British Columbia

Complaint about sexual harassment on handyDART bus to be heard by B.C. Human Rights Tribunal

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal is allowing a complaint to proceed against B.C. Transit after a handyDART driver allegedly sexually harassed a female passenger in Oct. 2019.

Incident happened in Oct. 2019, with officials allegedly not following up for more than a year

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal turned down a request from B.C. Transit to dismiss a complaint about alleged sexual harassment on a handyDART vehicle. (B.C. Government/Flickr)

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal is allowing a complaint to proceed against B.C. Transit after a handyDART driver allegedly sexually harassed a female passenger in Oct. 2019.

HandyDART is a door-to-door public transport service provided in most of B.C.'s cities, primarily for disabled people and older people who require mobility aids.

"The complainant alleges that in Oct. 2019, the driver picked her up in a bus, made inappropriate sexual statements, and invited her to sexual contact," tribunal member Grace Chen wrote in a decision on Wednesday.

The woman immediately complained to B.C. Transit after the alleged incident, pointing to the fact that she was "trapped into a secured wheelchair and was unable to move without assistance while on the bus."

"She says she was vulnerable to the harassment due to her disability, and was trapped on the bus with the driver because of her disability," the decision reads.

Records showed transit officials subsequently had multiple meetings about the incident. 

However, the complainant says neither officials nor the driver followed up with her for months after the incident, after an initial investigation led to no charges against the driver.

Subsequently, she filed a complaint with the human rights tribunal alleging B.C. Transit discriminated against her on the basis of her sex and disability.

Provincial transit authority B.C. Transit operates the service in most of the province, while handyDART services in Metro Vancouver are contracted to regional authority TransLink, which then subcontracts dispatch, reservations and trip deliveries to First Canada.

The complaint heard by the tribunal concerns B.C. Transit, an unnamed regional transit operator, and the anonymous complainant, who uses a wheelchair.

The tribunal heard that the complainant allegedly did not hear from transit officials for more than a year after her initial complaint to B.C. Transit. (B.C. Transit/Facebook)

B.C. Transit applied to dismiss the complaint on the basis that they were not actually responsible for day-to-day transit operations in the incident.

In addition, they submitted there was no connection between the complainant's sex and disability and the harm she experienced due to the alleged harassment and the subsequent lack of action from B.C. Transit.

Chen disagreed with the transit operator in both instances, finding that they held responsibility for delivering the transit services in question, particularly with respect to complaints.

"I am also satisfied there is some evidence of a connection between the complainant's disability and her allegation of adverse impact from how B.C. Transit and the transit operator responded to her complaint," Chen wrote in her decision.

The complaint is now set to proceed to a hearing at the tribunal, with B.C. Transit, the unnamed regional operator, and the driver all involved.

Officials allegedly tried to get complaint dropped

The tribunal heard that numerous letters were exchanged between an official at B.C. Transit and the regional operator that ran the handyDART bus where the alleged incident occurred.

The letters show that officials learned the complainant had made "similar accusations" before against other people, which therefore represented a risk to the operator's employees.

They subsequently agreed that the woman would only be able to ride handyDART buses with an attendant, whom she had to hire at her own expense.

"[An official] said this requirement was for the protection of employees and the complainant, and they could not have a situation where a similar accusation could be made," the tribunal's decision reads.

However, the requirement was not communicated to the woman for over a year, during which she continued to use the handyDART service without an attendant present.

In Feb. 2020, however, the woman found out through staff at her residence that she was meant to use an attendant going forward. 

She subsequently spoke to transit officials, for what she says was the first time since Oct. 2019.

They allegedly asked her to sign an agreement stating that her complaint was false. The woman refused, however, and complained again to B.C. Transit about her treatment.

She says she did not receive a follow-up to that complaint either, after which she applied to the human rights tribunal.

"The complainant has not used handyDART since Feb. 2020, and uses public buses and taxis instead," the decision reads. 

"She says it is not because of the pandemic, but because she is afraid to run into the driver, and she feels humiliated and angry about what happened."

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