Even in death, Mi'kmaw woman's housing fight against her First Nation lives on
Federal Court turns down bid by Wagmatcook First Nation to stop human rights tribunal hearing
The Federal Court of Canada has denied a bid to derail a human rights inquiry into housing on a Cape Breton First Nation, a case that stems from the complaint of an 88-year-old Mi'kmaw woman who died in the midst of her battle with the band.
Wagmatcook First Nation went to court to try to prevent the Canadian Human Rights Commission from referring a complaint about accessible housing to a hearing tribunal. But in a decision released Tuesday, Justice Alan Diner said the tribunal can proceed.
"I think it's great. It allows the case to move forward the way it should be doing," said Joey Oleson, the son of Annie Olesen, the woman who lodged the human rights complaint.
"It was sort of a last-ditch effort for the band to put an end to the case, which is a very important case for all of Nova Scotia," Joey Oleson said.
In a statement, the Canadian Human Right Commission said it welcomed the judge's ruling and believes Annie Oleson's "story could potentially have a systemic impact on the quality of accessible housing on reserves in Canada."
Annie Oleson lived in a "mini-home" on the Wagmatcook First Nation from about 2007.
But in 2013, because of her deteriorating health, she applied for accessible, barrier-free housing to accommodate her wheelchair. Wagmatcook refused her request.
In legal arguments, the band questioned whether Oleson really needed a wheelchair and argued her existing home would be wheelchair accessible if it were only cleared of clutter.
Unsatisfied with the band's response, Oleson took her complaints to the human rights commission. After a lengthy investigation, the commission referred Oleson's complaint to a hearing tribunal.
But before a hearing could proceed, Wagmatcook challenged the decision to refer the case, leading to a Federal Court hearing last month. Oleson died in February 2017.
"Them fighting her constantly took a horrible toll on her physical, mental and emotional health," Joey Oleson said. "In my opinion, I think it kind of helped push her into us losing her."
Oleson said when his mother knew she was dying, she made him promise to carry on the fight, which he has been doing more or less on his own. For him, vindication came in the ruling from Diner.
In his ruling, the judge called the decision by the human rights commission to send the complaint to a tribunal "eminently reasonable."
The human rights commission confirmed Tuesday the case will proceed, but said no hearing dates have yet been set.
Joey Oleson is now preparing for the human rights hearing, which he hopes will be held by fall. He said the process is difficult.
"That's painful because I have to look at the pictures of my mom suffering when she was sick and when she had fallen and banged her head on two occasions. And it's very painful for me to go through these things but I have to."