives in university housing). They are directed at residents who reside in post-secondary housing, patrons of food and liquor serving premises, and persons who attend “events” as participants.
However, note that there are two other provincial health officer orders (here and here) that do require proof of vaccination for health care workers in long term care and assisted living facilities, private hospitals, and provincial mental health facilities. Those two orders do not specifically provide for disability accommodations on human rights grounds, although human rights protections may still exist.
As per the definition of “post-secondary housing” in the order, “family or apartment housing” for students is not included. As such, it seems that the Post-Secondary Housing Vaccine Order is mainly meant to target dorms rather than family on-campus housing and apartments.
Food and Liquor Services Exceptions
The Food and Liquor Services Vaccine Order applies to food establishments that have table service/patron seating. Restaurants (including buffets) and cafes with table service are included. Food primary or liquor primary establishments such as pubs, bars, lounges, night clubs, private clubs, and liquor manufacturing facilities with tasting rooms or private seating are included.
According to the preamble of the Food and Liquor Services Vaccine Order, paragraph M, it does not apply to:
Gatherings and Events Applicability
The Gatherings and Events Vaccine Order mandates proof of vaccination for participants in certain indoor “places” where “events” are held.
A “place” is defined in the order as a venue, including the following places (but not including a “private residence”):
**vacation accommodation is defined in the order as: a house, townhouse, cottage, cabin, apartment, condominium, mobile home, recreational vehicle, hotel suite, tent, yurt, houseboat or any other type of living accommodation, and any associated deck, garden or yard, in which a person is residing, but which is not the person’s primary residence.
Applicable Event Purposes
The Gatherings and Events Vaccine Order defines “event” so that the order only applies to activities happening at places for the following Applicable Event Purposes:
For some clarity, the definition of “event” in the vaccine card portion of the order stipulates that the following event types constitute events held for the Applicable Event Purposes:
a ticketed sports activity, concert, theatrical production, dance or symphony performance, festival, conference, convention, trade fair, home show, workshop, wedding reception, funeral reception not at a funeral home, and a sponsored, ticketed party
Number of Participants Involved
When it comes to having to provide proof of vaccination, the Gatherings and Events Order only applies to “gatherings” of participants in the activity. Exactly what “gathering” means is not set out in the order, but, presumably, there would need to be more that one participant involved in the activity for it to constitute a gathering.
As described above, when the event constitutes a gathering of 50 or less people and is not for the purpose of “an adult sports activity” or “an exercise, fitness or dance activity or class,” the Gatherings and Events Order does not apply.
Inside v. Outside
As per section D. 2. of the order, proof of vaccination applies only to activities occurring inside. Per section A.2. of the order, an event held in a tent with two or more sides is an inside event, and per section A.3., an event held in a tent without sides is an outside event. It’s unclear whether the definitions regarding tents and inside and outside events apply to the proof of vaccination section of the order. Either way, for proof of vaccination requirements to apply, the activity needs to be happening inside.
The Gatherings and Events Vaccine Order includes a specific list of who and what activities it is not meant to apply to in the preamble at paragraph L. The specific exceptions are as follows:
Taken together, the following checklist describes the conditions that need to be met for the Gatherings and Events Vaccine Order to be applicable:
If any of the conditions of the checklist are not met, the Gatherings and Events Vaccine Order likely does not apply.
The law regarding BC’s COVID-19 vaccination passport and entry into various establishments in the province was published today. This post discusses the publication of the relevant orders, their lack of human rights (disability) accommodations, the issue of whether they prevail over the discrimination protections set out in the Human Rights Code, their relationship with the Charter, and the protections available to service providers who follow them. Activities that are not covered by the orders will be set out in a later post.
Further to my post of August 23, 2021 and in line with what Dr. Henry stated at the press conference regarding the anticipated Orders on August 23, 2021, the Orders do not provide exemptions for people who cannot get vaccinated or provide proof of vaccination for medical reasons. The only people who the orders make exemptions for are those under 12 years of age. This means that the orders will conflict with the BC Human Rights Code, which prohibits discrimination and requires service providers to accommodate people with disabilities to the greatest extent possible. The orders also conflict with the guidance of BC’s Human Rights Commissioner, who released a policy guidance document in July, 2021 affirming that service providers must seek to accommodate people who are unable to get vaccinated on the grounds of their BC Human Rights Code protected characteristics (disability, religion, family status, etc.).
Though there is not specific provision for disability accommodations in the Orders, there is mention that persons who want to avoid complying with the Orders can ask the Provincial Health Officer (Dr. Bonnie Henry) directly for reconsideration of the Orders applying to them. The process is set out in section 43 of the Public Health Act as follows:
The manner of making requests is set out by the Provincial Health Officer as follows:
As such, the Order can only be varied in relation to certain individuals in a limited set of circumstances, when a request is made to the Provincial Health Officer with documentation from a medical practitioner that the health of a person would be “seriously jeopardized” if the person were to receive the vaccine, as well as the person’s relevant medical records. And consideration of these requests is discretionary; there’s no guarantee for an exemption even with the required medical documentation.
Do the Orders Prevail Over the Human Rights Code?
There is uncertainty surrounding whether service providers who are in breach of the Human Rights Code due to acting in accordance with the Public Health Officer orders will be shielded from liability for discrimination. On the one hand, there are Public Health Act provisions meant to protect those who are following the Orders from legal and other adverse action. However, at the same time, there is a paramountcy provision in the Human Rights Code stipulating that if there is a conflict between the Human Rights Code and another enactment (such as the Public Health Act), the Human Rights Code prevails.
Public Health Act Provisions Regarding Immunity from Legal Proceedings
The provisions of the Public Health Act that give immunity to service providers responsible for the vaccine passport screening are as follows:
As such, it may be that service providers acting in accordance with the order but contrary to the Human Rights Code cannot have a human rights complaint brought against them successfully UNLESS they are acting in bad faith. It is a high threshold for finding bad faith conduct and it would need to involve something uniquely egregious.
However, sections 92 and 93 of the Public Health Act may also be read narrowly so that they only capture court actions (for example in tort or contract) for damages, but not human rights complaints brought in the BC Human Rights Tribunal. Or the provisions could be interpreted so that they allow a complainant to successfully bring a human rights complaint, but not be entitled to any damages.
Further uncertainty comes with analyzing the Public Health Act provisions in the context of the Human Rights Code‘s paramountcy provision, and that is discussed further, below.
Additional Public Health Act Protection from Adverse Action for Service Providers
In addition to being shielded from legal proceedings, potentially including human rights complaints, service providers acting in accordance with the orders are also generally shielded from any “adverse action,” which is defined as “an action that would adversely affect, or that threatens to adversely affect, the personal, financial or other interests of a person, or a relative, dependent, friend or business or other close associate of that person, and includes any prescribed action.” This means that if someone feels aggrieved by a service provider carrying out an order and so attempts to take adverse action against that service provider in some way, they’re potentially contravening the Public Health Act section 94. One such contravention might include the recent rumours that opponents of the vaccination passports plan to call restaurants carrying out the order and make fake take out orders to harm the businesses.
It is possible that this provision may also be interpreted as preventing potential complainants from successfully bringing a complaint under the BC Human Rights Code, because doing so could potentially be interpreted as an “adverse action.” However, it does not appear that the intention of this provision was to capture human rights complaints, and this section of the Public Health Act is so broad that it may potentially be unconstitutional. And again, further uncertainty comes with analyzing the Public Health Act provisions in the context of the Human Rights Code‘s paramountcy provision, and that is discussed further, below
As per section 99 of the Public Health Act, contraventions of section 94 are an offence. Section 99 offences can come with alternative penalties under section 107 such as paying a person compensation and/or, additionally under section 108 of the Public Health Act, a fine of up to $25,000, imprisonment of up to 6 months, or both.
No Mention of Human Rights Code in Events and Gatherings Order
Interestingly, there is no mention of the BC Human Rights Code in the third order regarding events and gatherings. In contrast, the other two Provincial Health Officer orders regarding food and liquor establishments and university housing have included a provision in their preamble regarding the Provincial Health Officer’s consideration of the Human Rights Code. For example, in the preamble to the order regarding vaccine passports at university housing, the following is stated about the Human Rights Code:
O. In addition, I recognize the interests protected by the Human Rights Code, and have taken these into consideration when exercising my powers to protect the health interests of residents, staff and faculty at post-secondary institutions;
Human Rights Code Paramountcy Provision
Although there is no mention of the Human Rights Code in one of the Orders, the code still generally applies when someone experiences an adverse effect (such as being denied entry to a venue) as a result of their disability not being accommodated by a service provider.
The Public Health Act sections potentially shielding service providers from human rights code liability for discrimination, or having to pay damages for discrimination, must be read and analyzed with reference to section 4 of the Human Rights Code, which stipulates as follows:
4 If there is a conflict between this Code and any other enactment, this Code prevails.
Given this section of the Human Rights Code, a complainant could argue before the Human Rights Tribunal that although the Orders mandate vaccination cards without any reasonable exemption to accommodate for disability, this conflicts with the Human Rights Code, which requires accommodation. Per section 4 of the Human Rights Code, the code, with it’s accommodation requirements, prevails.
Further, a complainant could also potentially argue before the Human Rights Tribunal that although the Public Health Act provides immunity from legal proceedings for damages and protection from adverse actions to service providers when they follow the Orders, this conflicts with the Human Rights Code, which allows complainants to bring a human rights complaint, for damages, when they have been discriminated against. Per section 4 of the Human Rights Code, the prevailing provisions are those of the Human Rights Code that allow a complainant to bring a human rights complaint for damages.
Constitution/Charter of Rights and Freedoms Consideration
All three of the recent orders regarding vaccination passports do include a provision regarding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I often hear people bringing up the issue of these types of orders violating their charter rights and therefore being of no force and effect. That is not necessarily true. Under Canada’s Charter, it is possible for law to violate constitutionally protected rights, but in a way that is considered justified per the Charter. And so in that case, a court considering a Charter challenge can uphold a law even though it was considered unconstitutional, because the Court finds this justified under the Charter. The Orders bring up this issue by stating as follows in their preambles:
I further recognize that constitutionally-protected interests include the rights and freedomsguaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the right to life, liberty and security of the person, along with freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. These rights and freedoms are not, however, absolute and are subject toreasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.These limits include proportionate, precautionary and evidence-based restrictions to prevent loss oflife, serious illness and disruption of our health system and society. When exercising my powers toprotect the health of the public from the risks posed by COVID-19, I am aware of my obligation tochoose measures that limit the Charter rights and freedoms of British Columbians less intrusively,where doing so is consistent with public health principles;
Activities Not Covered By the Orders
Service providers and unvaccinated potential service users are likely to be confused about exactly who can attend what facilities and services, when. The government announcement on August 23, 2021 framed the vaccination passports as being required primarily at “non-essential” services. However, the orders are framed differently. One order applies to university housing, the second to food and liquor service premises, and the third to “gatherings and events.”
I plan on discussing what is not covered by the Orders in a separate post, which will follow.