Boards of Inquiry

Our Commissioners determine whether a Board of Inquiry (BOI) should be created. A BOI is overseen by a Board Chair nominated by the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia. Chairs are nominated from a roster of independently selected, approved lawyers for any complaint referred.  This nomination is then approved by the Commission.

When are Complaints referred to a Board of Inquiry?

If the parties have been unable to resolve the complaint through a resolution conference, a recommendation may be made by the human rights officer to the Commissioners to refer the matter to a Board of Inquiry. Factors the officer considers in formulating the recommendation are:

  • Reasonableness of any solutions already offered to resolve the issues, to be included in the recommendation report to the Commission.
  • Whether the Commission has jurisdiction to assist the parties based on new information gathered in the resolution conference.
  • Whether there appears to be discrimination based on one of the grounds protected by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.

The Board of Inquiry Chair (adjudicator, referred to as “Board Chair”) has the role of determining whether or not there has been a violation of the Act. Once a case has been referred to a Board of Inquiry, the parties including the Commission are still welcome to try and settle the dispute. Should the parties be unable to settle, this is when the Board Chair will make a determination. If the parties reach a settlement the settlement will be forwarded to the Board Chair for approval and Order.

Public Inquiries and Confidentiality

Boards of Inquiry and Restorative Boards of Inquiry are open to the public. All decisions resulting from a hearing are public and not confidential unless otherwise ordered by the Board Chair. If a party wishes to have a confidentiality term included in a decision they must show a risk of harm. Confidentiality at the board of inquiry (hearing) stage is generally not considered to be in the public interest.  If the parties reach a settlement once the hearing has begun, the terms of the Settlement Agreement are confidential, but the fact that the Agreement exists is not. 

Traditional or Restorative Board of Inquiry?

The traditional Board of Inquiry closely resembles a civil trial. For example, each party would call their own witnesses and the witnesses would be cross-examined by the other party, then each party would provide closing arguments at the end.  Once the parties have made closing arguments, the Board Chair would then make a determination on whether or not there was a violation of the Human Rights Act.

The alternative approach at the Board of Inquiry stage is the Restorative Board of Inquiry. This is a forward looking and fluid process where the parties and their supporters or witnesses can share their perspectives of what happened in a non-adversarial setting. The purpose of sharing this information is so that the parties understand any harms that may have been present and collaborate on a plan to move forward and prevent future harms. In order to participate in a Restorative Board of Inquiry, both parties have to consent to the process. If at the end of the Restorative Board of Inquiry the parties have not reached a settlement, the Board Chair will use all of the factual information gathered during the restorative process and make a determination. 

The Commission is committed to building and strengthening the relationships that preserve and protect the human rights of Nova Scotians.

Role of Legal Counsel

Once a complaint has been referred to a Board of Inquiry, the Commission becomes a party to the complaint. The Commission has its own legal counsel who will work with the parties to try and resolve the issues. The Commission's legal counsel represents the public interest and the interest of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. Commission counsel does not represent either party although, will sometimes assist with procedural questions and explanations of the process. Commission counsel cannot provide legal advice to the parties, but is tasked with ensuring the board chair has all of the relevant legal and factual information before them to make a decision.

It is always advisable for each party to have their own legal counsel. Nevertheless, there are some non-complicated cases where this would not be necessary. It is therefore the parties’ choice to retain legal counsel.  Parties who hire legal counsel are responsible to pay for them. In all matters, if a party chooses not to have legal counsel, it is advised that they seek legal advice.