A labor and human rights lawyer says organizations like the RCMP are exploiting a “loophole” to prevent employees in federally regulated workplaces from taking their cases directly to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
The Canadian Human Rights Act allows the commission to reject complaints if the complainant “failed to exhaust” the review process reasonably available to them.
“At this point, this is a loophole that organizations are abusing to indefinitely hinder people’s right to access justice and hold them accountable for their human rights violations,” said attorney Kathryn Marshall.
“It’s totally unfair that people can’t access our court system or the human rights court system because of this… I think that provision should be removed entirely.”
The federal government has been willing to make changes, but only for members of the military.
Earlier this summer, the Department of National Defense (DND) announced that members of the Canadian Armed Forces now have the option of taking their complaints directly to the civilian Canadian Human Rights Commission, even if they have not exhausted the internal complaint system. complaints and harassment from the military. mechanism.
The change came in response to a recommendation from former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour, who was tasked with reviewing the culture within the Canadian Armed Forces following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against senior officers. .
Marshall noted the RCMP has been criticized for a toxic work culture and has had to pay millions of dollars to Mounties who suffered sexual assault and harassment on the job. An independent report from 2020 The investigation into harassment in the RCMP concluded that change cannot come from within the institution and must be initiated from outside.
Marshall said he wants the Canadian Human Rights Act to be amended to allow complainants to bring their complaints to the commission if their employers have not addressed them “within a reasonable period of time.”
Otherwise, he said, “the plaintiff gets caught up in this never-ending process that goes on for years and nothing ever happens. And the problems get swept under the rug.”
“I call it no man’s land.”
Customer complaint took years to resolve
One of Marshall’s clients, Lindsay Carter, said he worked in the RCMP forensic lab for 20 years. She said her battle with her internal force systems left her distraught and alone.
“The process appears to be broken and not genuine, despite claims to the contrary,” Carter said.
“The institutional betrayal there is enormous.”
In 2019, he said, he suspected that a lab colleague had lied during training and been dishonest, and he reported his suspicions to his superiors.
“That piece of honesty and integrity is very, very critical, especially when you’re training someone to take the stand,” Carter said.
Carter said that when she brought those concerns up the chain of command, they were initially dismissed because she had previously taken medical leave.
“They called me sick. They told me I wasn’t well. And she referred to my medical history,” she said.
She said her manager told her to drop the matter but instead took it to a professional standards officer.
In December 2019, she said, the colleague she complained about chased her in the workplace and yelled at her.
“I thought they were going to physically attack me at that moment,” he said.
Internal documents show that his colleague made his own accusations, alleging that Carter was obsessed with him and was building a file on him.
The matter has been paralyzed since January 2020, he said.
“I’ve been thrown into this grievance process,” Carter said. “There is no end in sight to this.”
RCMP will not comment on possible changes
CBC reached out to its colleague for his side of the story, who forwarded the request to RCMP Communications.
He said he cannot comment on individual cases and did not respond to CBC’s questions about the process.
A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc was noncommittal when asked if the department would follow the DND’s lead and allow RCMP employees to take their cases directly to the commission.
“We will work to ensure that every member of the RCMP feels safe and respected,” said Jean-Sebastien Comeau.
He also pointed to the Independent Center for Harassment Resolution (ICHR), created by the Liberal government to handle harassment investigations involving the RCMP.
Carter, who has since left the RCMP, said the new program does not adequately address his concerns.
“It’s just preventative for next time. There’s no personal responsibility or like, ‘Hey, let’s get this person out of this workplace so you can go to work,'” he said.
A spokesperson for Justice Minister Arif Virani said the special process for CAF members was established through joint planning by National Defense and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
“So it would be up to each sector, like the RCMP, to consider that direction,” Chantalle Aubertin said.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission said it decided not to address 37 complaints it received over the past two years because the complainants did not first exhaust their employers’ internal grievance processes.
Commission spokesperson Véronique Robitaille said the figure is low because the commission tries to explain the act to complainants first.
Robitaille said the CHRC considers each case individually.
Carter said he hopes to get his matter “out from under the RCMP’s hood.”
“For me… it’s getting my voice back,” he said. “I don’t trust the organization to address these issues.”