All posts by Sebastien Anderson

The cost of the RCMP’s ‘culture of dysfunction’

Former Mounties open up about RCMP’s toxic work culture

When Pierre Lemaitre graduated in red serge in 1986, he was shipped to B.C., far from his Quebec upbringing. Location didn’t matter: he had his Stetson and his Strathcona boots — he was a Mountie. This was the realization of a lifelong dream.

With an aching smile, his widow Sheila Lemaitre recently testified about photos of little Lemaitre “standing at careful attention” next to Mounties in their iconic uniform. In 2013, after a long and difficult career, Lemaitre killed himself.

He was 55, a 27-year veteran of the force.

The inquest into his suicide, held late last year, was tasked with examining the circumstances that led to his death but ultimately didn’t have the mandate to delve into RCMP management — that, the Supreme Court is quite clear, is a federal power. And so, the work environment that Sheila — herself a former Mountie — many of Lemaitre’s colleagues and several experts believe contributed to the deterioration of his mental health went mostly unexplored.

The inquest lasted less than a week. Retired Mountie David Reichert, who knew Lemaitre and is in his own legal battle with the force, thought the recommendations coming from the inquest were superficial. He called it “the biggest waste of money you’ve ever seen.”

The total bill was about $32,000. That represents a tiny fraction of the funds that Global News estimates taxpayers have spent on fallout from mismanagement. More than $220 million has been spent in the last 20 years on everything from sexual harassment lawsuits to human rights complaints and federal inquiries into nepotism, workplace bullying and turf wars with other police agencies. This figure includes funds spent paying out lawsuits related to employee claims as well as external claims including use of force, malicious prosecution and failing to protect informants. It also includes the costs of inquiries into Mountie mismanagement, from the examination of the RCMP’s use of force during an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) meeting in 1997 to two reports in 2017 on workplace harassment.

There’s no quick fix for transforming a paramilitary organization with over 30,000 members, including over 18,000 sworn police officers and 15 divisions with a mandate to cover everything from local policing to money laundering, terrorism, human smuggling and the prime minister’s security.

The resulting organizational culture that has persisted has been labelled a “culture of dysfunction” by the force’s own Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) in a 2017 report on workplace harassment. In many respects, the report repeated themes of the inquiries that came before. The problems, it found, are pervasive: Mounties who won’t speak up for fear of repercussions, promotions driven by who you know rather than what you do and a presumption that because an officer occupies a senior rank, they automatically wield that power with skill and professionalism.

Global News has done extensive interviews with more than a dozen former and current Mounties as well as historians, psychologists and policing and organizational management experts, all of whom arrived at similar conclusions: so far, these efforts have been an expensive failure.

The RCMP has acknowledged some of its failings, including in a formal apology in 2016 to women in the force for careers “scarred” by harassment, and then, in 2018, to families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls for their investigative failings. By announcing plans last week to bring in a civilian board to oversee management of the RCMP, the federal government has implicitly acknowledged the failure to address these issues within the organization.

On paper, these new reforms are sweeping and indicate that the government is willing to address Mountie problems, said Robert Gordon, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University. The reality, however, remains to be seen.

“I don’t think the mandate, at this point, is to undertake the significant restructuring and reform of the RCMP that is required,” he said. “It’ll be settling problems that have arisen inside the house as opposed to problems that have arisen as a result of the structure of the house.”

‘I felt helpless’: Trauma on the job

In December 1991, Pierre Lemaitre was called to a murder in Bella Coola, a small community on B.C.’s central coast, home of the Nuxalk Nation. A young woman had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death. Her face was swollen beyond recognition, and nobody had reported anyone missing.

“I felt helpless,” Lemaitre wrote in the years before his death in a letter to Veterans Affairs as part of a pension application.

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“We all carry some flashbacks or heavy memories or worries, when we look at our loved ones, that similar things could happen, but it’s part of the job,” Sheila explained at the inquest.

And yet, a 2017 report from the auditor general found that despite being one of the first federal organizations to introduce a mental health strategy, the RCMP was not meeting the needs of its members. That report served as a reminder of how that failure reverberates: “Ultimately, members’ poor mental health affects the RCMP’s capacity to serve and protect Canadians.”

The RCMP did not directly respond to questions about its mental health strategy but instead shared information outlining the services currently available to its members.

Lemaitre understood that by its nature, the job meant trauma and flashbacks, worry and fear. But, Sheila testified: “He still beamed when he put on that red serge.”

Pepper-spraying protesters

In 1997, Pierre Lemaitre was one of several Mounties tasked with communications during the November APEC meeting. It resulted in an almost $10-million inquiry shadowed by allegations of political interference.

In late November, when world leaders gathered to talk about trade, police arrested protesters who set up a tent city on the University of British Columbia campus ahead of one of the scheduled meetings and tore down signs hung on coat racks that read “free speech,” “democracy” and “human rights.” Snipers watched from the rooftops.

The turning point, on the final day, was the actions of RCM

Staff Sgt. Hugh Stewart and his squad. Responsible for clearing some 50 or 60 people from the roadways, Stewart got out of his van with a can of pepper spray the size of a fire extinguisher. He told the protesters to leave. They didn’t.

While Stewart wasn’t the only Mountie to shoot pepper spray — protesters writhed on the streets, trying to wipe the chemical from their eyes — he was the one people would remember. A CBC camera operator caught the spray on his camera. That clip would be replayed over and over on the news.

The reaction was angry and instantaneous. Shirley Heafey, chair of the RCMP’s public complaints commission at the time, told reporter Jesse Ferreras in 2007 that she called for an inquiry after the force stymied her attempts to investigate. There were claims the prime minister himself ordered the crackdown. The inquiry didn’t satisfy many of those outraged.

Pepper-spraying protesters

In 2001, when the inquiry released its interim report, Stewart — later promoted to sergeant major — was tasked with training officers at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. Many reports have described th

RCMP promotion system, as recently as 2017, as having “little or no credibility.” Allegations or findings of fault seemed to have no consistent bearing on a person’s career trajectory, but speaking up — as Lemaitre would come to find out — did. The RCMP did not respond to questions about its promotion or discipline systems. Global News could not reach Stewart, however his wife told reporter Jesse Ferreras in 2007 that he had “absolutely no interest” in talking about APEC.

That the APEC inquiry and inquiries since don’t seem to focus on the systemic problems is unsurprising, said Jaggi Singh, one of the protesters arrested during APEC. In his opinion, “the parameters of those commissions are well within not questioning the fundamental right of the RCMP to do what they do.”

“The purpose of it is to absolve large parts of policing and maybe critique a few bad apples,” Singh added.

While the APEC commission criticized the “manner” in which protesters were pepper-sprayed, saying it “likely did not conform with recommended procedure,” it ultimately ruled the action appropriate.

“I do not find any inappropriate conduct in the manner in which the spray was dispersed,” read the commission’s final report.

Sexual harassment — inside and outside the force

Catherine Galliford met Pierre Lemaitre for the first time on the APEC summit media team. He was kind, genuine and trustworthy, Galliford said.

Galliford, who is now 52, worked out of the force’s Richmond detachment, handling high-profile cases like the Air India investigation. In 1985, 329 people were killed when a bomb exploded aboard their flight, despite advance warning that a terrorist attack was likely. Only one person was ever convicted.

Sexual harassment — inside and outside the force

Galliford also worked on the missing women investigation that would eventually lead to serial killer Robert Pickton’s arrest — a mishandled investigation that an inquiry, concluding in 2012, found “completely overlooked the Aboriginal dimensions of the missing women crisis throughout the investigations.” Relatedly, a proposed class-action into the RCMP’s investigations into missing and murdered Indigenous women was filed against the force and the federal government last year, seeking $600 million. At the time, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale refused to comment on a case before the courts.

More than a colleague and friend, Lemaitre became a person that helped Galliford cope with her sexual harassment allegations. “What I needed Pierre for was someone to bear witness to what was happening to me,” she said.

Galliford, who joined the RCMP in 1991, went public with her allegations in 2011 and settled a lawsuit with the force in 2016, said she accompanied a supervisor on trips across Canada to visit with the families of the Air India victims in the late 1990s. There was no news to tell them, she said, but she alleges her supervisor used these trips as a chance to try to have sex with her.

A different supervisor had shown her his genitals and asked if she thought a mole on his penis was “cute,” she said. Galliford says these were just two in a string of incidents she dealt with in her two decades on the force. When Galliford went public, the force responded by saying sexual harassment was not to be tolerated and pledged to stamp it out. In its statement of defence in response to her suit, the federal government, on behalf of the RCMP, denied all the allegations. However, they settled the matter in 2016. The sheer number of women coming forward with similar stories culminated in a class action the force settled for $100 million in 2016. Investigators are slowly weighing their claims.

While Galliford found an ally in Lemaitre, others outside the organization also turned to him when they needed help. During the Kelowna wildfires in August 2003, a journalist approached Lemaitre and one of his female colleagues with allegations of sexual harassment. He later wrote about this in his application to Veterans Affairs.

The reporter told Lemaitre that his direct supervisor had made “several inappropriate sexual comments” during an interview. While she tried to move the conversation forward, the Mountie kept at her, according to Lemaitre’s account of the reporter’s allegations.

“He replied that he was surprised that she had the lead on the story while she was standing vertically because she got most of her leads while lying horizontally, suggesting she obtained information from sources while engaged in sexual activity,” Lemaitre summarized. “She was furious and left.”

Lemaitre reported the alleged incident, even though it involved his boss.

lemaitre quote

“Our group was small, and I felt disloyal having to do this,” he wrote.

He was called into his boss’ office and berated, according to his letter and the testimony of his wife and former colleagues. Lemaitre wrote that he was advised that he “did not have the support of senior management anymore.” Vaughan said the force can’t confirm this, as it handled the matter internally and is thus “bound by the Privacy Act.”

The force’s unofficial motto: Never ‘tarnish the buffalo’

Lemaitre was transferred to a less plum night shift in Chilliwack after reporting his superior, his wife said.

The allegations don’t surprise Leo Knight, who was a Mountie for four years in the 1970s, later a Vancouver police officer and a popular blogger on policing issues. The Mountie motto is “Maintiens le droit,” often translated as “uphold the right.” The problem, Knight said, is there’s also an unwritten one: “Never do anything to tarnish the buffalo.”

“If I do the right thing and it brings disrepute to the organization itself, then suddenly I have to look and do something else, which may not be right but it’s the right thing not to tarnish the buffalo,” Knight said.

In 2007, Carleton University management professor Linda Duxbury sent questionnaires to thousands of Mounties and interviewed hundreds more in order to understand the RCMP workplace. She honed in on the promotion system as a problem. Members saw promotions as something you received if you had friends in high places rather than skill on the job. It was a process, Duxbury noted, that worsened their harassment experiences.

The RCMP commissioned her independent report on workplace issues, and 12 years on, she’s yet to see any action on recommendations like overhauling its promotion system and changing how the force handles discipline issues. The RCMP did not respond to questions concerning changes to its promotion system. However, in response to the 2017 CRCC report, which raised issues like promotion and discipline again, then-RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson released a statement, saying: “It should be noted that many of the reports’ judgments rely on the historical context of RCMP transformation efforts that are not, in my view, reflective of current RCMP environment, policies or processes.”

The Mounties’ top-down system is such that recruits with only a high school education can be shipped to Regina for training and then out to one coast then another, per the CRCC report, working their way up with minimal leadership training. Cultural change, Duxbury said, would require a change in how the force rewards members, how it promotes them and how it disciplines them. If that change — recommended in multiple reports as recently as 2017 — had happened, she said, you would see members being “let go for doing completely inappropriate behaviour.”

Lawrence Chung, who shared his story publicly with Global News for the first time, also says he experienced repercussions when trying to report misconduct. In 2007, he reluctantly took a transfer from his criminal investigation unit. A year earlier, Chung had been the RCMP officer handling witness management in the aftermath of the kidnapping of drug kingpin Peter Li.

Chung, now 50, said one of his coworkers told him jokingly that he’d hopped into a hot tub with one of the female witnesses.

The man was a friend and Chung chose not to report him. He felt it was enough to remove that friend from the case.

But three months later, the witness’ godmother came in for an interview. After the official interview, she told him the night before she and her goddaughter had been having drinks with two of his colleagues handling the case.

Chung, who thought the incident was a one-off involving one colleague’s poor judgment, realized the issue was more problematic than he’d originally thought: bad optics creating the possible legal perception of potential witness tampering.

“I couldn’t believe this was happening in this major kidnapping case,” Chung said.

In response to detailed questions concerning Chung’s allegations, RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Caroline Duval said: “We cannot comment on any police operations or police techniques.”

Making the report wrecked the trust on his team, Chung said, even though “we are trained that we are supposed to raise concerns when we see something that’s not right.”

lawrence-chung-outside-still

Chung, who wanted to get to 25 years of service, only made it to 21. One incident, he learned, has a way of following you around. He started having problems with a new team in 2015. They were always showing up late, he said, or calling in sick or not developing informants, a crucial part of intelligence-led policing.

He documented this in emails to his boss that he shared with Global News. The response, he said, was swearing, dismissal, hints that he’d be transferred and a snide reference to his “history of having problems.”

When Chung filed a harassment claim, the chief superintendent attempted informal resolution, telling him it sounded a little bit like “sour grapes.” This December 2016 conversation — the audio of which Chung provided to Global News — highlights a recurring concern raised in the 2017 CRCC report: “In many cases, supervisors are exercising their managerial authority in an unreasonable manner and for the purpose of intimidation.”

Chung decided to take a transfer. In January 2017, he realized he couldn’t muster the energy to fight anymore. He quit. In the two years since, he’s watched the headlines emerge about allegations of RCMP case mismanagement, some handled by his former supervisor, who Global News has confirmed has since been promoted. Chung’s former supervisor said via email the allegations against him were “unfounded” and that he follows the “processes that must be adhered to” when participating in an investigation.

It took months after Chung left the RCMP before he was able to see the force’s official decision on his harassment complaint. Per emails shared with Global News, they forgot to include his email address when the decision was initially released. They did not find in his favour.

‘Are you the Lemaitre?’

Four years after he was booted to Chilliwack, sometime around 2007, Pierre Lemaitre was promoted back into media relations at the RCMP’s B.C. headquarters in Surrey. On Oct. 14, 2007, 40-year old Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski was Tasered at the Vancouver airport after spending hours wandering the airport in confusion. He died within minutes.

Lemaitre was called into work that morning. On camera, it was Lemaitre’s job to tell the public what had happened. He reported that there were three Mounties at the scene, too many people around to use pepper spray and that Dziekanski had been Tasered twice — information given to him by the officer in charge of the investigation.

Then, a video showing the incident revealed this wasn’t an accurate account. There were four Mounties involved, very few bystanders and five Taser shocks.

Lemaitre was devastated, Sheila testified.

“Accusations flew that I had lied and given out false information,” Lemaitre wrote in his Veterans Affairs letter. “Unfortunately, the risk for any spokesperson is that you are only as good as the information you are given.”

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It took an incredible toll, Sheila said. Lemaitre was shuffled out to the Langley traffic division in early 2008.

At work, she said people whispered about him in the cafeteria. In public, people recognized him. They’d be in the grocery store together, and the clerk would look at his credit card, then at him and ask: “Are you the Lemaitre?”

There was a sense of vindication after he testified at the Braidwood inquiry in 2009, and it became clear he had wanted to tell the truth but was forbidden to, Sheila testified, although that information didn’t seem to filter down to the public.

pierre-lemaitre

The inquiry investigated the use of Tasers as well as the circumstances of Dziekanski’s death, including the way passengers arriving from abroad are dealt with at the airport. In addition to the $5.3-million inquiry, the B.C. government spent an additional $953,761 on a special prosecutor to handle the cases of the four Mounties on the scene of Dziekanski’s death. Every time there was an update about their prosecution, it was Lemaitre’s face that would flash on TV. (Three of the four Mounties have filed lawsuits against the force.)

In his Veterans Affairs application, Lemaitre wrote about how hard it was becoming to get through each day: “Every time my phone rings at work or at home, my heart races and I get anxiety attacks. I get furious and angry in two seconds.”

On July 29, 2013, Lemaitre hanged himself.

Sheila filed a lawsuit alleging the RCMP used him as a scapegoat in the Dziekanski affair, disregarding the consequences for his mental health. In her statement of claim, she alleged a senior Mountie visited her a few days after Lemaitre died and told her that “what was done to Pierre was done for the good of the force.”

The RCMP settled Sheila’s lawsuit in 2018 with a non-disclosure agreement. While Dziekanski’s Tasering enraged Canadians, it was one incident in a long, especially poor year for the Mounties. The fallout from the O’Connor Commission into the rendition of Maher Arar — a Canadian citizen shipped by the U.S. to Syria whose nearly year-long torture was “very likely” the result of unfair, misleading and inaccurate information supplied by the RCMP — continued to reverberate.

Testimony in 2007 at the Air India inquiry, which was probing the failures of the two-decades-old investigation into the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history, revealed Mountie mismanagement, work conflict and an investigation hampered by RCMP and CSIS turf wars.

Also in 2007, David Brown, the independent investigator charged with investigating the RCMP’s handling of its pension fund scandal — marred by nepotism, contract problems and a misuse of funds made worse by senior management attempts to stymie investigations — questioned the structure of the force.

“A sophisticated business organization of this size cannot provide appropriate transparency and accountability within a command and control structure,” Brown wrote. He recommended civilian oversight, a recommendation left dormant until now.

Steve Hewitt, a senior history lecturer at the University of Birmingham and author of three books about the RCMP’s history, is mixed on reviving the idea.

Reforming the force

There was a big hurrah last year when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Brenda Lucki would be the force’s first permanent female commissioner. But, Hewitt said: “The structures, the ethos, the history, the myth, all of that remains intact.”

Knight, the former Mountie, likes to describe the RCMP as “14[6] years of tradition unhampered by progress.” Tease that apart, he said, and you’re looking at a force that’s changing membership and equipment but not keeping up with the world.

When it comes to the Mounties’ organizational culture, Duxbury, the Carleton University management professor, said the RCMP hasn’t even begun addressing cultural problems that manifest in fear and harassment among the rank and file and a poor promotion system that looks favourably on self-promotion and less so on HR skills.

A common perception among Mounties, per the RCMP CRCC’s review of workplace harassment in 2017, is “the promotion process exacerbates the problem of workplace harassment by rewarding self-promotion rather than leadership aptitude, performance, skills and knowledge.”

Civilian oversight won’t come close to touching the problem, Duxbury said, because of what the force has built and entrenched over more than 140 years.

“It’s a very unique culture,” Duxbury said. “It’s a very strong culture.”

When he announced civilian oversight, Goodale said, “Changes in governance and culture are not a singular event… but rather a process over time that demands diligent, persistent effort.”

Every commission, every inquiry, every investigation, every report and every lawsuit is a nail in the Mountie coffin, said Gordon, the criminologist from Simon Fraser University.

And yet, to borrow his metaphor, hammering in another nail doesn’t seem to change much.

“Another nail, not the nail,” Gordon clarified. “It’s a big coffin because it’s a huge organization that has the capacity to adjust to the blows from a hammer.”

—With files from Jesse Ferreras and the Canadian Press

The timeline in this story contains major RCMP costs. Not included in the timeline, but included in the Global News estimate, are payouts for false arrest, malicious prosecution, breach of responsibility, defamation of character, excess force, assault, negligence, breach of charter rights and awards for wrongful detention, among other payouts. These figures are captured in annual Public Accounts of Canada reports.

Original article can be found here – https://globalnews.ca/news/4864037/rcmp-culture-of-dysfunction/

Can You Get Fired for Refusing to Work Overtime?

Can You Get Fired for Refusing to Work Overtime?
In British Columbia, Canada, the Employment Standards Act defines the minimum standards of employment that apply to most workplaces in the province. Every province in Canada will have similar acts that outline expectations of employers and employees, though these standards may vary from one place to another. While the Employment Standards Act provides guidelines for most industries, there are special rules to industries such as high technology, agriculture, taxis, log harvesting, silviculture, and the oil and gas sectors. With respect to refusing to work overtime, the Employment Standards Act outlines an employee’s rights. So, can you get fired for refusing to work overtime?

First and foremost, it is important to understand that under the Employment Standards Act, an employer may terminate an employee for any reason provided sufficient notice or compensation is provided. So then, what is sufficient notice? This depends on your length of service.

After 3 consecutive months employed, your employer is required to provide one week’s notice or compensation equal to one week of pay. After 12 consecutive months of employment, you would be entitled to two weeks’ notice or compensation of two weeks’ pay. At three consecutive years of employment, you would be entitled to 3 weeks’ notice or 3 weeks’ pay. After 3 years of employment, notice or compensation increases by one week for each added year of employment to a maximum of 8 weeks.

As you can see, regardless of whether you refuse to work overtime, your employer can terminate you for any reason as long as they provide adequate notice or compensation. In fact, an employer may require employees to work overtime, but they must pay appropriate overtime wages and hours worked cannot be a health and safety hazard. While the BC Employment Standards Act states that an employer cannot expect staff to work excessive hours, it does not explicitly define excessive hours. That being said, the Act does define that an employer provides staff with adequate time away from work and stipulates at least 8 hours free from work between shifts worked.

The Act also defines overtime wages. Unless you are subject to an averaging agreement, employees are entitled to 1.5 times their usual pay for time worked over 8 hours, and double their usual pay for time over 1w hours. Additionally, employees are entitled to 1.5 times their usual pay for time worked over 40 hours per week.

Still, while there are no explicit rules against requiring employees to work overtime and an employer can terminate an employee for any reason, if you feel you are wrongfully dismissed from employment because of your refusal to work under unsafe conditions, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to ensure your rights have not been contravened.

What to Look for in a Labour Lawyer

What to Look for in a Labour Lawyer

Employees and employers across industries and including freelancers, business owners, entrepreneurs, and contractors seek labour law specialists to provide advice on every step of the employment process. Labour lawyers have the knowledge and expertise to ensure your rights are protected whichever side of the coin you land on. If you are experiencing workplace challenges, setting out to sign an employment contract, or you want to know more about employment law, a good labour lawyer can help. But, what do you look for in a labour lawyer?

The Consultation

First and foremost, when you reach out to a labour lawyer, they should be willing to meet with you to have a consultation about their services. You want to talk to the lawyer who will be working with you rather than another staff member, student, or paralegal because you want to know more about the lawyer’s skills and expertise. During the consultation, the lawyer should provide information about the cost of services, potential outcomes, and a general sense of how they would handle your case. You should be wary of any lawyer that makes grandiose claims or promises, and look for a lawyer that is knowledgeable, accessible, and honest.

A Good Fit

During your consultation, you should also determine if you have a good fit with the lawyer. Do you feel that you can communicate easily with them or that they offer trustworthy advice? If you’re going to be working with this lawyer for the long term, you want to know your personalities are a good fit. Many people underestimate the importance of a good working relationship with their lawyer.

Referrals

Don’t just go on the word of potential lawyers. Speak to friends, colleagues, and trusted confidants about recommendations for a good lawyer. If you don’t know anybody that can refer you to a labour lawyer, do some online research and see what past clients have to say.

Expertise is Key

Obviously, you want to work with a labour lawyer with an excellent track record, but you also want to know they have expertise with your type of case. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about previous experience before you provide details about your case – this will help you get a sense of whether that particular lawyer has experience in your field.

Common Sense

Finally, use your common sense and choose a labour lawyer that fits well with your general needs. For example, working with a local lawyer whose fees are within your budget is very important. You need to know that you can access services and that you won’t be left high and dry half way through your case. If you can’t afford a lawyer or you have to travel long distances to access their services, you’re not going to get what you need from the relationship. That’s just common sense.

Human Rights Law in Canada

Human Rights Law in Canada

Canada is a country that provides its citizens with a wide range of rights and freedoms.  In 1977, the Parliament of Canada passed the Canadian Human Rights Act that intends to define rights and freedoms that apply equally to all its citizens regardless of their personal identities.  In other words, no matter your sex, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity and gender expression), race, marital status, creed, age, ethnicity, ability, and political or religious belief, you should be afforded equal opportunity under the law.

If ever you have felt discrimination, it is the Canadian Human Rights Act that would outline which protections you are afforded.  That being said, this Act is under federal jurisdiction, and there are also provincial and territorial laws that apply to human rights in Canada.  While the Canadian Human Rights Act protects individuals for federally regulated activities, each of the provinces and territories would have their own set of anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals at that level.  For example, with respect to employment protections, the Canadian Human Rights Act protects those Canadians that are employed by the federal government, First Nations governments, and private companies that are federally regulated (i.e. banks, trucking companies, broadcasters, and telecommunications companies).

Additionally, the Canadian Human Rights Act not only protects against discrimination, but harassment as well.  Whereas discrimination may be defined as unjust or prejudicial treatment of an individual based on factors such as race, religion, sex, or gender, harassment constitutes a form of discrimination that includes any physical or verbal behaviour that you deem offensive or humiliating.  Harassment is typically considered behaviour that persists over a period of time, particularly if you have identified the behaviour as harassing and attempted to communicate to the perpetrator how their behaviour negatively affects you.

There are a wide range of behaviours that are considered harassment according to the Canadian Human Rights Act.  Unwelcome comments or jokes about aspects of your identity, threats or intimidation related to your identity, or unwelcome physical content such as touching or pinching are all examples of behaviour that may be defined as harassment.

Ultimately, the Canadian Human Rights Act sets out to provide all Canadians with a safe space in which they can be employed, conduct business, and engage in society without the risk of harassment or discrimination.  Should you feel that you have been treated unjustly because of aspects of your identity that include but are not limited to your sex, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity and gender expression), race, marital status, creed, age, ethnicity, ability, and political or religious belief, you should speak with a lawyer about your rights as a Canadian.  None of us should feel oppressed or ostracized as citizens of this country.

Anthony Moffatt has accepted our offer to join the Firm as an Associate Lawyer!

We are pleased to announce that Anthony Moffatt has accepted our offer to join the Firm as an Associate Lawyer commencing Wednesday, 3 January 2019. Anthony obtained his LL.B. from UBC in 2006. He was called to the Ontario Bar in 2007, and was called to the BC Bar in 2010. Since 2011 he has worked as Senior Policy and Legal Advisor for WorkSafeBC, where he led his department to make complex policy and regulation amendments.

Prior to WorkSafeBC, Anthony practiced in Labour and Employment Law at Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP (now Norton Rose). Prior to that, he practiced in Employment and Labour Law at Ogilvy Renaud LLP, in their Ottawa Office (also now Norton Rose). Following law school, Anthony articled with McCarthy Tetrault LLP in Ottawa. Anthony brings with him previous sales and marketing experience, which he looks forward to applying with the firm.

Please join me in giving Anthony a very warm welcome to the Firm.

What are the Benefits of Employment Insurance?

Benefits of Employment Insurance

In Canada, employment insurance (EI) is operated by the government and provides temporary income assistance for eligible employees who cannot work.  There are different types of benefits offered through EI in Canada including regular benefits and special benefits.  Of course, as with any kind of insurance, there are specific eligibility requirements.   Let’s take a moment to review the eligibility criteria as well as the types of benefits of employment insurance that are available to workers in Canada.

Ultimately, there are several eligibility requirements for EI in Canada.  First, you must be employed in insurable employment – which means you and/or your employer have been contributing to EI premiums.  Next, you can only collect EI regular benefits if you have lost a job through no fault of your own.  Once you have been off work and not receiving pay for at least seven consecutive days, you can apply for EI.  However, in order to qualify, you must have worked between 420 and 700 insurable hours in the 52-week period before your claim starts.  Finally, you must be ready, willing and capable of working while you’re collecting benefits, and you must also be actively seeking work to qualify.  Nevertheless, there are some special exceptions for eligibility so if you are not certain of your eligibility status, you should apply for benefits regardless.

So then, speaking of benefits, what are the benefits of employment insurance in Canada?  Essentially, EI represents temporary income assistance for individuals who have lost their job through no fault of their own.  The exact amount of income assistance depends on your earnings.  The basic EI rate is about 55% of your average weekly income with a maximum amount of $547/week.  Also depending on the length of your employment, you may be eligible to receive EI benefits for a period of 14 weeks to a maximum of 45 weeks.  The length of time you can collect benefits is also determined by the unemployment rate in your area.  Additionally, a family supplement is available to individuals with children and a spouse (who receives the Canada Child Benefit) if their net family income is below $25,921 per year.  This supplement can bump your EI benefits up to as much as 80% of your average weekly income, but this figure also depends on your net family income.

Finally, EI benefits are also available to certain individuals who are off work because of sickness.  You may qualify for temporary income assistance through EI if you cannot work because of sickness, injury, or quarantine.  Typically, the maximum length of eligibility for sickness benefits is 15 weeks.  Also, you might be surprised to learn that maternity and paternity benefits through the government are also part of your EI benefits.

RCMP lawsuit that alleged sexist, racist workplace settled

RCMP lawsuit that alleged sexist, racist workplace settled

The RCMP officer who has settled her claim says she is now able to move forward in a better work environment. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

There has been a settlement in the case of a Vancouver Island RCMP officer who alleged a supervisor made derogatory comments against women and First Nations people.

Labour Rights Law Office represented Cpl. Swann, but we are not at liberty to discuss the terms of the settlement.

The statement of claim filed in August 2017 named several supervisors, including the former commanding officer of British Columbia’s E-Division, claiming they did nothing to stop the harassment.

Cpl. Jill Swann said she could not reveal the terms of the settlement because she signed a non-disclosure agreement.

In a phone interview this week, she said she was relieved it’s behind her.

“You’re just happy it’s been resolved, that you can close the door on it and move forward,”  Swann said.

“And that’s what I want to do.”

She confirmed that the case was resolved at the end of July, almost a year after it was filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

‘There’s great people’

Swann, a  22-year RCMP veteran who had been off work for seven months in 2015 because of the harassment she faced, said she loved her work.

“It’s a great job and there’s great people,” Swann said, adding that there are new supervisors and management who “get it.”

“We have a process in place in the organization and when it works, it works very well. It’s just everybody has to know what the process is,” she said.

However, like many RCMP members who have spoken out about harassment or taken court action, Swann says she is still contacted by women who have had bad experiences seeking help and insight.

Swann’s suit claimed her immediate boss, Cpl. Roger Collin, called her names like “meth face” after she had some facial surgery, and “Big Red Machine” referring to her hair and weight gain.

Swann also claimed he often made derogatory comments about Indigenous people. Her husband — also an officer with the RCMP —  and children are Métis.

And she alleged Collin sent her a box of condoms in a bouquet of flowers when she gave birth to her youngest child, and also drew a bull’s-eye target symbol on her soft body armour along with some derogatory names.

The suit alleged that the RCMP “failed to provide … Swann with a safe workplace, free from all forms of harassment and intimidation,” contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canada Labour Code, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the RCMP’s own rules.

Contacted by CBC News, now retired Cpl. Roger Collin said he had no information and nothing to say but his signature is on the settlement document filed this week.

The RCMP also declined comment.

In an email, E-Division spokesperson Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau wrote:  “We were advised by legal that a Consent Dismissal Order was entered and approved by the Court on September 18, 2018. We have no additional information that we can provide.”

 

Choosing an Employment Lawyer

Choosing an Employment Lawyer

Employees and employers alike sometimes require the services of an employment lawyer.  Whether you are negotiating an employment contract, dealing with the difficult circumstances around a possible wrongful dismissal, or even managing the nuances of a human rights complaint, employment lawyers offer a breadth of expertise that may effectively serve employees as well as employers.  Indeed, just as there are a wide variety of services provided by employment lawyers, there are a wide variety of individuals from a wide range of sectors who seek these services.  So, how do you ensure that you are choosing the right employment lawyer?

Whether you are a freelancer, contractor, entrepreneur, employee, or business owner, the process of selecting an employment lawyer will generally follow similar stages.  First, you want to identify potential employment lawyers and set up an initial meeting.  But then, even finding lawyers can be a trick – you can search online or ask friends, family, and colleagues.  Ideally, you want to gather some information about the services the employment lawyer provides, and the quality of that service and then narrow your search to your top candidates.

After identifying your preferred candidates, you’ll arrange an initial consultation to discuss your concerns and the lawyer’s expertise and past experience.  Always make sure to meet with the lawyer who will ultimately take on your case.  During this initial meeting, you can get a sense of the employment lawyer’s professionalism and communication style to determine if it’s a good fit for you.  Additionally, you should ask about the cost of services, the lawyer’s opinion about the likely outcome and action plans, as well as potential timelines for your case.

You may also want to ask for references from your employment lawyer.  They may be able to offer testimonials or even put you in touch with previous clients who would be willing to speak to their experience with that lawyer.  However, given confidentiality rules, you may not always be able to get in touch with past clients, which is why it is always advisable to seek recommendations from friends and colleagues first.

Next, you want to get a better sense of the lawyer’s experience.  You can ask about how long they have been practicing employment law and the kinds of cases they have handled in the past.  Even ask the employment lawyer about their rate of success.  Speaking again about lawyer’s fees, you can also get more information about how you will need to pay the fees (up-front, at the end of service, or monthly bills, for example).

Finally, consider logistical factors such as the lawyer’s location and the size of their firm.  Ideally, you want to work with a lawyer that is local and accessible to you.  And while you may have preferences between working with a large firm with extensive expertise, smaller and medium-sized firms often develop closer relationships with their clients.

The Difference between a Union and Non-Union Workplace

The Difference between a Union and Non-Union WorkplaceIf you’ve never worked in a union environment, you may not know the difference between a union and a non-union workplace.  Some of the nuances that distinguish union from non-union workplaces are quite complex, the reality of the difference comes down to who defines the work culture.  In a non-union work environment, the employer holds the majority of power.  This means the employer determines work expectations, sets wages, determines work schedules, and maintains independence over discipline, promotions, and other aspects of work culture.  On the other hand, in a union environment, employees have more control.  Through their union, employees can negotiate workplace contracts that include details about work expectations, wages, schedules, discipline, promotions, etc.  But, what else do you need to know about union and non-union environments?

Let’s start by discussing some of the pros and cons of working in a union environment.  Wages, benefits, security, and support are some of the reasons employees prefer a union environment.  Some estimates indicate union workers earn on average $200 more per week than non-union employees.  Additionally, union workers tend to receive medical benefits more often than non-union counterparts.  More than 90% of union workers are entitled to medical benefits compared to less than 70% of non-union workers.  Moreover, union employees’ spouses or domestic partners are more often included in this benefit coverage compared to non-union employees.

Another benefit of working in a union environment is job security.  In a union environment, the only way an employee can be dismissed is for just cause – this means they must exhibit serious misconduct (e.g. theft from the employer) to be fired.  Additionally, the support union employees receive from their peers allows for collective action if a worker feels they are being treated unfairly.  Sometimes, tare even rules in union workplaces to protect more senior staff from being overlooked for a promotion or a transfer to a new position.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to working in a union environment.  For example, all union members are expected to pay union dues which can cost up to a few hundred dollars per year.  There is also the fact that as a union member, you are part of a collective and you lose some of your autonomy.  Whether you agree with union decisions, you are bound to the employment contract they negotiate.  And, perhaps most unfortunate, many union workers report supervisors tend to be less collaborative.  This resulted in unionized workers feeling less trust, support, and partnership with management.

So, while outlining the basic differences between union and non-union workplaces is relatively straightforward, it is clear there are some underlying differences that must be carefully considered if you are entering a union or non-union workplace.  Plus, every union is different, so do your research and choose a workplace that fits for you and your values.