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Queen's University

Human Rights Office

Complaints Resolution Process: Frequently Asked Questions

Most of us instinctively believe that "all beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights", as articulated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, most of us also realize that discrimination and harassment remain unfortunate realities in our society. You may be reading this page because you feel you've been treated unfairly and you wish that something could be done about it. Or perhaps you know of someone who has experienced discrimination or harassment and you want to help.

Whatever the case may be, it is important to know that Queen's has policies which prohibit harassment and discrimination as well as resources to help you decide how best to deal with your situation. Discrimination and harassment will not go away unless something is done to stop it, but no one has to take action alone.

Naturally, you may be feeling confused or apprehensive about making a complaint. Please find below our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions people have about bringing an issue to the Human Rights Office.

What is the human rights office?

The Human Rights Office is a confidential, university-based service provider which administers the University's Harassment and Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure. As well as providing education and training on equity related issues, the Office has advisors who assist in the resolution of harassment/discrimination complaints.

Is my concern a "human rights" issue?

Understandably, people tend to associate any affront to personal dignity with their human rights. While this may make sense in broad, philosophical terms, the Human Rights Office works from a more limited, legal definition of human rights. Our policies have been modelled after Ontario human rights legislation. The Ontario Human Rights Code explicitly states that no one should be discriminated against or harassed on the grounds of .... "...race, ancestry, citizenship, colour, creed, place of origin, ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, marital status, family status, receipt of public assistance (in accommodation), record of offenses (in employment)".

Does the Queen's Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure apply to me?

The Queen's Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure applies to all students, staff and faculty of the University. If the situation you're dealing with involves members of the Queen's community (whether on or off campus) and if it falls under one of the grounds enumerated above, you may have a human rights case. NOTE: Under this procedure individuals who make a human rights complaint through our office are known as "Complainants". Individuals alleged to have engaged in a discriminatory or harassing conduct are known as "Respondents".

I think I have a human rights issue.... What can the Human Rights Office do about it?

Depending on the situation, there may be a wide range of options for handling your complaint. In the past, complainants have sought all kinds of resolutions, from personal apologies, to requests for no contact from respondents, to equity training for their academic departments. In seeking a resolution, the Human Rights Office's (HRO's) main priority is to ensure complainant safety and to see that harassing/discriminatory behaviours or practices stop. While the HRO's role is to advise you about your options, you as the complainant retain control over how your complaint gets handled. How your case proceeds will, to a large extent, depend on whether you choose to have the matter resolved INFORMALLY or FORMALLY.

What's the difference between the informal and formal procedures?

At the informal level, any reasonable steps may be taken in order to resolve a complaint. Examples of informal resolutions may include: a "no contact" letter stating explicitly that the complainant wishes to have no contact with the respondent; a conversation between the complainant's advisor, the respondent and his/her advisor; a facilitated settlement whereby a respondent agrees not to further engage in harassing/discriminatory activity, or academic adjustments when necessary. Should the situation warrant it, or should informal routes of resolution not be successful, you may wish to file a formal complaint. A formal complaint involves requesting that the Secretary of the University assemble a three- person Complaint Board to make an official ruling on your complaint. Individuals chosen to sit on the Complaint Board are selected for their ability to give each case an unbiased hearing. The Complaint Board decides on the appropriate remedial measures to be taken based on evidence of the probability that the alleged harassment/discrimination took place. Complainants and respondents may, at any time, bring a support person of their choice to the hearing. Note, however, that even after requesting a formal hearing, you may still choose to have your complaint resolved informally. Human Rights Office advisors are happy to recommend what they feel is a reasonable course of action in your situation. But remember, any decisions about how to proceed with your case ultimately rest with you.

Am I obliged to confront the person who has mistreated me?

No. HRO staff are aware of how emotionally difficult it can be to be the target of harassment or discrimination; it is perfectly natural for complainants to experience feelings of guilt, confusion, pain, anger, powerlessness, or fear. Complainants do not often want to "talk things out" with people who have hurt them or who hold positions of power over them. Human Rights Office advisors are available to act as third parties in any negotiations between you and a respondent.

Will I lose my job or fail my courses if I complain?

Anyone who makes a complaint under the HRO's Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Procedure is protected against reprisal. In fact, any reprisal against you for making a complaint is considered a further violation of University policy. However, if you're still concerned about how you may be treated in your given workplace or classroom, you may wish to postpone action on your complaint until all threat of reprisal has gone or until you've left that threatening environment. In our procedure, this is known as holding a complaint in abeyance.

I'm not ready to pursue a complaint right at this moment...Is there a time limit?

While the Policy sometimes recognizes exceptional circumstances that may prevent individuals from filing complaints within a reasonable time period, complaints must generally be brought to the Office within 6 months of the last incident of harassment or discrimination. If you are planning to hold your complaint in abeyance, you may postpone action up to three months after filing, or until any threat of reprisal has been removed, or until you've permanently left the threatening environment.

I was harassed by another Queen's student, but it happened off-campus... Can the Human Rights Office still help me?

The purpose of the Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure is to facilitate the creation of an environment in which all members of the Queen's community are able to live, work and study free of harassment and discrimination. If what happened to you off-campus has negatively affected your ability to function at Queen's, and the respondent is also a member of the Queen's community, our policies still apply.

Will my concerns be kept confidential?

When complaints are brought to the Human Rights Office, every effort is made to maintain confidentiality. No one will be contacted about your visit to the Office or about the nature of your complaint (including your parents/guardian(s)) except at your request. Please note that the Human Rights Office is obliged by law to disclose information which reveals physical/sexual abuse of children or threats to the safety of other community members.

Can I "drop" my complaint if I decide at some point that I don't want to go through with this?

Should you decide to drop your complaint, we will abide by your wishes. Cases taken by the Human Rights Office are always "complainant driven". This means that any decisions about how to proceed with your case are, ultimately, made by you. Human Rights Office Coordinators will not act on your behalf without your express consent. You are always in control of the process.

I don't think my concern is a Human Rights Issue, but I don't know where to go now...

If, after consulting with a Human Rights Office advisor, it is clear that your situation falls outside of our jurisdiction, we will do our best to refer you to a service better suited to meet your needs.

On campus

Off campus

To contact an advisor, email

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000