Liberty strengthened in Canada as CHRC grinds to a halt
The Ottawa Citizen – February 17, 2011
‘Gridlock’ chokes Human Rights panel: Lawyers
Lack of resources, conflict have led to ‘complete mess’
By Chris Cobb
Recent staff departures and internal turmoil at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal are delaying critical rulings on grievances against government departments and federally regulated industries, lawyers charge. “It’s a complete mess right now,” human rights lawyer Paul Champ told the Citizen. “The entire human rights system is in gridlock – it’s in crisis.” “Things don’t seem to be moving very well,” said another lawyer, who asked not to be identified. “Cases are not being advanced very quickly. I don’t know if the delays are because of staff turmoil, delays in appointments or the quality of appointments – or all of the above.”
The Tribunal acts as a court to rule on human rights cases referred to it by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
As first reported by the Citizen in January, more than half of the Tribunal staff have left for other public service jobs or have been sidelined by stress since the appointment of Shirish Chotalia, a Calgary lawyer named to the post by the Harper government in late 2009. According to the Public Service Alliance, five employees – roughly a quarter of the staff – have filed harassment-related complaints against Chotalia. Now, more details are emerging. The key position of executive director, vacated by the previous incumbent’s retirement last April, still hasn’t been filled by a permanent replacement, despite two completed competitions.
According to a written statement sent to the Citizen from the Tribunal, the first hire was rejected by Chotalia because of a faulty job description that “could not be reconciled with the Chair’s vision.” A second person, hired competitively after the job description had been re-jigged, failed a language test, so the position has been filled by a succession of contractors and staff. The job is currently occupied by Frederick Gloade, who is scheduled to leave following a transition period when a permanent replacement is found. …
As well, the Harper government has refused to renew contracts of experienced Tribunal members and been slow to appoint new ones. For a brief period last year, Chotalia was the only full time Tribunal member. At present there are three fulltime members, including Chotalia, and three part time members -less than half the usual complement available to hear cases.