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B.C. Human Rights Tribunal swamped with complaints about COVID-19 health measures

Click to play video: 'BC Human Rights Tribunal ‘drowning’ in complaints over mask and vaccine concerns' BC Human Rights Tribunal ‘drowning’ in complaints over mask and vaccine concerns
The BC Human Rights Tribunal cannot keep up with the number of calls it has been receiving from people upset over masks, vaccines and other COVID-19 health and safety restrictions. Christa Dao reports – Sep 28, 2021

British Columbia’s adjudicator of human rights complaints has been swamped by grievances about COVID-19 health measures, including masking and vaccines.

Emily Ohler, chair of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT), said the organization is on track to be at “triple capacity” this year, with a mounting pile of complaints it has yet to review.

At least 585 relate to masking and vaccines, she wrote in a statement to Global News, but that’s just a portion of the 1,412 complaints received in the first six months of the fiscal year.

Read more: Another 652 COVID-19 cases reported in B.C. amid new restrictions for eastern Fraser Valley

“That is likely to grow as we work through the new complaints awaiting review,” she wrote. “Every case must be reviewed individually.”

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The BCHRT is only set up to handle between 1,000 and 1,200 complaints per year, but received 2,431 between April 2020 and March 2021.

Some may relate to legitimate discrimination, said Ohler, but many stem from a misunderstanding of what the province’s Human Rights Code protects, and the role of the BCHRT.

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B.C. data shows dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases among school-aged children and youth – Sep 28, 2021

“We cannot help if you think your Charter rights are being violated or you don’t like the laws the Government is adopting,” Ohler wrote (sic).

“The Code does not protect personal choice or personal preference.”

She urged members of the public who believe they’ve been discriminated against to review what discrimination means under provincial law, and asked them to be patient as the tribunal works to address existing complaints.

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Read more: B.C. residents who received mixed COVID-19 doses won’t be offered third shot for travel

Laura Track, director of the human rights clinic at the Community Legal Assistance Society, said it’s been “just impossible” to stay on top of calls and emails related to COVID-19 health measures. The clinic supports clients who have made complaints to the human rights tribunal.

“In the last couple of months, we’ve just seen an absolute deluge in the number of complaints about mandatory vaccines,” Track said.

The sharp spike happened immediately after B.C. announced its vaccine certification program in August, she said.

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The BCHRT has already dismissed a number of COVID-19 related complaints, but those left over are still causing a backlog in the system that’s delaying other, “more legitimate” complaints of discrimination, Track added.

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It’s something residents should consider, she said, before lodging a masking or vaccine-related complaint of their own.

“The delays at the tribunal are really affecting people who have been discriminated against in their jobs, housing or access to services — these sexual harassment cases, racial profiling cases that people made, sometimes before the pandemic,” she said.

“It’s a real problem for folks who are looking for a resolution of their discrimination claim and are finding that the system is just totally slowed down because of these other complaints that have little to no merit.”

Read more: B.C. health officials say no province-wide mask mandate for K-to-12 students

The B.C. Human Rights Code protects the public from discrimination based on a “protected characteristic,” Track explained, such as race, sex, gender identity or ability.

“It’s really disability that’s potentially most relevant here, but if you can’t show that link and prove it with evidence including medical evidence, you’re not going to be able to effectively use the human rights system to pursue that issue.”

For more information on COVID-19 complaints and the role of the BCHRT, visit the adjudicator’s website.

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