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Queen's University
 

Human Rights Office

Respondent's Guide to the Queen's Complaints Resolution Process

What is this page about

You are likely reading this booklet as a result of learning that a complaint about your behaviour has been, or might be, made with the Human Rights Office. Queen's University has in place a Harassment and Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure which has been designed to protect all members of the Queen's community from discrimination and to facilitate the creation of an environment in which everyone feels valued and welcome. Because the focus of the Policy is on remedial action, the University has taken care to ensure that the interests of respondents, as well as those of complainants, are respected in the review of any human rights related case. Naturally, you may be feeling confused or anxious about the allegations made with respect to your actions, and about how the Harassment and Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure works. This guide is intended to answer some of the most common questions people have when named as respondents in a Harassment and Discrimination case.

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. The Human Rights Office is not attached to the Ontario Human Rights Commission or the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. In addition to providing education and training on equity-related issues, the Office has advisors who may work with Senate appointed Respondent Advisors to assist in the resolution of harassment/discrimination complaints.

What is a human rights issue?

The Human Rights Office works from a legal definition of human rights derived from 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, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, marital status, family status, receipt of public assistance (in accommodation), record of offenses (in employment)".

A complaint has been made about me. Will I have an opportunity to tell my side of the story?

Yes. In order to make a determination as to whether or not discrimination/harassment has taken place, Human Rights Office (HRO) advisors need to consider all information available to them about the case. This fact-finding process will naturally involve communication with you about your perspective on the events in question. If you have elected to seek the assistance of a respondent advisor, they can also help you formulate an appropriate response to an allegation of harassment or discrimination.

What if the complaint about me is addressed outside of the Human Rights Office with just my supervisor/department head? Is this permissible?

Yes. Under the Harassment and Discrimination Complaint Policy, all those with supervisory responsibilities, such as Department Heads or Residence Coordinators, actually have a duty to address situations like these which arise within their area of responsibility. There is always the possibility that the HRO may become involved at a later stage of the process, but whenever appropriate, those with supervisory responsibilities are nevertheless expected to make a sincere attempt at resolving the issues informally. This course of action, however, does not prohibit you from seeking advice; you may still wish to consult with a University respondent advisor to ensure that you are being treated appropriately.

I never intended to hurt anyone by my actions. Can unintentional behaviour still be viewed as permissible?

Yes. Behaviour which was not intended to harm can still have a discriminatory impact on others. It is the effect of behaviour, rather than the intent, which is the central consideration in deciding whether or not an action is discriminatory. Please note, however, that the Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure aims to assess the effects of particular events or courses of action; it has not been designed to judge personal morality. We do recognize that even someone who is consistently well-intentioned is capable of making mistakes. So while a person's intentions will have little bearing on findings of discrimination, intentions may be taken into account when reaching a resolution.

I understand that there are two basic directions under the Policy that this complaint may follow: the informal and the formal. What is the difference?

Most complaints that come to the Human Rights Office are resolved using the INFORMAL process. At the information level, any reasonable steps may be taken in order to resolve a complaint. Examples of information resolutions may include:Should the situation warrant it, or should informal routes of resolution not be satisfactory, the complaint may be resolved through the FORMAL process. In the formal process, the complainant asks the Secretary of the University to assemble a three-person Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Board to make an official ruling on the complaint. Individuals chosen to sit on the Complaint Board are selected for their ability to give each case an unbiased hearing. The Complaint Board has access to legal expertise if necessary. The Complaint Board decides on the appropriate remedial measures or sanctions to be taken based on evidence of the probability that the alleged harassment/discrimination took place. Sanctions can range from a request for no-contact to withdrawal or termination from the University. Note that even after a request for a formal hearing, a respondent and complainant still have the opportunity to agree to resolve the complaint informally.

Is there someone that can help guide me through these procedures and ensure that my rights are being protected throughout the process?

Yes. Under the Harassment and Discrimination Complaint Policy, both respondents and complainants have the opportunity to seek the assistance of an advisor (thought they are not obliged to do so). An individual may seek the help of their union if they are unionized.  Additionally, a person may seek the help of a "respondent advisor", Respondent advisors are appointed by the Principal and have the express role of helping respondents through the complaint process. The names of advisors specially designated to work with respondents are available through the Coordinator of Dispute Resolution Mechanisms. Both respondents and complainants may also choose to seek legal advice at their own expense.

The person who made this complaint against me has done unfair things. Can I make a counter-complainant against them?

Technically speaking, no. The process of counter-complaining or counter-suing is something that takes place in a court of law. The Queen's Harassment and Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure is an internal, administrative process, so it differs from court systems. At Queen's, the Harassment and Discrimination Complaint Procedure is engaged by the complainant, not the respondent. But this does not mean that complainants are given an unfair advantage. Advisors are not advocates for respondents or complainants - they are interested in ensuring fairness for both parties and in learning as much of the facts as possible. So, if you sincerely feel that there is information about the complainant's behaviour that will better clarify the situation presented, you will have every opportunity to make that clear. If a complaint is found to be frivolous, vexatious or malicious, sanctions or remedial measures may be recommended by the Board for implementation by the appropriate Officers of the University.

The discriminatory behavior in which I allegedly engaged happened quite a long while ago. Isn't there a time limit for making complaints?

This depends on whether the case is being resolved informally or formally. These are no defined time limits for informal complaints. In circumstances where informal cases come to the Office more than 6 months after the last alleged incident of harassment or discrimination, HRO advisors will determine whether or not it it reasonable to attempt an informal resolution. Formal complaints must usually be brought to the Office within 6 months of the last incident of discrimination/harassment. The Harassment and Discrimination Complaint Policy, however, does allow HRO advisors the discretion to recognize exceptional circumstances that may have prevented complainants from filing complaints within the 6-month time period (e.g. required continued contact with the respondent). The Policy also allows complainants who fear reprisal to postpone action on a filed complaint for an additional 3 months or until the threat or reprisal has been removed.

I'm worried about my reputation - will these allegations be made in public?

No. When complaints are brought to the Human Rights Office, every effort is made to maintain confidentiality. While we cannot control rumours or silence those determined to share information about the case, we strongly advise both respondents and complainants that it is in their best interest to be discreet. As far as the advisors are concerned, only those who are directly involved in the complaint or who have a role to play in the enforcement of a resolution should know about it.

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.

What will happen if I'm found responsible for harassment and/or discrimination?

If you are found responsible for discrimination or harassment, any number of possible resolutions could be explored depending on the specifics or the case. The resolution reached will often depend on the specifics or the case. The resolution reached will often depend on what the complainant, found to be the target of discrimination and/or harassment, has requested. Resolutions are intended to be remedial, rather than punitive, in nature. It is important, however, to remember that in determining appropriate resolutions, consideration must be given to the effect of a respondent's actions on individuals and the broader community

  • a "no contact" letter which explicitly states that the respondent is to have no further contact with the complainant

  • a meeting with the respondent advisor and an HRO advisor

  • a settlement (facilitated by the two advisors) between the complaint and the respondent

  • What can I do if I don't feel that the case has been decided fairly?

    If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your case, you have the opportunity to grieve the process by which Advisors or the Complaint Board have arrived at their decisions. In all cases, appeals with respect to findings or sanctions may be made through the Secretary of the University. You can find out more about the appeal process from your respondent advisors and from the Harassment and Discrimination Policy.

    The complaint against me was eventually dropped. Can I take action against the complainant for making a case that went nowhere?

    If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your case, you have the opportunity to grieve the process by which Advisors or the Complaint Board have arrived at their decisions. In all cases, appeals with respect to findings or sanctions may be made through the Secretary of the University. You can find out more about the appeal process from your respondent advisors and from the Harassment and Discrimination Policy.

    I'm really upset and confused about this whole thing. Is there someone I can talk to about what I am going through?

    There are a number of University service providers who are available to help you through the challenges you are sure to experience in going through this process. As a first contact, your respondent advisor will be there to help you sort through the procedure and act as a "sounding board" for your concerns. If you find yourself needing additional counselling, or if you have chosen not to work with a respondent advisor, the following services may be able to provide you with some support:>

    To contact an advisor, email hrights@queensu.ca

     

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