British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal won’t drop the City of Surrey from a complaint against the Cloverdale Rodeo, but has narrowed the scope of what it will hear.
The complaint, launched in 2021, alleges the city and the Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition Association upheld a “hostile and poisoned work environment” where discrimination and harassment based on race, sex and ability went unchecked.
Complainants, led by former rodeo volunteer and contractor Laura Ballance, had sought to have the complaint heard as a class action, but in a decision dated Feb. 28, Tribunal Member Kathleen Smith found the class would have been too broad.
Instead, the complaint will proceed as a group, with at least six identified members including Ballance, though the complainants have been given until March 28 to finalize the group’s size and members.
The group has also been ordered to provide specific dates on which a number of un-dated incidents allegedly took place.
“We’re just happy that it’s moving forward. This is a great day for everyone involved, all of the victims, and we’re very pleased this process is continuing,” Ballance said.
“Today we’re urging any of those witnesses or victims who have not yet come forward to do so. There is a window of time we have to get other victims or witnesses into the process.”
In rejecting the City of Surrey’s submission that it be dropped form the complaint, Smith said that there was “sufficient information that could support a reasonable inference of discrimination by the City, if proven.”
She stressed that she was not ruling on the facts of the case, but merely making a preliminary screening decision, and added that Surrey would have another chance to argue it should be left out of proceedings after parties had completed disclosure.
The City of Surrey said it would not comment on the matter while it is before the tribunal.
Global News has repeatedly sought comment from the Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition Association.
However, in a July 2021 statement, it said it took the allegations “very seriously,” adding it had since removed the rodeo’s former general manger and had developed a respectful workplace policy that includes a process for anonymous complaints reporting.
The complaint, which initially cited more than 20 former workers and volunteers, includes allegations dating back to 2012.
It includes the city because some municipal employees are appointed to the Cloverdale Rodeo Board.
The group alleges the city and association broke the B.C. Human Rights Code by upholding a hostile work environment “poisoned by rampant discrimination and harassment” which “disproportionately impacted women, racialized people, and people with disabilities.”
It further claims that others were affected by being forced to witness the alleged discrimination.
Some of the complaints specifically name former association general manager Mike MacSorley.
The tribunal filing alleges he frequently made racist and sexist remarks and used racial slurs and that he targeted female staff with verbal and physical harassment, “including by throwing objects at, hitting, slapping, poking, and taunting them.”
MacSorley was dismissive or antagonistic when people raised concerns about his alleged conduct, it claims.
And the complaint further alleges MacSorely made abelist remarks and banned volunteers with disabilities from being involved in the association.
None of the allegations have been proven at the tribunal.