Why do some human rights complaints take so long?

AuthorMcKay-Panos, Linda

From time to time, concerns are expressed about the length of time human rights complaints take to resolve. There are some circumstances where resolution of these cases does seem to take too long. Unfortunately, those who criticize the existence of human rights commissions often take these occasional delayed cases as opportunities to add fuel to their calls for elimination. However, an examination of the circumstances surrounding the delays, which only occur in a small fraction of human rights cases, helps to assess possible alternative solutions.

In one recent example, the CBC reported on the case of Kathleen Viner (Richard Woodbury, CBC News, "Zellers human rights allegation resolved 4 years after complainant dies" online: http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/nova-scotia/kathleen-viner-zellers-racial-discrimination-humanrights-1.3502475). In 2009, Ms. Viner complained to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission that Zellers had racially discriminated against her in 2008, when it unfairly accused her of stealing. The 78year-old was detained by security and searched, even though she had a receipt for the rug she bought. Ms. Viner died in 2011 (at age of 81), before the Commission had heard her case. The case was able to proceed based on statements Ms. Viner had made before she died. When Zellers was sold in 2011, and all Zellers stores in Canada were closed. Zellers' parent company, Hudson's Bay Company, continued as respondent. Hudson's Bay did not believe that the Zellers clerks discriminated against Ms. Viner, but agreed to develop and launch a program to teach Nova Scotia-based floorwalkers how to deal appropriately with customers and about racial profiling. The matter was settled in 2016, more than four years after Ms. Viner had died. Thus, although she had experienced humiliation and hurt, these could not be addressed (Viner v Hudson Bay Company, 2012 CanLII 98528 (NS HRC).

Before this case and others like it are used to argue for the abolishment of human rights commissions for being inefficient, it is important to look at several facts. Consulting the 2014-2015 Annual Report of the Alberta Human Rights Commission ("AHRC"), we can see that approximately 50% of complaints were resolved within one year. Of 1,395 complaints submitted to the office, the Commission accepted 853 as meeting the requirements: falling within AHRC jurisdiction; having reasonable grounds; being made within one year as required; and meeting other requirements...

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