Alberta Human Rights Information Service December 1, 2010

In this issue:

Commission news

Human rights and diversity news from Alberta Culture and Community Spirit

Other human rights and diversity news:

Alberta news
Canadian news

Related publications and resources


1. Recent tribunal decisions:
The Commission has recently posted the following tribunal decision on the website:

Paula Shimp v. Livingstone Range School Division #68 (October 19, 2010; Brenda Chomey, Tribunal Chair)

2. Important court decisions related to human rights:
Alberta Health Services (Calgary Area) v. Health Sciences Association of Alberta (Paramedical Professional/Technical Unit), 2010 ABQB 555 (Alberta Court of Queen's Bench, August 31, 2010)
Court upholds arbitration decision outlining principles and limits of accommodation for chronically ill employees, as well as emphasizing to employers their duties regarding medical information and follow up

This judicial review of an arbitration decision deals specifically with human rights law, including non culpable absenteeism caused by illness, the duty of the employer to provide warnings, and an opportunity for the employee to provide appropriate medical information before any adverse employment action is taken. The 16-year employee had an excellent work history prior to being diagnosed with unremitting multiple sclerosis.  The employee provided accommodations over a two-year period until the employee's illness totally prevented her from working. The employee was dismissed without union representation or meeting during exchanges of medical information which appeared to indicate that the employee could not return to work for the foreseeable future.

The union grieved the dismissal and the arbitration board held that while the employer could dismiss an employee in these circumstances, the collective agreement had been breached due to the employer's failure to notify the union and ensure that the employee had union representation prior to and during the dismissal meeting.  The board ordered reinstatement of the employee due to the breach of the agreement. The Court of Queen's Bench upheld the board's decision, emphasizing that a proper reading of human rights law emphasizes that the employer must provide warnings and an opportunity for the employee to provide appropriate medical information before an employee is terminated due to non culpable absenteeism.

The Court also commented on the case of Hydro-Québec v. Syndicat des employé-e-s-de techniques professionnelles et de bureau d'Hydro-Québec, section locale 2000 (SCFP-FTQ) [2008] 2 S.C.R. 56, stating that an employer will have satisfied its duty to accommodate the employee if the employer establishes that: 1) the employee's absenteeism is excessive, and 2) the characteristics of an illness are such that the proper operation of the business is hampered excessively, or that there is no reasonable prospect that the employee will not be able to resume his or her work in the reasonably foreseeable future despite measures taken by the employer to accommodate the employee.

Whatcott v. Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission 2010 SKCA 26 (Saskatchewan Court of Appeal) 
Saskatchewan Court of Appeal holds human rights legislation not breached by a series of distributed flyers that used crude language against homosexuals and homosexuality

Section 14(b) of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code prohibits communication "that exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground." Alberta, B.C., Nova Scotia and the Canadian Human Rights Commission have similar provisions in their human rights legislation. Mr. Whatcott had distributed flyers that made a series of statements about homosexuals and homosexuality, using crude and offensive language. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal had found that the flyers breached the Code, stating that the flyers objectively expressed strong feelings of "detestation, calumny and vilification," the legal test which had previously been set out by the Supreme Court of Canada under other similar human rights legislation.

The Saskatchewan Queen's Bench agreed with the findings of the Tribunal. However, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal reversed those findings and stated that viewed contextually, and given the importance of free expression in a democratic society, the flyers distributed by Mr. Whatcott did not meet the standard set out in section 14(1)(b). The constitutionality of the provision was also argued but not addressed by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada has recently granted leave to hear this appeal.  

3. Human Rights in the Workplace workshops:

Public workshops: Winter 2011
Three human rights in the workplace public workshops are now scheduled for winter 2011. The full-day workshops, intended for managers, supervisors, team leaders, human resource professionals, union leaders, and small business owners, will provide participants with:

  • an overview of Alberta's human rights legislation,
  • information on preventing harassment in the workplace,
  • information from the workshop module Duty to accommodate, and
  • an understanding of respectful and inclusive workplaces and strategies to create these workplaces.

Winter public workshops are scheduled as follows:

Edmonton: February 9, 2011 (offered in partnership with Human Resources Institute of Alberta)
Calgary: February 23, 2011 (offered in partnership with Human Resources Institute of Alberta)
Lethbridge: March 9, 2011 (offered in partnership CMARD Lethbridge and Human Resources Institute of Alberta)

Read more about the workshops. To register for a winter public workshop, please use the public workshop registration form.

4. Commission lawyers mentoring University of Alberta law students:
The Canadian Bar Association Alberta Branch has once again instituted the Mentorship Program for law students. The Commission lawyers in the Edmonton office have agreed to mentor two students from the University of Alberta for this school term. The aim of the Mentorship Program is to match law students with lawyers who are willing to share their experiences about the practice of law in areas of interest and the process of becoming a lawyer. Mentors help students build important networks in the legal community and serve as valuable career advisors for students.

5. Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CMARD) update:
The City of Sherbrooke, Quebec has recently joined CMARD, bringing the number of municipalities involved in the Coalition to 40. Read the List of Signatory Municipalities who have joined the Coalition.

PLEASE NOTE: In the following sections of the newsletter, we publish news and information provided by other organizations. We also link to other websites related to human rights and diversity. The Commission provides this information as a service and is not responsible for the content provided by other organizations on their websites or by other means. Please direct comments or inquiries regarding these organizations or their websites to the organization in question.


1. Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund:

The Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund (HREMF) provides financial assistance to community organizations to help them become a catalyst for changes that will:

  • create an environment where all Albertans have an opportunity to participate to their full potential without discrimination;
  • increase the capacity of organizations to develop and sustain work that fosters equality and reduces discrimination; and
  • advance the development of welcoming and inclusive communities and workplaces.

If you are considering applying for financial assistance from the HREMF, now is the time to contact a consultant who works with the grant program. The consultant will assist you with the application process and advise you on your project. The next deadline for receipt of letters of intent to apply for financial assistance is May 1, 2011.

Recently completed projects: Read about grant recipients and recently completed projects that have received funding through the HREMF. The  Annotated Bibliography: Diversity Resources lists tools and resources developed with grant funds.

2. Human rights and multiculturalism scholarship: Students pursuing graduate studies in Canadian human rights or multiculturalism are invited to apply for the Alberta Award for the Study of Canadian Human Rights and Multiculturalism. This award encourages graduate studies that will create value for Albertans by promoting informed thinking about Canadian human rights, cultural diversity and multiculturalism. The award is made possible through the Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund. There are two awards of $10,000 each - one for Master's level study and one for Doctoral level. The deadline for applications is February 1, 2011. Download the application form and read about past scholarship recipients.

3. Significant dates:

National Bullying Awareness Week:
November 14-20 was National Bullying Awareness Week. Albertans were encouraged to learn more about how they can join others to help prevent bullying in their schools and communities. Read the Government of Alberta information bulletin.

Children and Youth Services offers two new resources to help combat bullying:

International Day for Tolerance: November 16 was the International Day for Tolerance. The United Nations encouraged all to move beyond tolerance to the acceptance of others' differences. Read more.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities: December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The aim of this day is to increase awareness and understanding of persons with disabilities and the issues that impact their lives. Read more on the United Nations Enable website.

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women: December 6 marks the anniversary of a tragic event in our country's history that is recognized as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. On this day in 1989, 14 young women were murdered at Montreal's l'École Polytechnique because of their gender.

December 10 is International Human Rights Day: December 10, 1948 was the day on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed by member nations of the United Nations. A Canadian, John Humphrey, was the primary author of the Declaration. The members of the UN hoped that the horrors of the recently ended war could be avoided if a universal code of human rights governed the behaviour of individuals and countries. Read more about International Human Rights Day.

See the list of significant days on the Help Make a Difference website.


Alberta news

1. Homeless Albertans can now obtain identification cards: Homeless individuals will now be able to obtain secure Alberta government identification cards to help them access services and programs. Helping homeless people overcome the barriers they face when trying to acquire identification is part of the province's 10-year plan to end homelessness. Read the Government of Alberta news release.

2. Updated guide for funding Aboriginal programs and agencies: Funding Resource for Aboriginal Programs and Agencies was updated with the support of members from the Alberta Aboriginal Funders Network.

3. Government launches French services website: The Alberta government launched a new French-language website, Bonjour, allowing Albertans to easily access government information in areas such as health, education, justice and early childhood services. Read the information bulletin.

4. Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo accepts award for Safe Harbour Program: The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has been recognized for its participation in Safe Harbour: Respect for All, a program that encourages agencies and businesses to help fight discrimination. The Municipality received a 2010 Minister's Award of Excellence in the Safe Communities category. Read the Government of Alberta information bulletin.

Canadian news

1. Government of Canada endorses United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: On November 12, 2010, the Government of Canada formally endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. From the Government of Canada news release: "The United Nations Declaration describes the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples. It sets out a number of principles that should guide harmonious and cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and States, such as equality, partnership, good faith and mutual respect." Read the news release.

2. Invitation to participate in online survey regarding increasing cultural diversity in the nonprofit sector: The HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector is asking for input from nonprofit organizations on the challenges they face when hiring and retaining new immigrants and members of visible minorities. Read more and participate in the online survey.


1. New resources to combat racism:
Choose Your Voice: Antisemitism in Canada is a teacher resource for grades 6, 7 and 8 produced by the Canadian Jewish Congress for Fighting Antisemitism Together (FAST). From the FAST website: "The kit gives teachers tools to help their students learn about the dangers of hatred and stereotypes, and find their voices to combat them. It encourages students not to be bystanders or perpetrators but heroes, by speaking out." Read more about the teacher resource.

Two new resources to combat racism have been developed through funding from Embrace BC:

  • Change Agent Handbook: From the Embrace BC website: "Designed for youth aged 15-20, this handbook provides useful information such as myths and facts about racism, questions to consider, and definitions. It can be used by youth to develop personal pride and accountability in creating positive change in their communities and to understand that as individuals, they have the ability to prevent racism."

  • Anti-Racism and Diversity Trainers: Core Competencies and Leading Training Practices: A Literature and Scoping Review: From the Embrace BC website: "Through a cross-jurisdictional scan of programs and practice, this review explores core competences for and leading practice in preparing effective anti-racism and diversity professionals, and suggests issues to consider when developing new trainer-training services."      

2. Human rights search engine: Hurisearch is a search engine that searches over 5,000 human rights websites, including websites from non-government and intergovernmental organizations, national human rights institutions and academic institutions.


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