Email over snail mail: changes at the Human Rights Commission

By Victoria Merritt

The human rights commission has overhauled its complaints resolution process, with one lofty goal: to resolve human rights complaints within one year of the complaint being accepted.

A bird’s eye view of the process is that a human rights officer will be assigned to the complaint. That officer will conduct an initial assessment of the complaint to determine which process the complaint should fall within, investigation or conciliation.

Investigation Process: an investigation is, as the name suggests, a thorough review of the complaint by an investigator. The investigator will gather information, figure out what happened, and analyze how Alberta human rights law applies to those facts.

Based on their findings, the investigator will then make a recommendation about whether or not there is a reasonable basis to proceed with the complaint.

If there is no basis, the complaint is dismissed. If the investigator concludes there is a basis for the complaint, then the parties are encouraged to try and resolve the complaint. If the complaint is not resolved, then the complaint will go to a hearing.

Conciliation Process: the Commission describes conciliation as a “voluntary, non-adversarial way to resolve complaints.” The conciliator will assist the parties to try and resolve the issues in the complaint. This process may involve exchanging additional information that the conciliator believes is relevant.

If a resolution has not been achieved within 60 days, the conciliator will prepare a “conciliation memo”. That memo is shared with the parties, and may include a recommendation as to whether a settlement offer should be made.

Significantly, if a settlement offer is recommended, made, and refused, the conciliator is able to recommend the complaint be discontinued.

Assuming the complaint is not discontinued, and after the parties have the opportunity to review and comment on the conciliation memo, that memo goes to the director. The director will decide on the basis of that memo whether the complaint should be discontinued or referred to a hearing.

The new process comes with strict timelines that should be complied with. It is also important for parties to understand when participating in the conciliation proceedings that the discussions will be disclosed to the director in a memo, if a resolution is not reached, and to take seriously a recommendation to make a settlement offer.

Other changes of note include an online assessment tool to help individuals determine whether they are eligible to file a human rights complaint, and a commitment to increase the use of tech (such as electronically fillable forms, email communications instead of snail mail, and an improved website).

Time will tell whether these efforts will help improve the speed with which human rights complaints are addressed. In the meantime, parties involved in the process should make sure they understand the changes and adjust their practices accordingly.

This post is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this post to be outdated.