Saskatchewan revamps human rights regime

New system emphasizes alternative dispute resolution, more proof by complainants
||Last Updated: 08/08/2011

The Saskatchewan legislature has passed new amendments that are intended to resolve more complaints without litigation and in a more timely manner.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2011 — now in force — is making some significant changes to the way the province handles human rights complaints. The old Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal, which previously heard complaints, has been eliminated. Going forward, human rights complaints that cannot be resolved through mediation or other methods — which will be allowed to deal with more complaints themselves — will be handled by the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench.

The rationale for the new route for complaints is that judges of the court are guaranteed to be impartial, fair and neutral, something that may not necessarily be the case with a tribunal of part-time arbitrators. Given that human rights complaints that make it to this point are likely significant cases, the provincial government saw the need to have them decided in the court system.

The amendments also put more onus on a complainant to prove the necessity of a complaint. A person filing a complaint must now provide “sufficient evidence” that shows a reasonable belief that someone has contravened the province’s human rights code. Previously, a person only had to believe there was a contravention.

The amendments also allow employers to implement “reasonable and justifiable measures” to tackle disadvantages that might be suffered at their workplaces based on one or more protected grounds in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, without getting a formal exemption from the province’s human rights commission first, as was the case before.

Other changes brought in by the amendments include allowing the commission to seek more information on a complainant before proceeding and giving the chief commissioner the power to dismiss a complaint if the commissioner deems an offer of settlement to be reasonable but the complainant refuses to accept it. In addition, the limitation period for filing a complaint has been reduced from two years to one.

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