Nova Scotia clarifies who’s in charge of union workers’ human rights disputes

Provincial release:

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has confirmed the jurisdiction of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in matters involving unionized workplaces in a decision released Wednesday, September 20.

At issue was whether a unionized worker with a human rights concern could file a complaint with the commission or could only file a grievance through the workplace collective agreement.

The court confirmed concurrent jurisdiction, and this means that more than 70 files involving unionized employees that have been on hold can now proceed through the commission’s dispute resolution process.

The issue was put before the court when the commission appealed the ruling of an independent human rights board of inquiry that said it lacked jurisdiction in the matter of Deborah Carleton vs. Halifax Regional Police and/or the Halifax Regional Police Association.

The board cited an October 2021 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the matter of Northern Regional Health Authority vs. Horrocks, a Manitoba case about whether a unionized worker could pursue a workplace grievance and/or a human rights complaint.

The Supreme Court ruled that such complaints must be handled through a grievance, unless there is legislation that allows for a human rights complaint.

With the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal confirming the commission’s jurisdiction under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, the cases that have been in abeyance will be reopened to determine whether they can be resolved by the parties through early resolution, settled, dismissed or be heard by an independent board of inquiry.

A copy of the court’s decision is on the commission’s website at:

The board chair in the Carleton matter will set dates for a new hearing, which will be announced by news release at a future date.

“The commission is pleased that the court saw the importance of protecting the rights of unionized workers and their access to justice under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. Collective agreements are no substitute for human rights law, and the role of the commission is to ensure rights are protected in all workplaces, unionized or not.”
     – Joseph Fraser, Director and CEO, Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission

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