Alberta Human Rights Information Service March 9, 2010
In this issue:
COMMISSION AND TRIBUNAL NEWS
1. Recent tribunal decision:
The Commission has recently updated its website with a new tribunal decision related to a severance agreement.
Asadullah Khan v. Petro-Canada (now Suncor Energy Inc.) (December 8, 2009; Beth Bryant, Tribunal Chair)
Severance agreement valid and enforceable and therefore the Commission has no jurisdiction to proceed with the complaint: The complainant engineer was employed on a two-year contract with Petro-Canada (now Suncor Energy Inc.). The respondent gave the complainant two weeks' notice of termination of employment. The complainant alleged his employment was terminated because of his religious beliefs and because he had a beard. The respondent argued the complainant's employment was terminated as a result of corporate restructuring and that many other employees were terminated at the same time.
The complainant was offered a severance agreement and release which provided for two-weeks' pay, a lump sum, and an offer of reimbursement up to $500 for costs incurred as a result of the termination. The agreement also gave the option to the complainant to seek independent legal advice regarding provisions of the severance agreement.
The complainant signed the release voluntarily and freely, and was aware that the release stated that future human rights complaints arising from the employment terminated were barred. Although the complainant signed the release, he argued that he believed the release was illegal because it precluded employee claims for workplace injuries which could become evident sometime after employment with the respondent ended. The complainant also argued that he faced economic duress when he signed the release because he was a recent immigrant experiencing financial pressure, and that the respondent was in an superior bargaining position when the release was offered to him. The complainant concluded by alleging he was unaware of human rights forums available to seek redress at the time he signed the release.
The tribunal considered and applied the factors outlined in the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench decision in Chow in determining whether the release was invalid. There was no evidence the complainant faced economic duress, coercion, or undue influence sufficient to render the release invalid. The release contained express provisions regarding the complainant's possible recourse to a human rights forum. The complainant's argument regarding the effect of the release precluding any action for injuries discovered after employment was terminated was based on hypothetical occurrences and did not render the release invalid. The tribunal determined that the severance agreement was valid and enforceable, and as a result the Commission did not have jurisdiction to proceed with the complaint.
2. Summary of an important court decision related to human rights:
Beaverbone v. Sacco, 2009 ABQB 529
Alberta Court rules that tenancy dispute officer, pursuant to specific tenancy regulation, cannot consider human rights issues. Court confirms that appropriate issue to be considered is whether the landlord had accommodated their tenant's mental disability:
Two tenants appealed a decision of the tenancy dispute officer to evict them from the rented house where they reside. One of the tenants suffered from a mental illness. The Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service Regulation, Alberta Reg. 98/2006 section 17(1), states that the officer cannot hear matters where the issue involves a determination of constitutional or human rights. Despite this legislative limitation, the tenancy dispute officer continued the hearing commenting that he did not believe there was any evidence of relevant human rights or Charter issues. The Court held that the tenancy dispute officer erred in law. The Court stated that "The actual issue was whether, in light of the standards established in the provincial human rights legislation in respect of tenancies, these landlords had accommodated their tenant's mental disability: Miller."
3. Human Rights in the Workplace public workshops scheduled:
Nine Human Rights in the Workplace public workshops are scheduled for spring 2010. The full-day and half-day workshops, intended for managers, supervisors, team leaders, human resource professionals, union leaders, and small business owners, will provide participants with:
- an overview of Alberta's human rights legislation,
- information on preventing harassment in the workplace and developing effective harassment policies in the workplace, and
- information from the workshop module Duty to accommodate.
Spring public workshops are scheduled as follows:
Calgary: March 10, 2010 (Topic: Preventing Harassment in the Workplace*)
Red Deer: March 17, 2010 (offered in partnership with the City of Red Deer)
Lethbridge: March 24, 2010 (offered in partnership with the Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CMARD) Lethbridge)
Edmonton: May 5, 2010 (Topic: Preventing Harassment in the Workplace*)
Edmonton: May 5, 2010 (Topic: Duty to Accommodate*)
Calgary: May 12, 2010 (Topic: Preventing Harassment in the Workplace*)
Calgary: May 12, 2010 (Topic: Duty to Accommodate*)
Grande Prairie: May 19, 2010
Peace River: May 20, 2010
*These workshops are half-day.
Read more about the workshops. You can link to the public workshop registration forms:
- March registration form
- May registration form
4. Two new Commission members appointed and one Commission member re-appointed: The Lieutenant Governor in Council appointed two new members of the Commission, and re-appointed one member of the Commission, effective January 1, 2010. Deborah Prowse was appointed as a full-time member of the Commission for a term to expire in December 2012. Honourable Paul Chrumka, Q.C., was appointed as a part-time member of the Commission for a term to expire in December 2012. Brenda Chomey was re-appointed for a term to expire in January 2012. Read the biographies of the members of the Commission.
5. Updating the Commission website and publications to reflect recent amendments to the human rights legislation: The Commission is in the process of updating its website and all of its publications to reflect recent amendments to Alberta's human rights legislation. If there is a revised or reviewed date at the bottom of a website page, this indicates the webpage has been updated to reflect the recent amendments to the legislation. We will update you through AHRIS as revisions are completed. The following revisions have recently been completed:
- The Commission's interpretive bulletin Duty to accommodate has been revised to reflect recent amendments to the legislation as well as current case law and Commission policies.
- The Commission website section Human rights in providing goods, services, accommodation or facilities has been updated to reflect the recent amendments to the legislation.
Canadian Pacific Railway is this year's recipient of the Alberta Human Rights Commission Diversity Leadership Award of Distinction. The award recognizes organizations that embrace diversity in their workforce and encourage respect and inclusion.
Other finalists recognized for their commitment to diversity and inclusion were Canadian Western Bank, Prospect Human Services, and TELUS (Alberta).
The Diversity Leadership Award is one of the Alberta Business Awards of Distinction. The winner was announced at a ceremony in Edmonton on February 19. Read the news release from the Alberta Chambers of Commerce. Read more about the awards ceremony.
PLEASE NOTE: In the following sections of the newsletter, we publish news and information provided by other organizations. We also link to other websites related to human rights and diversity. The Commission provides this information as a service and is not responsible for the content provided by other organizations on their websites or by other means. Please direct comments or inquiries regarding these organizations or their websites to the organization in question.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND DIVERSITY NEWS FROM ALBERTA CULTURE AND COMMUNITY SPIRIT
1. Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund:
The Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund (HREMF), formerly the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Education Fund, provides financial assistance to community organizations to help them become a catalyst for changes that will:
- create an environment where all Albertans have an opportunity to participate to their full potential without discrimination;
- increase the capacity of organizations to develop and sustain work that fosters equality and reduces discrimination; and
- advance the development of welcoming and inclusive communities and workplaces.
If you are considering applying for financial assistance from the HREMF, now is the time to contact a consultant who works with the grant program. The consultant will assist you with the application process and advise you on your project. The deadline for receipt of letters of intent to apply for financial assistance is May 3, 2010 or October 1, 2010. Read the information bulletin about grants that were recently approved.
Recently completed projects:
- With a grant from the HREMF, Aspen Family and Community Network Society has completed a documentary Growing Up Among Strangers that features youth from diverse cultural backgrounds and the daily issues they face in Alberta. It also features three adults with multicultural backgrounds who had experiences similar to the youth and have become successful in their chosen career paths.
Developed by youth, the 23-minute documentary discusses gender and trust issues, cliques, fitting in, feeling left out, and bullying. It is being utilized in schools' and businesses' "lunch and learn" sessions for staff as a way to encourage community dialogue. The documentary can be viewed online. The facilitator's guide and brochure that accompany the documentary are available by contacting Aspen Family and Community Network Society at 403-219-3477.
- The Creating Hope Society is helping members of the Aboriginal community and professionals working in the child welfare system to better understand one another with the help of educational materials developed with an HREMF grant. The Creating Hope Society researched existing resources for legal and mediation services for child welfare systems and processes and developed a guide for parents titled Knowing Your Rights. A DVD and workbook were also developed documenting the Aboriginal parents' experiences with the child welfare system to assist Aboriginal peoples and professionals to work toward a common ground in a system that places children in care. The DVD and workbook Broken Hearts - Rights for Aboriginal Families with Children in Care can be purchased online.
- With a grant from the HREMF, the Connections Education Society (CES) contracted for a quantitative evaluation of their Connections Program. The research, Evaluation of the Connections High School Multicultural, Environmental, Leadership Program, supports the positive effects and impact of the program, especially when it is produced as a high school credit course. The program develops leadership and cross-cultural skills and increases the students' understanding about race relations. The evaluation found that the program helped students effectively deal with racism, discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice. Copies of the evaluation are available by contacting Alexandra MacDonald at 403-831-7160 or email@example.com.
- Indo-Canadian immigrants and youth are learning more about human rights values and the acceptance of diversity at home and in the community. The Indo-Canadian Women's Association of Edmonton has developed a teachers' guide, Educating for Human Rights, and a parents' guide, Embracing Human Rights in Canada. The parents' guide is published in English, Punjabi and Urdu. With the support of the HREMF, these resources were developed for the Indo-Canadian immigrant community to help explore the issues of resistance and acceptance of human rights values in Alberta, particularly among youth. The different versions of the guides are available by contacting the Indo-Canadian Women's Association of Edmonton at 780-490-0477.
Read about other projects that the HREMF has funded.
2. Significant dates:
January 27 was International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau: Communities across the world gathered on January 27, 2010 to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Blair Mason, brought greetings from the Commission to an event organized by B'nai Brith of Canada in Edmonton to commemorate the anniversaries by honouring the countless victims of the Holocaust. Read more about the event.
March 1st to March 7th was Adult Learners' Week: Communities across Alberta joined other provinces and 40 countries to celebrate Adult Learners' Week. This worldwide event is organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to celebrate the achievements of adult learners and to promote the importance of lifelong learning. In support of Adult Learners' Week, the Alberta Human Rights Commission partnered with the Government of Alberta ministries of Advanced Education and Technology and Employment and Immigration to distribute posters titled Learning is a Human Right to libraries across Alberta. The posters promote learning as central to building strong and vibrant communities that value human rights, diversity and inclusion. The posters include links to guide Albertans to information about the Commission's programs and services as well as the literacy and employment programs and services of the Government of Alberta. The resources are intended to support efforts to promote learning and literacy in Alberta. The posters are an initiative of the Canadian Council on Learning in collaboration with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and were developed following a nation-wide design competition. Read more about Adult Learners' Week.
March 8 was International Women's Day: Canada's theme for International Women's Day 2010 is Strong Women. Strong Canada. Strong World. From the Status of Women Canada website: "This theme reflects the government's action to encourage more women and girls to participate in leadership roles, thereby helping them thrive, reach their full potential, fulfill their dreams, and build a more prosperous Canada." Read more about International Women's Day.
March 21 is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed all around the world to focus attention on the problems of racism and the need to promote racial harmony. The United Nations designated this day in memory of anti-apartheid demonstrators killed in Sharpeville, South Africa in 1960. Albertans are invited to participate in events organized across the province. Read more about International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and link to a list of community events commemorating the day in northern Alberta and southern Alberta.
April 21 is Yom ha-Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day: Albertans are encouraged to remember the systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewish men, women and children during the Holocaust, as well as millions of others who have perished in acts of genocide. See Alberta's Holocaust Memorial Day and Genocide Remembrance Act. Teachers may be interested in the publication Guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust.
1. The Centre for Race and Culture: The Northern Alberta Alliance on Race Relations (NAARR) has changed its name to the Centre for Race and Culture (CRC). From the CRC's website: " The Centre for Race and Culture's mission is to work toward the goals of eliminating racism, racial discrimination, and racially motivated violence in northern Alberta."
2. Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association: The Alberta Civil Liberties Association has been revived and is now known as the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association. From their website: "Our work aims to defend and ensure the protection of individual rights, freedoms and liberties."
1. Canadian Human Rights Commission elected Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions: In December 2009, the Canadian Human Rights Commission was elected Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions at its meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Read the news release.
2. Community Historical Recognition Program: Citizenship and Immigration Canada offers the Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP), a $29-million four-year grant and contribution program. From the CHRP website: "The Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP) funds community-based commemorative and educational projects that provide recognition of the experiences of ethno-cultural communities affected by historical wartime measures and/or immigration restrictions applied in Canada, and that promote these communities' contributions to building this country." The deadline for applications is April 1, 2010. The guidelines and application form are available online.
3. Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship: Citizenship and Immigration Canada released a new, more comprehensive study guide, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, for those seeking Canadian citizenship. From the news release: "The study guide includes information on common values such as freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the equality of men and women. It promotes to immigrants and Canadian citizens alike a greater understanding of Canada's history, values, symbols and important Canadian institutions, such as Parliament and the Crown. It also highlights the contribution of ethnic and cultural communities in shaping our Canadian identity and the sacrifices made by Canada's veterans for our country."
4. Travel resources for persons with disabilities: The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) offers a number of travel resources for persons with disabilities:
- Take Charge of Your Travel: A Guide for Persons with Disabilities provides ideas on how to plan for travel and take advantage of accessible services. The guide is intended for persons with mobility, sensory and/or cognitive disabilities.
- The CTA website offers a section on accessible transportation that includes a section on disability-related complaints.
- The CTA website also offers a section for persons with disabilities that includes FAQs regarding accessible transportation, and a reservation checklist for persons with disabilities to use when making travel plans.
RELATED PUBLICATIONS AND RESOURCES
1. New web portal for human rights schools: The Human Rights Education Associates launched a Portal for Human Rights Schools. The web portal offers resources for schools, policy makers, educators, students, and individuals interested in implementing a human rights-based approach to schooling. From the portal website: "A human rights-based approach to schooling is concerned with the organisation of learning so that it is reflective of human rights principles and promotes understanding and cherishing of the human rights framework."
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