BC previously warned that “birth alert” system disproportionately affecting Indigenous parents was “illegal and unconstitutional”

“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,”

https://indiginews.com/vancouver-island/birth-alerts

On May 6, 2019, the BC Attorney General’s office sent a memo to the MCFD confirming that:

“the use of hospital alerts, and other activities involving the disclosure of information without the consent of expectant parents is both illegal and unconstitutional.”

https://indiginews.com/vancouver-island/birth-alerts

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.

 

Human Rights Tribunal Finds Disability Discrimination by Housing Co-Op Inadequately Addressing Mould, Awards Complainant Over $20,000

In a decision issued on June 1, 2022, Cameron v. Burrardview Housing Co-operative (No. 3), 2022 BCHRT 74, BC Human Rights Tribunal Member Grace Chen held that a housing co-operative discriminated against a member resident when it failed to adequately address issues of moisture and mould that exacerbated the resident’s physical disability. This was physical disability discrimination in services under section 8 of the BC Human Rights Code.

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:

[99] 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:

[104] 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:

[137] 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. 

[138] 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.

Human Rights Tribunal Finds Employee Subjected to Work-Related Disadvantage due to Pregnancy, Orders Employer Pay Over $78,000

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., [1989] 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:

  1. She was removed from her marketing manager position;
  2. She was humiliated during the meeting where she was told her duties would change;
  3. 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:

[58] 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), [2008] 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. 

[59] 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.

Human Rights Tribunal Finds Marital Status Discrimination Against Employer who Fired Former Employee’s Wife, Awards Compensation Over $70,000

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:

[42] 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:

[59] 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.

[60] 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.

BC Human Rights Tribunal Dismisses Employee’s Sex Discrimination Complaint Against VIHA

In a decision issued by British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal Member Devyn Cousineau on March 1, 2022 following a three-day hearing from December 6-9, 2021, an employee’s sex discrimination complaint against the Vancouver Island Health Authority (“VIHA”) was dismissed.

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:

[104] 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. 

[105] 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.

Human Rights Tribunal Awards Employee Over $23K Following Employer Termination Due to Mental Health Absenteeism

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.

Disability Accommodations and the Limits of the COVID-19 Vaccine Card Orders

Will service providers bear a duty to accommodate people unable to get vaccinated due to their disabilities? The uncertainty surrounding the question is discussed in my post regarding the lack of accommodation for unvaccinated people with disabilities in the new public health orders requiring proof of vaccination. It may depend on whether the mandatory vaccination card orders apply. This post provides information on the limits of the orders’ applicability.

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.

Post-Secondary Housing Exceptions

The order regarding vaccine card requirements in post-secondary housing applies to most student housing at universities and colleges in British Columbia.

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.

Applicable Places

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.

Specific Exceptions

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:

Summary Checklist

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.

Do the BC COVID-19 Vaccination Passport Orders Prevail Over Human Rights Legislation Requiring Disability Accommodation?

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.

Publication of the Orders

While BC Premier John Horgan, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the upcoming provincial health order(s) on August 23, 2021, the law itself was not published here on the BC Office of the Provincial Health Officer website until yesterday evening and this morning. The Provincial Health Officer Order regarding post-secondary institution housing and the COVID-19 vaccine cards is dated September 9, 2021 but was published yesterday evening. The Provincial Health Officer Orders regarding the COVID-19 vaccine passport and food and liquor serving premises is dated yesterday September 10, 2021 but was published today, and the Order regarding COVID-19 vaccination passports and “gatherings and events” is also dated yesterday but was published this morning. In this post, I will call all three of these, taken together, the “Orders.”

Lack of Human Rights (Disability) Accommodations

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.).

The orders are more restrictive than the current order regarding face coverings in indoor spaces, which does include human rights exemptions for people with disabilities, as follows:

Requests to Reconsider Order

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:

Code prevails

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 freedoms guaranteed 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 to reasonable 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 of life, serious illness and disruption of our health system and society. When exercising my powers to protect the health of the public from the risks posed by COVID-19, I am aware of my obligation to choose 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.

BC Cruise Ship Worker Awarded Damages Over $33,000 by Human Rights Tribunal Following Sexual Assault

**trigger warning – discussion of sexual assault**

In a decision issued by BC Human Rights Tribunal Member Emily Ohler today, it was held that a cruise ship carpet installer was discriminated against contrary to the BC Human Rights Code when he was sexually assaulted at work by his supervisor.

I’ve had a few people ask me lately about whether sexual assault or sexual harassment constitutes discrimination based on sex. It does! Complainants alleging sexual harassment at the BC Human Rights Tribunal need to prove the following: that the incident was of a sexual nature, that it was unwelcome, and that it detrimentally affected their work environment or led to adverse job-related consequences for them.

As held by the tribunal, the complainant was sexually assaulted by his supervisor while he was asleep in his room before a shift. They worked for a BC-based company installing carpets in cruise ships. During the period in which the assault occurred, the Complainant, the Respondent, and their team were docked in Nicaragua. One day, the Complainant’s roommate was off the ship and the Complainant was excited to be able to push two twin beds together to make a big bed for his nap. He was sleeping and woke to suddenly having the sensation of someone touching his genitals. He then felt the person pull his hand onto their genitals. He realized it was his supervisor. His supervisor had entered his room, got into bed with him, and woke him up with the touching. The supervisor put his head on the Complainant’s shoulder. The Complainant jumped up and left the room. He was stuck on board with his supervisor able to walk freely for the next few days.

This resulted in the Complainant being unable to continue working for the company and being unemployed for around 4 months. As such, he was awarded $8,333 for wage loss. Regarding damages for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect, Tribunal Member Emily Ohler held that the incident fell at the extreme end of the spectrum for this head of damages, since it was a sexual assault by a supervisor. The Complainant was awarded $25,000 damages for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.

The decision was closed with the following at paragraph 45:

As a closing observation, I note that Mr. Ban made the point on various occasions that he was driven to pursue recourse primarily because he views himself as a strong person and recognizes that many other survivors or sexual assault may not be able to endure what the process of pursuing recourse requires. He said that he felt proud of himself for carrying on through the process. In my view, that pride is well earned. It takes courage to file a human rights complaint generally, and more particularly to file one that involves allegations of sexual assault as here. It requires a survivor to revisit a traumatic experience, and to lay that experience out for public view. Male survivors often face a unique stigma that discourages them from coming forward. I acknowledge Mr. Ban’s courage and perseverance.

Vancouver’s Toscani Coffee Bar Ordered to Pay $4,000 for Racial Discrimination in Refusing Service

In a decision issued on February 24, 2021, the BC Human Rights Tribunal held that the owner of Vancouver’s Toscani Coffee Bar discriminated against four complainant patrons based on their race when she refused one of them service and referred to him and his friends as “you Arabs.”

Each of the four complainants had previously immigrated from North Africa to Canada. They speak Arabic and identify as having Arabic ancestry. The coffee shop owner is a woman of colour who was raised in a Muslim family in Indonesia. One of the complainants told the owner’s Italian husband, who also works at the coffee shop, that they were unhappy with her service. The owner felt that a few of the complainants were disrespectful towards her in her own business.

On July 8, 2019, the store owner refused to serve one of the complainants, as she did not desire to serve someone who did not want to be served by her. The owner and complainant then spoke outside. Tribunal Member Devyn Cousineau accepted the complainant’s evidence about the conversation. According to him, the owner said “I don’t want you Arabs here, and you should tell your friends that I don’t want you here. You are not welcome anymore.” The tribunal accepted the owner’s explanation for refusing service as well, stating as follows:

[32] I accept Ms. Conforti’s explanation for why she told Mr. Haouas, Mr. Gharbi and Mr. Ben Maaouia that she would not serve them. She felt they had disrespected her in her own business. She understood that they had talked to others about not wanting her to serve them, and that she was simply granting their wish. She was frustrated that they did not recognize her authority in her own business and went around her to her husband for service or to complain about her. As an immigrant woman of colour raised in a Muslim household, running a business that serves immigrants from all over the world, I accept that Ms. Conforti did not refuse to serve the Complainants because they are Arab.

It was therefore accepted that the owner did not refuse service due to the complainants being Arab. That did not end the matter, however. Discrimination occurred nevertheless because a racial comment was connected to a negative effect on the complainants. The Tribunal held the following about this:

[34] In a discrimination complaint, it is not the respondents’ intention that matters but the effect of their behaviour: Code, s. 2. In this case, the effect of Ms. Conforti’s words was to connect the Complainants’ Arab ancestry to her communication that she would not serve them. The discriminatory words were “spoken at the very same time and place” as she told Mr. Haouas she would not serve him, and they were “inextricably linked” to that communication: Gichuru v. Purewal, 2019 BCSC 484 at para. 484. The effect was discrimination.

For injury to their dignity, feelings, and self-respect, the Tribunal awarded $1,000 to each of the four complainants.

Survivor Stories Project Shares Multiple Accusations of Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Assault Perpetrated by Former Victoria Restaurant Employee

image property of https://vancouverisland.ctvnews.ca/victoria-restaurant-fires-employee-following-allegations-of-sexual-assault-1.5291169

TW: sexual violence

On January 31, 2021, the Survivor Stories Project began sharing multiple stories of anonymous people claiming to have been sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted by a former employee at Chuck’s Burger Bar in Victoria. Thirteen accounts have now been published on the Survivor Stories Project instagram page. The stories allege that the Chuck’s Burger Bar employee acted in a predatory manor, coercing them into becoming highly intoxicated or drugged, or drugging their drinks. According to many of the accounts, the employee would then bring the women to his home and sexually assault them.

Chuck’s Burger Bar has made two posts on it’s social media regarding the allegations and has received many negative comments in response. Most recently, Chuck’s stated publicly that they have terminated the employee.

The Victoria police have also taken to social media to state that they are ready to hear survivors about the alleged assaults.

MacIsaac & Company is currently investigating potential claims regarding this matter.