The B.C. Government has announced it will increase funding to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to help clear a massive backlog of cases caused by COVID 19. The increase of some $4.5M (some of which will go to a legal advice clinic for complainants) will allow the Tribunal to hire additional staff and appoint additional Tribunal members to adjudicate complaints.
Until 2020, the HRT had been managing to adjudicate most claims within a reasonable timeframe, typically 12-24 months, although a bottleneck was building of “Applications to Dismiss”—pre-trial requests to dismiss a complaint on a summary basis. When COVID hit, the Tribunal’s productivity was reduced. This alone would have created a backlog, but the avalanche of COVID-related complaints further increased complaint volumes to over double pre-pandemic levels, creating a “perfect storm” of increased complaints with lower processing capacity. While the vast majority of the COVID complaints relate to mask and vaccination mandates in services and workplaces and lack merit, adjudicating them still takes up time and Tribunal resources.
While some employers might think increased delays in adjudicating complaints benefits them, in the authors’ experience, this is rarely the case. In fact, lengthy delays, now commonly 3 to 6 months for the HRT to even notify the employer that a complaint has been filed mean that, in many cases, the employer will struggle to gather evidence to defend itself. Delay in notification means that witness identities may be lost or they may have quit the employer or forgotten all or some of what happened. By contrast, the complainants generally have already gathered their evidence and have not forgotten the alleged discriminatory conduct. Documentary evidence may also be harder to find or, in rare cases, have been deleted (e.g. the common practise of deleting security camera footage).
Kudos to the Tribunal for preparing a plan to get through the backlog and securing the funding to do so. The provincial government now needs to implement the same kind of backlog disposition strategy with the even more backlogged Employment Standards Branch.
If you want more information, you can contact us at: