Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission
From an Infraction-Reaction Paradigm to Proactive Four Pillars Model
Over the past year, the primary objective of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has been to refine its four-pillar approach to address discrimination. The intentional refocusing of the SHRC's priorities, which began in 2012, continues to demonstrate year-over-year improvements in timeliness and efficiency. For example, there was a 133% increase in the use of mediation when compared to the previous year.
At the same time, many of the critical gains have not been statistical. The move away from an infraction-reaction focus also enables relationships with key stakeholders, including municipal leadership, government agencies, and members of legal and educational communities. Working directly with stakeholders who have broad public, and often province-wide, mandates has accelerated change. In turn, the SHRC is creating interest in collaborative and systemic outcomes.
The cornerstones of the SHRC's four pillars model – litigation, mediation, systemic advocacy, and public education – represent the Commission's interest in pursuing best practice restorative justice. The following sections highlight some key outcomes for each of these areas.
Pillar 1 - Litigation
The Commission's vision for its first pillar is that litigation should be pursued when necessary but, at the same time, the path to litigation should not exclude opportunities for alternate resolution. Over the last 2 years, and of the 37 matters have been referred to hearing at the Court of Queen's Bench, only two have gone to trial. More frequently, matters are resolved through directed mediation. Adapted from Manitoba's Directed Mediation, SHRC-directed mediation processes provide parties with another occasion to resolve the complaint outside of the courtroom. In short, few human rights complaints are actually heard by the courts.
However, when complaints do require a hearing the results have been noteworthy. For example, a Queen's Bench decision in July of this year provided for the highest every monetary judgment under The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.
$44,900 Queen's Bench for Sexual Harassment
The Court of Queen's Bench found that Northwoods Inn & Suites owner-manager John Pontes sexually harassed a female hotel clerk contrary to sections 16 and 19 of the Code
For gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment Pontes had to pay the complainant the maximum possible award under the Code of $10,000 for injury to feelings, dignity, and self-respect. He also had to pay $31,900 for lost earnings. Costs of $3,000 for vexatious, frivolous, and abusive conduct in the court proceedings were ordered./p>
The Court also recognized that significant harm to the woman's human rights had occurred. The judgment is financially notable as the damages provided by the Code far exceed usual damages for wrongful dismissal. An important message is that egregious human rights violations will not be tolerated in the workplace.
Pillar 2 - Mediation
Although litigation often catches media and public attention, human rights complaints are far more frequently resolved quietly and without notice through mediation or settlement agreement. In fact, a mediated resolution is reached every second business day (e.g., 135 mediated resolutions in 2013-14). Currently, there is no backlog of cases that require mediation. This is possible because party-driven resolution is available at any stage of the process.
Although mediation is now timelier and more efficient for involved parties, the SHRC has identified the need to work more directly with businesses as approximately 85% of all complaints arise in employment situations. To that end, a dedicated intake consultant now fields about 250 calls per year from business. Anecdotally, this initiative is receiving strong support from business leaders. When Code infractions occur, however, mediation is effective in helping parties find resolution.
Termination While In Hospital Results In $4,000 Award
A journeyman employee was hospitalized for a condition unrelated to employment. The employee qualified for both short term and long term disability.
Three months into the leave, the employee received a termination letter while still in hospital. Although it appeared obvious that prospects for return were negligible, there had been no discussion by the employer with the employee about the long-term prospects or his current condition.
In mediation, the employer admitted that they did not know that the employee was still in hospital and that it was wrong for the letter to have been sent without consultation. The complainant asked for and received $4,000 for damage to dignity and self-respect that was endured.
Pillar 3 – Systemic Advocacy
Systemic advocacy work has netted dramatic results. For example, in working cooperatively with the City of Regina, the Commission was able to facilitate widespread change for people with disabilities who use public transit. Some of these changes have included: the elimination of the differential (higher) cab rate charged for passengers with disabilities; an accessible signals plan for street corner crossings, aimed primarily at assisting people with visual impairments; increasing the number of accessible cabs; and a move to a full fleet of low floor buses.
Moreover, the City has an effective way to meet with those most affected by these necessary changes. A representative stakeholder committee was formed to offer input into transportation priorities. Money is spent on needed change, and not in defending litigious actions.
Other municipal stakeholders in Saskatchewan are now working with the Commission. These cities desire the same type of framework as they, too, need to make the most effective use of infrastructure and program dollars.
Pillar 4 - Education
The Commission continues its Pre-K to Grade 12 citizenship education program development. Materials have been finalized for the Kindergarten to Grade 6 age groups. Focus testing of draft materials for Grades 7-12 began this school year. Work is on target for a full curriculum resource rollout September 2016.
The goal of the program is to help students learn more about their rights, raise awareness about the need for respect, and to have them understand the responsibilities of their citizenship.
One broad goal of the citizenship education program is to foster community involvement at the school level. To that end, the Commission partnered with school divisions, Congregation Agudas Israel, and Think Good, Do Good to bring an anti-discrimination message to students in Saskatchewan.
Holocaust Survivor Addresses 3,000 Prince Albert High School Students
On September 17, an estimated 3,000 Prince Albert high school students attended inspiring presentations from Mr. Robert "Robbie" Waisman, Holocaust survivor and humanitarian.
Mr. Waisman described his life as a child in Poland at the beginning of World War II, his experience in the Buchenwald concentration camp, and loss of six members of his immediate family to the Holocaust. "I have duty and obligation to speak for those that are not here, and to inoculate, particularly young people, against hatred and discrimination; and when I do this I honour the 1.5 million that are not here," he said. In drawing from his highly personal experience, it is his aim to, "tell young people the importance of their lives and how lucky they are here in Canada because this is paradise."
Milestones, in terms of the elimination of mediation backlog, and the highest ever numbers of files concluded in a year (395 in 2013-14), are noteworthy. Equally important for the SHRC, however, is the pursuit of partnerships designed to diminish discriminatory situations before they begin. Whether it was assigning an intake officer with the responsibility to answer questions from businesses, or providing government agencies with sector-specific environmental scans designed to alert them to concerns in their fields, proactive engagement is designed to open doors and prevent discrimination.
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, January 28th, 2015