Nova Scotia

Sexual harassment complaint tossed after Human Rights Commission mistake

A sexual harassment complaint filed with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission was dismissed last week after the commission made a mistake on the paperwork.

Employer listed on the complaint was not the legal name of the business

Christine Shupe filed a complaint with Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission alleging sexual harassment at her former workplace. (Robert Short/CBC)

A Halifax woman's sexual harassment complaint against her former employer has been thrown out after the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission made a mistake on the paperwork.

Christine Shupe contacted the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in 2018 saying she'd been sexually harassed by her former employer, Wyatt Redmond, at the recycling depot she worked at.

Staff at the commission investigated the complaint over three years, and the case was finally referred to a board of inquiry — the final stage in the complaint process, which involves a trial-like public hearing with witnesses and cross-examinations.

But last week, Shupe's case was dismissed because the employer named in the complaint, Beaver Enviro Depot, does not legally exist.

While the building where Shupe worked on Herring Cove Road in Halifax has signs outside bearing the name Beaver Enviro Depot, the business is registered as 2557617 Nova Scotia Limited.

A sexual harassment complaint filed against this recycling depot business was thrown out by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission due to an error in the commission's paperwork. (Robert Short/CBC)

In a decision dated March 22, board of inquiry lawyer Benjamin Perryman wrote that the commission failed to investigate whether Beaver Enviro Depot was a legal entity — something that could have been confirmed by simply checking the Registry of Joint Stock Companies, the province's official registry of businesses.

"Had the commission performed standard due diligence … this situation would have been avoided," Perryman wrote.

He notes that while complainants are given an intake form to fill out, it is the commission's staff who write the official complaint.

"In my view, it is reasonable to expect the commission to perform this type of due diligence given its expertise, resources and responsibility for the human rights complaint process. This is especially so given that many human rights complainants are self-represented."

Complainants, Perryman wrote, "do not understand the niceties of corporate legal personality."

Shupe's allegations of sexual harassment have not been tested in court.

'Thrown out like garbage'

Shupe said when she learned her complaint had been tossed out due to the commission's error, she was in disbelief.

"I looked at that and said, 'This cannot be true, like … this is not what I'm reading.'

"It's just so unfair — and I know life is unfair. But when you have everything right here in front of you and you trust people, and you get nothing. You're still thrown out like garbage."

Shupe has contacted a lawyer, Andrea MacNevin, to explore her options.

Shupe said she was in disbelief when she learned her complaint had been dismissed due to the commission's error. (Robert Short/CBC)

MacNevin said she may file an appeal, but at first blush, Perryman's decision appears to be correct on all the points of law.

Filing a new complaint may not be possible because the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission requires people to file their complaint within 12 months of the discrimination occurring.

Suing the commission might also be an option, but MacNevin said that's a "problematic area of law," because the commission is part of the legal system itself.

Shupe says she's determined to continue to seek justice, about both her initial complaint and the commission's handling of her case.

"Human rights is not going to get away with this.… I need someone to help me fight this."

Business owner responds

Reached at his business on Wednesday, Redmond, the owner of the recycling depot, denied the allegation of sexual harassment.

"One hundred per cent no. One hundred per cent no. No no no no no," he said.

Regarding the complaint's dismissal, he said he was "glad it was gone," but also said he wanted it to be resolved.

"I wanted it to go through, I want to get it resolved. I want it to come to an end, the end that I knew would come."

Human Rights Act does not allow change

When the complaint was referred to the board of inquiry, the board asked the commission to provide the Registry of Joint Stocks information about Beaver Enviro Depot. 

That's when commission staff seemingly realized the error, and on March 5, the commission applied to the board to correct the respondent's name on the complaint form.

But Perryman ruled that, under the Human Rights Act, board chairs are not allowed to make amendments to a complaint.

"This is an extremely unfortunate result. Complaints and complainants should be heard. An inquiry should not be dismissed without an adjudication of the merits," he writes.

"If the board was empowered to make rules to govern its processes or to correct defects in form, this type of situation would likely have been avoided. But the Human Rights Act does not give boards of inquiry such powers.

"Regrettably, I must dismiss this complaint even though I do not view this as a just result in the circumstances."

Commission 'not perfect'

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission declined an interview request.

In an emailed statement, spokesperson Jeff Overmars said, "Administration of the act by commission staff is not infallible. The commission is not perfect but we always strive to provide high-quality, equitable and fair service to the public."

Regarding the limitations of the act that prevented the board from proceeding with the complaint, Overmars said: "There are limitations to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act that the commission would like to see addressed, because the act is over 50 years old. 

"The ability for board chairs to amend complaint forms — in a situation such as Ms. Shupe's — would be among those. The commission hopes to have all proposed amendments go to public consultation in the near future."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca

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