Nova Scotia

Human rights commission speeds up investigations, says 'no excuse' for 11-year case

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission says it is taking steps to cut the time it takes to complete investigations, trying to ensure that a drawn-out case like that of Halifax firefighter Liane Tessier never happens again.

Average processing time was 570 days in 2012, now down to 200 days, says commission CEO Christine Hansen

Christine Hansen, centre, speaks at a board of police commissioners meeting in Halifax. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission says it is taking steps to cut the time it takes to complete investigations, trying to ensure that a drawn-out case like that of Halifax firefighter Liane Tessier never happens again.

"I don't think we'll see another situation in the future where you'd see a case drag on for 11 years. It's really no excuse for it," said Christine Hansen, who was made CEO of the human rights commission in January 2016. 

Hansen said in 2012 the average processing time was 570 days to close a file, but the commission has reduced that to fewer than 200 days.

"I think it's important for the public to know that this is no longer the norm that somebody would experience those types of delays in seeing a human rights complaint through," Hansen said.

"I think it's important that they feel, if they've been discriminated against, that they can come to the commission with confidence that we'll be able to help them." 

Lianne Tessier complained to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in 2007. (Liane Tessier)

Tessier first went to the human rights commission in 2007 with a complaint of gender discrimination, describing abusive and demeaning behaviour from her co-workers. The commission delayed her case for four years, passing the firefighter between three different investigators, and then dismissed it.

A judge later ordered the human rights commission to reopen her case. The judge found investigators had failed to interview the two main people Tessier named in her complaint, and one investigator had given Tessier misleading information about her case.

Hansen admits her office failed Tessier, and is issuing a public apology to her Monday. Halifax municipal officials are also expected to apologize.

Ombudsman investigation

Hansen said her office has made changes to reduce processing time after it was investigated by another government body, the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman.

In 2014, the ombudsman launched its investigation following multiple complaints that the human rights commission was taking too long to resolve cases. The ombudsman reviewed 250 files and conducted interviews before issuing a report with nine recommendations in March 2017.

Hansen said the human rights commission has accepted all nine recommendations and has implemented six so far. Hansen, the Department of Justice, and the office of the ombudsman have refused to make a copy of the ombudsman's report public.

Tessier will receive an apology today from the human rights commission. (Liane Tessier)

The top recommendation included establishing a committee with the Department of Justice to review the commission's approach. Hansen said six people have been chosen to sit on the committee, although she declined to identify them. 

Other recommendations include conducting a review of current policies and procedures, especially the race relations unit and the restorative justice process.

Hansen said the review of restorative justice is underway and should be complete by the spring. On the remaining procedures, the commission is working with the Department of Justice to amend the Human Rights Act. 

'Thorough review'

Hansen said although she did not know whether the Tessier case directly formed one of the cases that spurred the ombudsman's investigation, it is quite possible. 

"It certainly would have covered that time of review," she said. Hansen credited the investigation with making her office more efficient. 

"I think they were incredibly helpful. They were very pointed. I thank the ombudsman for such a thorough review of our files," she said.   

"We've come a long way and a lot of it has to do with having this report to work with."