THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
You can use human rights laws to help stop harassment. In Ontario, human rights are protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code. Sexual harassment which occurs in the workplace or in the provision of a service or accommodation is prohibited by the Ontario Human Rights Code. A University is considered a workplace for its staff members. It is also considered to be providing a service for the students who study and work there. Finally, it is considered to be providing an accommodation for the students who live in the residences. All complaints related to these areas then can go to the Ontario Human Rights Commission for action.
The Ontario Human Rights Code says you have the right to be treated equally. That means you have the right to work, study and live in a place that is free from sexual harassment. (See Introduction for a definition of sexual harassment.) So, as an employer and a provider of a service and/or accommodation, the University has a responsibility to ensure that its community members do not have to face sexual harassment. In other words, the University must try to prevent sexual harassment, and must take action against it when it occurs.
The harasser is of course personally responsible for his or her harassing conduct.
However, because human rights law imposes a statutory duty on an employer or a service provider to provide a safe and healthy environment, the Human Rights Commission can hold the University and its unions responsible for not taking action to prevent or to stop sexual harassment. IT can also hold the University responsible for the actions of those it has appointed to positions of authority, such as a director, supervisor, or professor who is harassing you. Under certain circumstances, it may even be found responsible for harassment by colleagues and peers.
For sexual harassment that extends to sexual assault, the offender is also liable to the prosecuted under the Criminal Code (see the section on sexual assault for more information.)
The Human Rights Commission can help you find a solution to the harassment. But the Commission does not represent anyone - not you, the university or the harasser. Their job is to investigate complaints. They collect and analyze information. If possible, they mediate. If they find proof that harassment took place, they can impose sanctions on the harasser, the university or both. They may award some compensation to you for pain and suffering, and for some of the losses you may have incurred.
Yes, but if you are in the early stages of dealing with harassment and just need to be heard, the Human Rights Commission is not the best place to go. An internal mechanism will probably be more supportive and effective in heading off any further harassment.
Yes. Much like the Queen's internal Harassment and Discrimination Policy and Procedure, the Ontario Human Rights Commission will accept complaints within six months of an incident, unless they deem the reason for the delay to be reasonable.
The first step is called the Early Settlement Initiative. You talk or write to the Human Rights Commission about the harassment. The Commission then discusses the information with the person(s) you are complaining about.
If you go through the Early Settlement Initiative, you may get:
- letter of settlement (you don't withdraw your complaint and the harasser or the employer does not admit guilt or responsibility)
The Early Settlement Initiative takes place within 90 days of your complaint. But any solution at this stage is not legally binding unless it is put in writing.
If you do not get the result you want from the Early Settlement Initiative, the next step is to make a formal complaint in writing.
You will meet with a Human Rights Officer to do this. The Officer will try to resolve the problem by meeting with you, the person(s) you are complaining about, or both.
If the settlement still isn't reached, the Commission begins an investigation. The Human Rights Commission will talk to you, the harasser and the University. Your case will be stronger if a witness can back up your story. Friends, spouses and partners are not strong witnesses. A colleague is better.
After the investigation, the Commission makes another attempt to reach a settlement. If no settlement is reached, the Commission makes a decision about your case. It may be dismissed or it may go before a Board of Inquiry. If your case goes to a Board of Inquiry, the Commission will make sure you have a lawyer.
A Board of Inquiry is set up by the government. The Board of Inquiry can dismiss your case or force the University to pay you compensation. It can also force a University to change the way it operates, to make sure harassment does not continue.
If you are unhappy with the decision of a Board of Inquiry, you can go to court and appeal it.
No. You can file a complaint yourself. For ideas on how to write a complaint, turn to the earlier section on personal remedies and how to write a letter. If you do not have a lawyer, the Commission will contact you directly about your case.
You may want a lawyer. The University will have a lawyer. Most respondents have a lawyer. Lawyers know how to put things in the way that defends their client. You might feel better having a lawyer with you when you meet with the Human Rights Officer. The Human Rights Officer is not there to represent or support you. You may feel quite emotional when you are describing what has happened to you.
If your complaint goes to a Board of Inquiry, the Commission cannot guarantee confidentiality. Everything you say to the Human Rights Officer may be passed on to the person(s) you are filing the complaint against. You may also be told what they have said to the Officer. They lawyer may have helped them with their response.
There are several reasons to go the Human Rights Commission when you have been harassed:
- You want to put pressure on the University to end the harassment.
It will take a long time to investigate your complaint. The whole process can take years. If your complaint is not settled through the Early Settlement Initiative, a year may go by before the investigation begins.
You will be open to attack. This can be very stressful. The person(s) you file the complaint against will try to prove you have no case. They will try to show that you cannot be believed. They may say hurtful things about you.
Things may not get any better in the short term. Sometimes going to the Commission, or threatening to go to the Commission, or threatening to go to the Commission, is enough to solve the problem. But the Commission can only force a solution after a long process. You may be very uncomfortable at your workplace while you wait.
If it works out in your favour, it can feel good. People will understand that your human rights are violated.
You may get some financial compensation, but the settlements for "mental anguish" are not huge.
If the respondent is willing to go through the Early Settlement Initiative, you may get immediate action.
Your complaint may educate. The more cases the Commission hears, the better it understands sexual harassment cases and their outcomes. This information can push respondents to settle more quickly. A complaint to the Commission also teaches respondents about their responsibility to prevent harassment in the working, teaching and living environment of the University.
You can call the Human Rights Commission and ask if what has happened to you is grounds for a complaint. The staff can tell you more about what to expect if you file a complaint. If you call the Commission just to ask questions, make it clear that you do not want to file a complaint right away. Tell them you only want some information.