Judge orders former Remai Modern CEO be removed from 'sluggish' human rights case

Justice Brenda Hildebrandt says the delay in the years-long human rights process has caused "significant prejudice" to Gregory Burke.

'Unreasonable delay' in process has caused 'significant prejudice' to Gregory Burke: decision

The investigation was sparked by a human rights complaint filed in 2015 by a woman who used to work with Burke at the Mendel Art Gallery. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

In a bristling critique of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, a Saskatoon judge has ordered that Gregory Burke, the former CEO of Saskatoon's Remai Modern Art Museum, be removed from a commission case, saying the 31-month investigation has been unusually delayed and caused "significant prejudice" to Burke.

"He has languished under the cloud of uncertainty for too long," Justice Brenda Hildebrandt wrote in a decision Tuesday. 

The investigation into Burke was sparked by a human rights complaint filed in October 2015 by a woman who used to work with Burke at the Mendel Art Gallery. Mendel Art Gallery eventually became Remai Modern Art Museum, so both corporations were named alongside Burke in the complaint.

The woman alleged that Burke, the gallery's CEO and executive director, repeatedly undermined and bullied her on the basis of her gender from March 2013 to October 2014. The complaint did not move to the investigation phase until May 2017.

In October, Burke applied to Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench to have the investigation ended either in whole or only as far as it concerned him. The unresolved process had left Burke unemployable, according to his lawyer. 

On Tuesday, Justice Brenda Hildebrandt ordered "that the proceedings, insofar as they pertain to Mr. Burke, are stayed and he is removed as a respondent."

'Astonishingly slow' 

Hildebrandt wrote that the pace of the 31-month investigation was "inordinate" and an abuse of process.  

"The issues do not appear particularly complex, nor does an alleged need to be thorough explain the sluggish approach to arranging and conducting interviews," she said of the commission. 

Hildebrandt echoed many examples of delay previously cited by Burke's lawyer, including the one-year period it took for the commission's investigator to interview 11 witnesses. 

"This astonishingly slow interview pace [was] only quickened once the commission [received] word of Mr. Burke's application for a stay," she wrote. 

Scott Newell, the lawyer for the commission, has said the investigation was particularly complex.

Hildebrandt said the commission is to blame for that. 

"Any potential degree of complexity was only added when the [commission] elected to change the focus of the investigation to include exploration of a possible pattern or practice of discrimination, of which Mr. Burke only received noticed on Aug. 12, 2019," she wrote.

Newell argued that continuing the investigation was in the public interest.

Again, Hildebrandt shot back. 

"The work of the commission is indeed important," she wrote. "The public can also recognize when a system is not functioning properly and there is inordinate delay."

'Very pleased' 

"We're very pleased with it," Jay Watson, Burke's lawyer, said of Tuesday's decision. "We understand.... the whole case can't be dismissed. But we're very pleased that Mr. Burke has been removed from it.

"We're hoping now that when prospective employers read the decision, this matter will no longer be a barrier to him finding a job in the industry that he's trained and very good at," Watson said. 

Next steps

The gallery will remain as a respondent in the complaint. 

The lawyer for the gallery, Kevin Wilson, has said the gallery took no position on Burke's application to have the case ended. 

Newell, the lawyer for the human rights commission, said the investigation was expected to be wrapped by the end of January 2020.

That opens the door to a court hearing after that.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

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