Moving Us Forward

Action Travail Des Femmes v. Canadian National Railway Company Supreme Court Of Canada– 1987


A Montreal-based community group, Action Travail des Femmes, complained to the Canadian Human Rights Commission that CN was following discriminatory hiring and promotion practices by denying employment opportunities to women in certain unskilled blue-collar positions.  Based on that complaint, evidence was found which indicated clearly that the recruitment, hiring and promotion policies at CN prevented and discouraged women from working in blue collar jobs.  Therefore, the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that it was essential to impose upon CN a program tailored specifically to address the problem of  “systemic discrimination” in the hiring and promotion of a disadvantaged group, in this case women, and ordered the company to hire more women in blue-collar jobs. The specific hiring goals was a rational attempt by the Court to impose a systemic remedy on a systemic problem.  The ruling set an important precedent for future initiatives dealing with systemic discrimination against traditionally disadvantaged groups.

Bonnie Robichaud v. Canada(Treasury Board) Supreme Court Of Canada– 1987


This decision confirmed that the employer is responsible for the unauthorized discriminatory acts of its employees in the course of their employment.

Mrs. Bonnie Robichaud filed a complaint of sexual harassment with the Canadian Human Rights against her employer, the Department of National Defence and her supervisor.  A Human Rights Review Tribunal found that the supervisor had sexually harassed Robichaud and that the Department of National Defence was strictly liable for the actions of its supervisory personnel. The decision was appealed at the Supreme Court of Canada which ruled that a discriminatory practice by an employee is to be considered a discriminatory practice by the employer as well, whether or not authorized or intended by the latter.

Renaud v.Central OkanaganSchool DistrictNo. 23 Supreme Court Of Canada– 1992


This case very clearly showed that an employer has a duty to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees and that a trade union is also obligated to accommodate its members’ needs.

Mr. Larry S. Renaud, a unionized custodian, did not want to work in a shift on Friday evening for religious reasons. Neither Mr. Renaud’s union nor the school board could come to an agreement on a practical accommodation of his situation. Finally, the school board terminated his employment when he refused to complete his regular Friday night shift.  The Court ruled in this case that the workplace schedule, found in the collective agreement, for which both the employer and the union were responsible,  resulted in discriminatory effects on Mr. Renaud.  Therefore, both were responsible for remedying any adverse effects caused by the work schedule. However, in this case, the employer failed in securing an appropriate accommodation of Mr. Renaud’s religious beliefs and could not offer Mr. Renaud an acceptable work schedule. The union also contributed to the continuation of the discrimination with its refusal to accept the employer‑suggested accommodation.                            

Syndicat De L’enseignement De Champlain v. Commission Scolaire Régionale De Chambly Supreme Court Of Canada – 1994


In this case, a complaint was brought against a school board which required its Jewish teachers either to work on their holy day or to take leave of absence without pay. The Supreme Court of Canada found that this requirement had the effect of discriminating against members of an identifiable group because of their religious beliefs and that the school board as an employer must take reasonable steps to accommodate the individual or group of employees adversely affected by its rules/requirements. The Court concluded that this duty to accommodate by the school board was fundamentally necessary to achieve equality in the workplace.  Therefore, the school board was ordered to pay teachers for their absence on the Jewish holy day.

James Egan And John Norris Nesbit  v. CanadaSupreme Court Of Canada– 1995


This case presented a situation of direct discrimination.  As a result of the definition of a common law spouse as a “person of the opposite sex”, same sex common law couples were denied the benefit of the spousal allowance which was available to heterosexual common law couples.  This distinction amounted to a clear denial of equal benefit of the law.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the violation in this case was clear and direct. The denial of providing same benefits to heterosexual as well as to same sex partners was clearly discriminatory. Therefore, the Court concluded that the definition of spousal benefit should be extended to include partners in same-sex conjugal relationships.

Eldridge v. British Columbia(Attorney General) – 1997


In this case, Robin Susan Eldridge, was born deaf and used sign language as a means of communication. However, medical care in British Columbiadid not pay for sign language interpretation for the deaf patients in hospitals and in other health care facilities. Consequently, it limited the ability of these patients to communicate effectively with their doctors and other health care providers and increased  the risk of misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that deaf patients have the right to sign language interpretation in hospitals. The Court stated that effective communication is an indispensable component of the delivery of a medical service. Therefore, failure of the Medical Services Commission and hospitals to provide sign language interpretation, in order to allow deaf persons communicate effectively with their health care providers, was discriminatory.  The Supreme Court concluded that government had a duty to make a “reasonable accommodation” of deaf patients’ disability and need. This ruling was the first Supreme Court decision dealing with the duty to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.  

National Capital AllianceOn Race Relations (NCARR) v. Canada(Health And Welfare)Interested Party : Professional Institute Of The Public Service Of CanadaCanadian Human Rights Tribunal – 1997


The National Capital Alliance on Race Relations (“NCARR”) filed a complaint of systemic discrimination against Health and Welfare Canada, now Health Canada(“HC”).  It alleged that Health and Welfare Canadadiscriminated against visible minorities by establishing employment policies and practices that deprived or tended to deprive this group of employees of employment opportunities in management and senior professional jobs on the basis of race, colour and ethnic origin.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal agreed with the Complainant and found that visible minority groups in HC were being affected in a disproportionately negative way.  There was a significant under-representation of visible minorities in senior management in HC. Moreover, visible minorities were bottlenecked or concentrated in the feeder group in the Scientific and Professional (S&P) category and were not progressing into senior management. The majority of members in the EX group from the S&P category were recruited from occupational groups with a fairly high representation of visible minorities, but no visible minorities were recruited from this group; or were recruited from occupational groups with limited numbers of visible minorities.  Only limited recruitment occurred, into the EX group, from feeder occupational groups with a very high representation of visible minorities.

British Columbia Government And Service Employees’ Union (B.C.G.S.E.U.)  v.  British Columbia Public Service Employee Relations Commission (Meiorin) Supreme Court Of Canada– 1999


Tawney Meiorin, a female firefighter employed during three years in B.C.,  passed three of the physical fitness tests but failed a fourth one, a 2.5 kilometer run in which she took 49.4 seconds longer than allowed.  She was subsequently dismissed from her job.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that no credible evidence showed that the prescribed physical fitness test was necessary for either men or women to perform the work of a forest firefighter safely and efficiently. In fact, the evidence fell well short of establishing that Ms. Meiorin posed a serious safety risk to herself, her colleagues, or the general public.

Hence, the effect of the physical fitness standard established by the B.C. government would exclude qualified female candidates from employment for no reason but their gender. The Court, therefore, concluded that since the physical fitness test had an adverse discriminatory effect on women, it should be removed.  The Court ruled that employers have a positive obligation to design workplace standards and requirements so that they do not discriminate.

Goyette v. Voyageur Colonial Ltée Federal Court Of Canada– Trial Division – 1999


Lise Goyette brought a complaint against her union, Syndicat des employé(e)s de terminus de Voyageur Colonial Limitée (CSN) for negotiating a collective agreement which deprived a particular class of employees, namely, the telephone operators, the majority of whom are women, of opportunities for employment or promotion within the company.  It was alleged that the union committed an act of systemic discrimination by accepting and implementing an agreement which affected adversely a group of its own members. The Federal Court of Canada concluded that it was a discriminatory practice for an employee organization to enter into an agreement that deprived a class of individuals of  employment opportunities on a prohibited ground of discrimination, in this case, gender.

Terry Grismer v. British Columbia(Superintendent Of Motor Vehicles) Supreme Court Of Canada– 1999


The claimant, Mr. Terry Grismer, suffered from a condition called homonymous hemianopia or H.H., which eliminated most of his left-side peripheral vision in both eyes. The B.C. Superintendent of Motor Vehicles canceled his driver’s license on the ground that his vision no longer met the standard of a minimum field of vision of 120 degrees. After repeatedly being denied a license despite passing the requisite tests, the claimant  filed a complaint with the B.C. Council of Human Rights.  The discrimination in this case lies not in the refusal to issue a license, but in the refusal  to give the claimant a chance to prove, through an individual assessment, that he could be licensed without jeopardizing the goal of reasonable road safety. The refusal in this case was made on the basis of discriminatory assumptions founded on stereotypes of disability, rather than actual capacity to drive safely. The Court recognized that persons with disabilities are assumed to be unable to accomplish certain tasks based on the experience of able-bodied individuals.  Through its deliberation, the Supreme Court of Canada, clearly stated that the thrust of human rights legislation is to eliminate such assumptions and break down the barriers that stand in the way of equality for all. 

Nancy Green v. The Attorney General Of CanadaFederal Court Of Canada – 2000


In August 1987, Nancy Green, “won” a Public Service closed competition for a PM‑6 bilingual non‑imperative position, but was not appointed because tests revealed that she lacked an aptitude of learning French through full‑time training within the time specified by Treasury Board. Later testing determined that Ms. Green suffered from learning disability or dyslexia affecting auditory processing functioning. This meant that she could not learn French in the usual way and explained her results on the  screening test.

The Federal Court found that the central issue in this case was adverse effect discrimination based on disability. The Court also concluded that the employer had a duty to accommodate the disability of Ms. Green up and to the point of undue hardship, because it was inappropriate to not distinguish between her needs and that of others in the Language Training Program. Therefore, a wide‑ranging systemic discrimination remedies were ordered to effect the accommodation of persons with learning disabilities in employment and also in accessing language training.