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Human Rights Complaint

(Tuesday, April 21, 2009) - The following is a communique to outline the steps taken by Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency related to race-based complaints that are currently under investigation by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. It also addresses the commitment from HRM to ensure a workplace environment that is safe and free from harassment at all times.

Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Services (HRFES) has been dealing with an issue that is under investigation by the Human Rights Commission. HRM is not able to discuss any such matters in a public forum. It is important to clarify that policies and processes exist when such complaints are filed because there is a moral and legislative obligation to those involved to not disclose information without consent. To release information publicly would be contrary to Part XX of the Municipal Government Act and the practices followed by the Human Rights Commission. The privacy of those involved can not be compromised.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission Complaint Process
The Human Rights Act protects individuals from discrimination based on a list of enumerated grounds (including race) and in particular circumstance (including employment). An individual who feels they have a human rights complaint against their employer may contact the Human Rights Commission to report what he or she believes is discrimination.

If the complaint falls within the grounds set out in the Act, the Human Rights Commission will request a written statement from the Complainant. Before a formal complaint is filed, the staff at the Human Rights Commission may try to resolve the issue through informal discussions. If the issue is not resolved, Commission staff will formalize the Complainant’s concern on a Complaint Form, which is signed by the Complainant.

The Complaint Form is sent to the person or organization that is alleged to have discriminated (the Respondent), who’s asked to provide a written reply. The Complainant is given a copy of the response and may reply to the response if they wish (a rebuttal). If the Complainant provides a rebuttal, a copy of it goes to the Respondent. At the end of the first phase of the investigation process, Commission staff determine if any other information is required and may investigate the complaint further, summarize the investigation in an Investigation Report conveyed to the parties, or encourage the parties to settle the matter.

Once an Investigation Report has been compiled, Commission staff will recommend to the Commission whether the matter should be referred to a Board of Inquiry for a hearing, or whether the matter should be dismissed. The Commission has the ability to dismiss a complaint for a number of reasons, including that the complaint is without merit, or raises no significant issues of discrimination, or has been appropriately dealt with in another proceeding.

If the recommendation is for a Board of Inquiry, the parties will be given an opportunity to mediate a settlement. A hearing at a Board of Inquiry is a public hearing before a Board appointed by the Commission. Witnesses are called and evidence is heard before a decision is rendered by the Board. Counsel for the Human Rights Commission put forth the case of the Complainant and the Commission, and Counsel for the employer is present to represent the employer. A complaint does not become public until there is a public hearing before a Board of Inquiry.

Diversity Initiatives
HRM and HRFES take situations, such as these, very seriously. Since HRFES employee concerns have been brought forward, the following steps have been taken in an effort to educate employees and provide them with the tools necessary to work together in an environment that’s inclusive and respectful of one another.
• September, 2007 - Workplace Rights and Respect in the Workplace training was provided to HRFE management staff. Topics included:
• workplace rights policy
• complaint process
• clarification of roles (managers, HR staff, investigators, complainant, respondent etc)
• respect in the workplace
• examples and discussion

• November, 2007 - Engaged outside consultant to conduct thorough investigation into allegations

• July, 2008 - Internal memo sent to all HRFES staff stating organization’s support for harassment free and inclusive workplace.

• October, 2008 - Diversity Officer position created at HRFES
• New training being developed - to be delivered in June of 2009. Topics:
• clear and respectful communication (how to communicate effectively about operational and strategic needs)
• listening skills (learn to listen)
• providing and receiving feedback
• conflict resolution tools (what is available, pros and cons of each, how to use them and when)

HRM values the diversity of its citizens and employees and sees diversity as a combination of differences and similarities among people. It is more than race, sexual orientation, language, gender ability or any other descriptive category. It is indeed the goal of HRM to create an inclusive and respectful workplace culture where employees feel safe and valued and where HRM leadership remains committed and involved.

Diversity is HRM’s organizational strength and we continue to focus our resources on building a workforce that understands and utilizes different views, ideas, life experiences, skills and talents.

HRM is successful in a number of internal initiatives designed to recognize, value and celebrate the diversity of its employees. Some of these initiatives include:
• Annual Corporate Diversity Week
• Develop and rollout policies to ensure employees fully understand their rights and responsibilities with respect to creating and maintaining a positive and respectful environment.

Such policies include:
• Ethical Conduct Policy
• Illegal and Irregular Conduct Policy
• Employment Equity Policy
• Workplace Rights Policies:
• highlighting both the informal and formal conflict resolution process
• Develop and deliver corporate diversity training programs such as:
• Disability Awareness
• Building Cultural Competencies I and II
• Human Rights
• Respect in the Workplace
• Currently developing diversity training for HRM leaders
• Designing and delivering customized diversity training to business units to meet their needs
• Formed a corporate diversity working group to examine diversity issues in HRM with the goal of establishing a Corporate Diversity Committee
• Provide support and expertise to CUPE Racially Visible Caucus of Transportation and Public Works
• Provide coaching to HRM employees and managers re: diversity, respect in the workplace, policy, training, and dispute resolution

It is our goal to address and resolve all concerns, complaints or disputes brought up by our employees internally and in a timely and confidential fashion. To accomplish that, HR is expending its Organizational Development team, and will hire additional Conflict Resolution Consultants, who will assist various business units with any conflict or harassment-related issues.

HRM's Commitment
Being a large organization, we will experience Human Rights complaints as many organizations do. There are processes that we’ll follow and we’ll remain committed to ensuring a workplace that speaks to our organization’s core values.

It is the ultimate goal of HRM that each and every employee feel valued and respected as employees and individuals. We want our environment to be one in which people feel safe and welcomed and know their human rights are protected. HRM will continue to work toward a workplace that is safe and free from harassment, and continue to address incidents as they arise using the policies that are in place to address harassment and discrimination.

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Michaelyn Thompson
HRM Corporate Communications
(902) 476-5930




Above content last modified Thursday, November 02, 2023 at 11:40am.