The Canadian Human Rights
by Charlotte Hutchinson
Remember me? The disabled employee with environmental illness (EI) that Environment Canada (EC) turfed out because a bevy of their engineers couldn't apply some relatively simple recommendations by Health Canada (HC)?
In the last issue of the UPdate I told you some of the bad news about the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). They took my complaint of discrimination and harassment against EC in the Halifax office professionally. But from the time it hit the Ottawa office, the incidences of lack of knowledge, training, competence, professional behaviour and accountability were frequent. My experiences were obviously not unique. The Lawyers Weekly coverage of the 1998 Auditor General's Report on the CHRC headlined, "Auditor General slams CHRC record."
The Auditor General, Denis Desautels said, "We should all be concerned that the fundamental rights of Canadians who have problems with human rights are not being handled in a manner they are entitled to expect." Desautels expressed concerns that the Commission doesn't always follow its own standards to ensure quality investigations, and there is a high turnover among its staff (14 of 22 investigators have less than one year's experience).
has read an Agatha Christie mystery or watched an episode of Law and Order
would almost certainly have conducted a more competent investigation than
their investigator. I offered her documents, tape recordings and photographs
Of all the
amazing things in her report, one of the most startling was that she couldn't
confirm that EC had ordered me to work out of a warehouse in 1995. She
had the letter where EC ordered me to do so. I had offered her photographs
I talked and
wrote to her supervisor and her director...to no avail. So I wrote a huge
rebuttal to her report. I quoted documents. I referred to tape recordings,
photos and the respirator. I suggested witnesses and spoke of physical
Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, I found out that the 6 Commissioners
rubber stamped mine and 62 other cases the same morning. They had the two
prior weeks, at $325 per day, to review the less than 1000 pages they
found out that my case was one of five in the investigator's first batch.
She received no training or written instructions prior to handling them.
Her contract with the CHRC specified no qualifications -- not education,
I also made some inquiries as to the training of the Commissioners. The only evidence of any training was for the newest Commissioner. He had 1/2 day training after, not before, his committee ruled on my case and the 62 other cases.
Well, I told you the bad news about the CHRC. What's the good news?
In April 1999, as a result of the Auditor General's report, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada announced "a review of human rights protection in Canada." It was a travelling road show, hearing submissions from across Canada. Web site: http://www.chrareview.org. The report in due April 2000.
So if you are a federal employee getting sick from the indoor air quality (IAQ) at work, I have renewed hope that you might get help through the CHRC.
If you are a Canadian worker, disabled through EI/MCS, federal and provincial human rights legislation provide protection from harassment and discrimination. You are entitled to accommodation up to the point of undue hardship from your employer. Most employees don't know this. Neither do most employers. Both the Canadian and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commissions recognize employees with EI/MCS as being disabled, and both have accepted complaints on that basis.
the complexion of "accommodation up to the point of undue hardship" varies
with the circumstances and the resources of the employer. The greater the
ability of the employer to provide suitable accommodation, the more they
to the air quality at your workplace, don't accept the worn-out and uninformed
retort, "The air quality studies say that everything is fine. Everything
meets the standards." The studies don't mean the air is safe; they don't
mean you won't get sick by working there. Studies vary. Standards vary.
None consider all the toxins/hazards. None use instruments as sensitive
as the body of someone with EI/MCS. In 1995 Dr. H.K. Lee, an IAQ specialist
with HC reported, "Environmental
The ideal situation for an employee having this kind of problem is to work with an enlightened and compassionate employer to find a suitable solution to safe office space. You must cooperate by providing medical information as to your condition and needs. You must also cooperate in the search for suitable accommodation. You may want to involve your union and/or your safety and health committee. Your applicable labour, health and public works departments may be able to provide good advice. If your doctor can't come up with parameters for a suitable office, Operation: Safe Office Space can help.
Document everything. Include dates. What are your symptoms? When and where do they happen? How are you at home? In other locations? See a doctor and tell them what is happening. Keep notes of all the communication with your employer. Put your requests for accommodation in writing, being as specific as possible.
Don't accept just any solution. Accommodation for those with EI/MCS means an office where you don't get sick. Your health is precious. It will be a big factor in how well and how long you live.
Don't agree to telework (work from home) unless that solution is preferable for you, or your employer's resources limit you to that solution. There are significant negative impacts to working at home. Smith Muir says, "The preferred alternative as far as accommodating someone with a disability is concerned is something that maximizes that person's dignity, their autonomy and their integration into the workplace and into society -- something that minimizes their discomfort or inconvenience and addresses their needs most rapidly."
If you are
getting sick from the air quality at work and haven't been able to work
out a satisfactory solution with your employer, contact the human rights
office which applies to you. Don't hesitate. Their raison d'etre is to