Human Rights Complaints and Membership in a Labour Union

Nov 03, 2022

Update September 21, 2023: Appeal Decision Reaffirms Concurrent Jurisdiction in Human Rights Claims

This is a notice to anyone intending to file a human rights complaint who is a member of a union in their workplace.

In October 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) issued a decision in the matter of Northern Regional Health Authority v. Horrocks. This decision concerns a human rights complaint filed in Manitoba but the SCC decision has implications across the country. The decision is about filing a grievance involving human rights (discrimination) issues and/or filing a human rights complaint.

The Horrocks case stands for the position that all human rights claims from unionized employees must be addressed by a grievance (including the human rights/discrimination issues) through their union and cannot be filed as a human rights claim with the human rights commission.  This means the Unions have exclusive jurisdiction over any human rights claims in the workplace.

Since the Horrocks case, there has been a decision from an independent Human Rights Board of Inquiry in Nova Scotia which agrees with the SCC position. This decision was for  Deborah Carleton v.  Halifax Regional Municipality (Halifax Regional Police) and/or Halifax Regional Police Association.

The Human Rights Commission is currently appealing the Carleton decision and an appeal hearing is scheduled for March 2023.  Due to this case being appealed all complaints that come to the Commission which involve a unionized employee will be held in abeyance until the Court of Appeal has clarified what the law is in Nova Scotia. 

Due to the 12-month limitation period to file a complaint of discrimination defined in the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, individuals are encouraged to contact the Commission to ensure their issue is on record regardless of the potential impacts of this matter.