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​​​​​Alberta Human Rights Information Service December 10, 2021

In this issue:

​International Human Rights Day is December 10

Human rights case law: Tribunal decisions
     1. Recent Tribunal decisions
     2. Summary of recent Tribunal decisions

Commission news
     1. Rise in Albertans seeking information about COVID-19 and human rights
     2. Complaint process changes
     3. Human rights dispute arising from collective agreement
     4. The Commission and the community
     5. Alberta Award for the Study of Canadian Human Rights and Multiculturalism

Other news
     1. In memoriam: Dr. Darren Lund


INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY IS DECEMBER 10

"All Human, All Equal" is this year's slogan for Human Rights Day. PHOTO:© Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Hu
"All Human, All Equal" is this year's slogan for Human Rights Day.
PHOTO: © Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

International Human Rights Day serves as an annual reminder of the inherent dignity of all people. As we mark December 10, we are grateful for the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which affirmed universal and inalienable human rights, freedoms, and responsibilities. Today and every day, we are proud of the Commission's role in fostering equality and reducing discrimination in Alberta.

Following the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, commemorated annually on December 3, we would like to highlight a continued commitment to upholding the equality of persons with disabilities. On December 8, 2021, the Commission hosted a webinar with community partners to provide information on our updated human rights guide pertaining to the duty to accommodate students with disabilities in post-secondary educational institutions. The guide aims to improve communication between students and the education sector about accommodation, and promotes the shared responsibility for accommodation between the two groups. We also continue to support the Alberta Abilit​y Network's Human Rights Table, a coalition of organizations and individuals in the disability sector working to eliminate barriers for persons with disabilities in the province.

This year, the United Nations (UN) is observing International Human Rights Day with the theme: "Equality - Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights." Equality is integral to advancing and promoting human rights. Read more on the UN Human Rights Day webpage​.

Message from the Acting Chief of the Commission and Tribunals

To recognize this important day, read a message "Equality is a Process" from Kathryn Oviatt, Acting Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission.

HUMAN RIGHTS CASE LAW: TRIBUNAL DECISIONS

1. Recent Tribunal decisions

Read all Tribunal decisions free of charge on the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) website. 

2. Summary of recent Tribunal decisions

Termination after being informed of a medical issue related to pregnancy

Turnbull v Edmonton Pipe Trades Educational Fund o/a Alberta Pipe Trade College, 2021 AHRC 172 (Alberta Human Rights Tribunal, October 4, 2021)

The complainant discovered she was pregnant and that there were some complications, which would require modifications to her work as an i​nstructor at the respondent trade college. The complainant met with the department head and outlined that she needed accommodation for a medical disability and would need to have a reduced workload, change in work hours, and lifting restrictions. The department head agreed to meet again the next morning to continue the conversation. When the complainant arrived at the meeting, she was dismissed.

The Chair found that the request for accommodation was related to the ground of gender (pregnancy), which triggered the termination. The respondent tried to have the complaint thrown out on the technical argument that they were not informed that the complainant was pregnant. The Chair found that the respondent could not "hide behind its own inaction" and should have inquired into the nature of the medical disability.

The respondent has a procedural, as well as a substantive, duty to accommodate. While there is some jurisprudence to support that there is no independent procedural duty to accommodate, the respondent usually must take certain steps to provide substantive accommodation. The respondent knew what accommodations the complainant needed in general, but did not explore how they might be implemented or ask the complainant for further information.

The complainant was awarded $35,000 in damages and seven weeks in lost wages. The complainant asked for solicitor client costs, but none were awarded. Costs against a respondent are generally only awarded where there is improper conduct.

Duty to accommodate not triggered in Electro Hypersensitivity Syndrome complaint

Kliparchuk v Edmonton Public School Board, 2021 AHRC 178 (Alberta Human Rights Tribunal, October 18, 2021)

The complainant is a teacher with Electro Hypersensitivity Syndrome (EHS). She requested that the school she works at remove or disable the Wi-Fi router and other electronic equipment emitting radio frequency (RF) and electro-magnetic (EM) radiation located in her classroom. The School Board agreed to replace the complainant's microphone with a lower frequency plug-in style, but said that it could not remove the router from the classroom in which the complainant taught. Disabling the router in the complainant's classroom would impact the Wi-Fi coverage in the rest of the school. The school where the complainant worked served students with disabilities, including deaf students. Many of the educational supports for students, teachers, and educational professionals required access to the Internet. The Director of the Commission dismissed the complaint and the complainant appealed that decision to the Chief of the Commission and Tribunals.

The Chief considered the information, including a World Health Organization publication on EHS that said that while the symptoms of EHS are real, there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms with RF and EM. A Health Canada publication found that there was no scientific basis to connect issues from RF at frequencies below a certain range. The School District had confirmed that the RF and EM emissions were below 1% of those guidelines. The Chief noted that these reports supported that there was insufficient information to support a nexus between the RF and EM fields the Wi-Fi routers produced and the symptoms reported by individuals with EHS. The complainant did not establish a link between her physical symptoms and the alleged adverse treatment. As a result, the respondent's duty to accommodate was not engaged.

The Chief noted the significant effort the respondent engaged in to determine the best course of action to take to assist with the complainant's EHS. After exploring many sources, the School Board found that there was no information to support that removing the Wi-Fi router from the complainant's classroom would help with her symptoms.

The information did not support the accommodation, not because it was an undue hardship, but because the evidence did not support the accommodation requested. For the above reasons, the Director's decision was upheld and the complaint was dismissed.

COMMISSION NEWS

1. Rise in Albertans seeking information about COVID-19 and human rights

Over the past seven months, the Commission experienced a sharp increase in visits to its website for information about human rights and COVID-19, peaking at 25,000 views in a single day. The information addresses many common questions generated by employers and employees, service providers and users, and landlords and tenants. The pages include links to other helpful resources describing protected grounds and the duty to accommodate. Visit albertahu​manrights.ab.ca/covid for detailed information about vaccine mandates and proof of vaccine, medical testing, mask-wearing, and other topics related to COVID-19 and human rights.

2. Complaint process changes

In ongoing efforts to serve Albertans more effectively and efficiently, the Commission is making further modifications to its complaint management process. The changes will reflect lessons learned during the Case Inventory Resolution Project, where the Commission successfully cleared a backlog of over 1,700 complaints. These include team specialization, more emphasis on conciliation, and streamlining processes.

The aim is to reach a state of equilibrium, where the Commission is closing as many complaints as it receives in a year, with the majority of files closing within a year of receiving them. This will allow the Commission to focus on other public interest issues, such as systemic complaints and public interest investigations.

The changes come into effect on January 1, 2022. Further detail will be provided in upcoming communications.

3. Human rights dispute arising from collective agreement

The Commission is aware of the recent Supreme Court decision of Northern Regional Health Authority v Horrocks, 2021 SCC 42 and is looking at its potential impacts on complaints involving a collective agreement. At this time, the Commission is proceeding with its usual complaint process, as reviews suggest that in Alberta, concurrent jurisdiction will continue for human rights matters.

4. The Commission and the community

  • To commemorate International Human Rights Day today, the Calgary Indigenous Human Rights Circle is hosting a virtual webinar titled: "Advancing Human Rights for Indigenous People and Newcomers in Calgary." Cam Stewart, Policy and Program Consultant at the Alberta Human Rights Commission and Circle member, will provide opening remarks for the webinar.

  • On December 8, 2021, the Alberta Human Rights Commission partnered with the Post-Secondary Accessibility and Disability Resource Association (PADRA) to host a webinar on the "Duty to Accommodate Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities." Panelists included Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre staff, a PADRA accommodation specialist, a student, a post-secondary school administrator, and Commission Human Rights Officer, Lara Apps.

  • On November 26, 2021, Kathryn Oviatt, Acting Chief of the Commission and Tribunals at the Alberta Human Rights Commission, spoke at the Alberta Civil Trial Lawyers' Association. She presented on the topic of human rights law, with an emphasis on COVID-19 and human rights.

  • On November 25, 2021, Cam Stewart attended the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre's virtual event to commemorate International Human Rights Day. Mr. Stewart offered opening greetings on behalf of the Commission. Presenters spoke on human rights matters related to the environment, climate change, child marriage, and transgender children.

5. Alberta Award for the Study of Canadian Human Rights and Multiculturalism

Graduate students attending an Alberta public post-secondary institution whose studies will contribute to the advancement of human rights and multiculturalism are encouraged to apply for the Alberta Award for the Study of Canadian Human Rights and Multiculturalism. There are two annual awards, including the Master's level award for $10,000 and the Doctoral level award for $15,000. The Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund provided funding for this award and it ​is administered jointly by the Alberta Human Rights Commission and Alberta Advanced Education. Interested graduate students can apply by​ ​January 22, 2022 for this scholarship award by visiting Alberta Student Aid.

OTHER NEWS

1. In memoriam: Dr. Darren Lund

Dr. Darren Lund, a renowned and passionate Alberta human rights scholar, advocate, and writer, passed away on November 10, 2021. He worked tirelessly with the Commission and community partners to address individual and systemic racism and discrimination in the province. The Commission sends​ condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.


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