Monday, December 12, 2011

Human Rights Decisions and Other Mischief

The Ontario Human Rights Commission ordered Coffee Time owner, Sien Yian Tay, to pay Zuper Direk $15,000. The crime? The operator called Direk a "gypsy" as the latter badmouthed the coffee to other customers. The Commission decision itself smacks of racial discrimination. How would a member of Roma, i.e.Gypsy, regard the calling another person a member of his race an insult?

Other recent decision of equal wrongheadedness.

A Federal Court judge, Madame Justice Marie-Josée Bédard, ordered Air Canada to pay Michel and Lynda Thibodeau $12,000. Air Canada failed to provide the aggrieved couple with services in French. The learned judge decided that the violation of the plaintiffs' rights "caused them a moral prejudice, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of the vacation".

A New Brunswick appellate court dismissed two drunk driving charges against an Acadian francophone. The arresting officer spoke to the accused in English, despite hearing his strong French accent, and later gave him a roadside breathalyzer test which he failed. Thirty minutes later the accused was asked his preferred language. The appellate court ruled that the thirty-minute delay constituted a violation of the drunk driver's rights. Even courts can make strange judgements.

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ordered the Brampton Youth Hockey Association to pay sisters Robyn and Shaunna Demars $18,000. Tribunalist Judith Hinchman found that the association prevented the girls from using the boys' dressing room, and failed to find a suitable room elsewhere.

The Quebec Human Rights Commission ordered a condominium board to pay Marise Myrand $10,000. The board discriminated against Myrand in not taking the parking spot of a woman in her 60s who suffers from a dislocated shoulder, and give it to her. Commission lawyer Pierre-Yves Bourdeau said, "It's reasonable accommodation" to displace an elderly handicapped woman for an obese one. The condo lawyer observed that the Commission has established a hierarchy of handicaps.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission ordered Mississauga businesswoman Maxcine Telfer to pay $36,000 to Seema Saadi, an employee of six weeks. Saadi said she felt pressured to wear skirts rather than her hijab, and Telfer complained about the smell of food she warmed in the microwave. Saadi was fired. Her complaint was discrimination "on grounds of race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, ethnic origin, disability and sex". Her lawyers. operating at tax-payer expense, obtained a writ of seizure of Telfer's home to collect the money.

The Ontario Superior Court quashed the conviction and ordered a new hearing before a different tribunal officer. The Court said, it was "simply not possible to logically follow the pathway taken by the adjudicator." It found nine points in which the adjudicator failed to provide a fair hearing, or made legal errors. For example, the adjudicator did not give Telfer the opportunity to call a key witness who would have testified about Saadi's choice of clothing, and her "unauthorized intrusions into other people's desks, and missing files." (The silencing of material witnesses is a technique borrowed from the courts in Burma.)

It's depressing to thank of the result had the businesswoman not the resources this appeal this wrong-headed decision.

And this, according to Barbara Hall, in her fading time as Ontario Chief Human Rights Commissioner, is only "the tip of the iceberg". The good ship Common Sense has already struck the Barbara Hall iceberg.

How much injustice remains uncorrected when the accused cannot afford to appeal the adjudicator's judgement? On the other hand, the complainant's legal fees, even on appeal, are paid by the taxpayer.

Fines levied should go into general revenue, not to the "aggrieved". This would result in a much lower number of complaints. The net result would be that these commissions would no longer be viewed by the public as an easy source of tax-free money.

Conrad Black has observed, "I doubt if the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] accomplished much substantially beyond unleashing Canada's under-qualified judges to meddle open-endedly in social animation."

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