The Commission usually tries to resolve human rights complaints at the earliest opportunity. How a discrimination complaint goes through the Commission’s dispute resolution process depends on the details of the case.
The Commission will be impartial throughout the dispute resolution process. While the Commission administers every complaint, it does not represent the complainant or the respondent. In some of the cases where a complaint goes before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, the Commission will participate to represent the public interest when the case has the potential to clarify, influence, shape or define human rights law.
The three main stages of the Commission’s dispute resolution process are as follows:
- Stage 1: Before a formal complaint is filed
- Stage 2: After a formal complaint is filed
- Stage 3: After the Commission’s decision
Stage 1: Before a formal complaint is filed
Inquiry and Screening
A discrimination complaint begins with your phone call, letter, or when you send a completed form (from the complaint assessment tool) to the Commission. Using any of these methods, you will explain why you want to file a discrimination complaint.
Stage 2: After a formal complaint is filed
The organization you are complaining about will be notified in writing as soon as possible once the Commission receives your complaint.
The Commission must then decide if it will deal with your complaint. There are many factors to consider. Your complaint will not be dealt with by the Commission if:
- Your issue does not fall under the Commission’s jurisdiction.
- Your issue is not linked to one of the grounds of discrimination.
- Your issue is not based on a discriminatory practice in the Act.
- An internal dispute resolution process could be used instead.
- Another process is already dealing with the complaint or has already dealt with it.
- Your complaint is trivial, frivolous, vexatious or made in bad faith.
- Your complaint has not been filed within one year of the incident or incidents you are complaining about.
If the Commission decides to deal with your complaint, mediation could be offered.
The mediation process is voluntary and confidential. It gives each side the opportunity to explain their understanding of the story, and then attempts to resolve the concerns that led to the complaint.
Mediators are impartial and do not represent you or the other side.
If the mediation works, then both sides must sign a settlement agreement. This agreement would outline what you each have decided to do to resolve the dispute. This is called reaching a settlement.
If mediation does not work, your discrimination complaint will then be investigated. Whatever was discussed during mediation cannot be used against you during the investigation.
Dave works in an interprovincial transportation company in Alberta. Last spring, he was in a serious accident that left him paralysed. After rehabilitation, Dave is ready to resume his duties as dispatcher. However, he has lost mobility in his legs and now uses a wheelchair.
Upon his return, he finds that the company building is not accessible for people who use wheelchairs. The washroom is too narrow and the office space needs to be reconfigured to adjust for his needs with an appropriate work station.
He speaks to the owner of the small family company who expresses his concern for the situation. The owner tells Dave that the company can’t afford a ramp, or the necessary renovations to the bathroom and to his work station. Dave is very disappointed and decides to contact the Commission about filing a complaint against his employer.
After speaking with the company owner about Dave’s complaint, a Commission officer asks Dave if he would take part in an informal dispute resolution process. The goal is to bring everyone affected by the issue together to share their views and resolve the conflict.
Dave and the owner agree to meet with a professional mediator who acts as an independent third party.
The mediator hears both sides of the situation and leads a discussion about the cost of renovations and the benefits for the company and the users. Dave and his boss agree to work together to inspect the building and create an action plan to make the space more accessible. The plan will identify immediate needs and set out a schedule for what can be done later as part of regular maintenance.
Dave and his boss come to an agreement and sign a settlement.
During the investigation process the Commission will consider your case on its merits. This means that the investigator may:
- Speak with you and the respondent.
- Interview witnesses.
- Review supporting documents.
- Decide whether there is evidence to support the allegation(s) in the complaint.
During the investigation, the investigator will normally ask the other side to provide their response, or supporting information.
After the investigation, the investigator prepares a report. The report will make one of three recommendations:
- that your complaint be dismissed;
- that your complaint be sent to conciliation; or
- that your complaint be referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for further examination.
The investigation report will be shared with you and the other side. You will both be given the chance to make written comments on the report.
The Commission’s Decision
After the investigation, the Commission members will read the investigation report and any comments made by you and the respondent before making a decision.
The Commission members will decide if the complaint should be dismissed, sent to conciliation, or referred to the Tribunal.
Commission decisions are final, so the human rights officer cannot ask the Commission members to change their decision once it is made.
Stage 3: After the Commission's Decision
Conciliation is similar to mediation. The difference is that conciliation is mandatory. Both you and the other side must participate in conciliation as a final attempt to resolve the conflict.
If the Commission decides that your matter should go to conciliation, both sides will normally be given a window of three to four months to try to settle the discrimination complaint. If you cannot reach a settlement in that time, the case could be sent back to the Commission members for further examination, and possibly be sent to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
If the Commission decides to refer a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, the Commission no longer controls the complaint.
The Tribunal may hold a hearing. It will ask both you and the other side to provide any documents and call witnesses for support.
In some cases, the Commission will also attend the Tribunal hearing to represent the public interest in cases where the outcome has the potential to clarify, influence, shape or define human rights law. If this happens, the Commission may also provide documents and call witnesses.
After the hearing, the Tribunal will either dismiss the complaint or find that there has been discrimination. If the Tribunal finds there has been discrimination it can order the organization to take corrective measures.
Corrective measures might mean that the organization is ordered to:
- change its policies or practices, or create human rights policies,
- pay you for lost wages or give you your job back,
- take human rights awareness training, or
- pay you for pain and suffering up to a maximum of $20,000, and any losses caused by the discrimination.
- pay you up to a maximum of $20,000 for reckless or willful discrimination.
Note: The Tribunal cannot order the reimbursement of legal fees.
If either side disagrees with a decision made by the Commission or by the Tribunal, they can ask the Federal Court to review the decision. This is called a judicial review. If the Federal Court agrees with the person who made the request, it may send the case back to the Commission or the Tribunal. The Commission or Tribunal will be required to review the case again.