There’s nothing like a court victory to remind us that the NS Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) is just – well it’s human, it’s fallible. But some people such as Christine Shupe, do not need to be reminded.
On Friday the NS Court of Appeal overturned a NS Human Rights Commission Board of Inquiry decision that dismissed a woman’s sexual harassment complaint because of the Commission’s own clerical error.
In March 2021, a Board of Inquiry dismissed Christine Shupe’s case because the Commission had named the respondent, the company at which Shupe worked, Beaver Enviro Depot instead of its registered name: 2557617 Nova Scotia Ltd. But under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, section 33(e) notes that the Board can specify anyone it wants to be party to an action.
Beaver Enviro Depot, a Numbered Company
The Board said that the NS Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) did not check the legal name of the company – and for that reason Shupe’s complaint of sex discrimination was tossed out. However, a quick check with the province’s Registry of Joint Stock Companies would have confirmed that Beaver Enviro Depot and 2557617 Nova Scotia Ltd were one and the same company.
This secretarial error of not naming the numbered company was checked by staff at the Commission but it was not recorded properly on a form. That small mistake ended a three-year human rights investigation and a 3.5 year wait for Christine Shupe’s case to go before a public hearing.
Shupe worked for Beaver Enviro in Spryfield and was sexually harassed and taunted; she watched others also get demeaned and harassed by the boss/owner Wyatt Redmond.
Shupe and Chapman: sexually harassed at work
In 2018 Shupe quit and made a complaint to the NSHRC.
It’s not just she who suffered. Samantha Chapman also suffered from sexual harassment by the same boss/owner. She said she was flatly denied the chance to make a complaint by the NS Human Rights Commission. She went to the NSHRC in 2019, and was told her complaint was too late – as more than a year had passed since she had worked there. Under the NS Human Rights Act, complaints can be filed only up to one year of the last incident.
She still wants her case heard, she gives full support to Christine Shupe.
Friday’s decision means that the dismissal of Shupe’s complaint will be overturned, and the complaint could be amended to include the name of Redmond’s numbered business. There could be a new Board of Inquiry set.
Any agency or court can make a mistake. But the mistakes the NSHRC makes are often disastrous. Why is that? First, because already there is a crisis of confidence among NS residents when it comes to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. Many complaints it receives, the Commission never acts on. The Liane Tessier case is an example: Tessier, a Halifax firefighter, had to fight for more than 10 years to be told the Commission was not going to take her case of sex discrimination against Halifax Fire Service. She had to hire a lawyer (at her own expense) to challenge the NSHRC decision at Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court. In 2014, the judge ordered the Commission to have another look at Liane’s case, with a different investigator.
Finally—in 2017 after more than 11 years – it was set down for a Board of Inquiry. But in an openly disclosed settlement, the Fire Service and Halifax Municipality admitted to wrongdoing, and publicly apologized. As Tessier notes, “My case is symbolic of so many problems with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and is a perfect example of what is wrong. It has become clear that the human rights regime is failing Nova Scotians in so many ways…”
Second: The crisis in confidence is because under normal circumstances, it often takes three or more years for a complaint to be heard before a Board of Inquiry.
Third: the Commission will not represent an individual complainant; instead it suggests that a complainant hire their own lawyer to represent them. In view of the fact many complainants have already lost their jobs, or are no longer working and so have limited financial resources – hiring a lawyer is often unaffordable. To learn more about what’s wrong with the NS Human Rights Commission see Equity Watch’s report Justice Impeded: A critique of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Regime here.
Finally there is the issue of timidity. When the Board of Inquiry dismissed Shupe’s case because of an error in properly naming the Respondent, the Commission could have looked into the matter. The NSHRC could have themselves tried to rectify the situation and try to get the case back on track. But when faced with the Board of Inquiry’s decision, the Commission backed off and accepted there was nothing more they could do. It’s the NSHRC’s timidity, its lack of drive and openness which shames them before Nova Scotians.
Featured Image: Susanna and the Elders (1610) by Artemisia Gentileschi. This painting is part of the Schloss Wessenstein collection in Pommersfeden, Germany. To read more about Susanna, taken from the Book of Daniel, read this.
You write compellingly about the timidity of the Human Rights Commission. I fear it is not just that, but a deep history of discrimination. What with nondisclosure and restorative measures, the government can spin a neverending tale. The courts are sometimes more sympathetic but virtually inaccessible (literally too). Charter Rights aren’t that hard to enforce – it’s just that nobody tries The model for the HRC ought to be Traffic Court. Speedy, public, substantial fines. The goal is behavior change, not procedural delay.