Quebec Human Rights Tribunal finds aluminum maker discriminated against students

A large aluminum manufacturer was ordered by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal to amend their collective agreement and pay 157 students who were discriminated against on the basis of their age and their “social condition” $1,000 each in moral damages.

In an important decision that deals with student discrimination, the Tribunal found that Aluminerie de Becancour Inc. (ABI) breached article 19 of the Quebec Charter of human rights and freedoms. Under article 19, employers must – without discrimination – grant equal salary or wages to the members of his personnel who perform equivalent work at the same place. The Tribunal also found in Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (Beaudry et autres) c. Aluminerie de Bécancour inc., 2018 QCTDP 12 that the company breached articles 10 and 46 of the Quebec Charter.

The decision could cost the aluminum maker, owned 74.95 percent by Alcoa and 25.05 percent by Rio Tinto, millions of dollars as students have been seeking since 2007 to be paid the same wages as regular employees — $40.31 per hour as opposed to the $31.23 they were earning. On top of the moral damages the company will have to pay, ABI will also have to retroactively pay students the amounts they should have been earning. As well, ABI will have to make changes to its labour collective agreement to ensure that it complies with Article 19 of the Quebec Charter.

The ruling underlines that students who worked at ABI were exposed to the same risks and performed the same work as regular and casual employees, and the fact that they were not paid the same compromised their dignity. The Tribunal concluded that the employer undermined the rights of the victims because they were student employees.

According to Philippe-André Tessier, interim president of the Quebec Human Rights Commission, the decision sends a clear message to employers. “Discrimination in employment, based on the social condition, is prohibited by the Quebec Charter, and one cannot impose a distinction based on the sole fact that the employees are students,” said Tessier.

Clément Masse, head of the union at ABI, local 9700 of the Syndicat des métallos, believes that the ruling will create jurisprudence and will almost certainly have an impact in other work sectors.

Quebec Human Rights Tribunal awards damages to employee fired because of her health condition

A retirement home has been ordered by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal to pay more than $11,000 in material, moral and punitive damages to an employee who was fired because of her health condition.

The “important” decision reaffirms the wide reach of article 18.1 of the Quebec Charter of human rights and freedoms, which circumscribes information-gathering at the pre-hiring stage, highlights the importance for employers to have thorough pre-employment medical questionnaires that do not breach the Charter, and underscores the need for employers to take immediate action when employees demonstrate bad faith, according to employment and human rights lawyers.

“The decision underlines the importance of employers to improve their pre-employment medical questionnaires to ensure that pertinent questions are asked in order to discover functional work limitations,” said Serge Bouchard, an employment lawyer with Morency Société d’Avocats.

The case dates back to March 2011 when Michelle Paquette was hired as a patient care attendant by Résidence Ste-Anne in Quebec City. Paquette has multiple sclerosis (MS), an incurable and unpredictable degenerative disease that affects a person’s central nervous system, and she suffers from periodic attacks once or twice a year that lead to fatigue and numbness of the hands or feet. At the time of the job interview, Paquette, an experienced patient care attendant, did not have medical restrictions imposed on her by her doctor and therefore she did not reveal that she suffered from MS.

But two weeks after being hired, Paquette suffered an MS attack and was told by her neurologist that she should take off three weeks off. She did not. Instead she took a couple of days off, and asked her employer to relieve of her duty to serve soups or hot drinks to residents because her left hand was numb. Her employer in return asked for a medical certificate that confirmed that she could accomplish the duties she was hired to do. In the meantime, Paquette went to see her neurologist again, who gave her a medical certificate and reiterated that she should take a three-week sick leave. When Paquette went to pick up her pay cheque on April 7, less than a month after she was hired, she was fired.

In the dismissal letter, the employer stated she was fired because of her frequent absences due “to her health condition.” But before the Tribunal, the employer said that the hastily drafted dismissal letter did not “reflect the true reasons” behind the dismissal. Alexandre Caron, the employer, testified Paquette was fired because she did not divulge at the time she was hired that she had MS, which “irremediably led to a breach of trust that is necessary in an employer-employee relationship.” The employer added that healthy employees were an “occupational requirement” for his business and that accommodating Paquette would have caused undue hardship.

“We were above all concerned about the security of the residents,” said Alexandre Lacasse, a Montreal lawyer with Dufresne Hébert Comeau Avocats, who plead the case. “There are two patient care attendants, one on each floor, and if something happens they are on the front line to take care of them. If residents fall, you need to pick them up with both hands or if they have a cardiac arrest you have to carry out a cardiac massage with two hands so it is essential that employees be able to work with both hands.”

The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal dismissed the employer’s contentions. The dismissal letter constituted sufficient evidence to conclude that Paquette was discriminated against because of her illness, said the Tribunal in an 18-page ruling in Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (Paquette) c. 9208-8467 Québec inc. (Résidence Sainte-Anne), 2016 QCTDP 20. The onus therefore shifted to the employer to justify its discriminatory conduct – and it failed to prove its case. The tribunal held that since Paquette did not have any medical restrictions, her decision to conceal her illness in the absence of a “precise question” during the job interview was “justified.”

Under the Quebec Charter employers are entitled to ask questions that will help them to assess an applicant’s ability to perform the duties of the job and to make an informed decision. However, article 18.1 of the Charter prohibits employers from seeking information about one’s colour, race, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, disability or the use of any means to mitigate the effects of one’s disability, pointed out Louis-Philippe Lampron, a human rights law professor at the Université Laval. On the face of it therefore any questions about the health of an applicant is considered to be discriminatory. But article 18.1 does allow employers to ask applicants questions on their health if a medical condition can prevent the person from fulfilling the responsibilities of the job, added Lampron. “The reason why the Tribunal ruled in favour of the complainant is because the evidence seemed to demonstrate that in spite of her illness, even taking into account the numbness in her hand, she was able to perform the most important, or nearly, all of the responsibilities for which she was hired,” said Lampron.

The Tribunal appears to be adding an additional burden on employers to ask precise questions during a job interview, noted Montreal labour and employment lawyer Zeïneb Mellouli of Lavery, de Billy. While it’s true that that on the day of the interview Paquette did not have an MS attack, “nuances” should have been made given that MS is a degenerative illness where functional limitations may be temporary and variable, added Mellouli. “While it’s true that an employer should not be seeking to hire employees in perfect health, it remains that they have a right to know if there are restrictions,  in the face of a degenerative disease, so long as there is a rational connection to the duties they must fulfil,” said Mellouili.

Bouchard takes it a step further. He believes that there is a case to be made that since Paquette suffered recurrent attacks once or twice a year that she indeed had medical restrictions that impeded her from fulfilling her responsibilities, and therefore she should have told her employer during the job interview that she was afflicted with MS.

The Tribunal also dismissed the employer’s arguments that Paquette did not act in good faith by failing to disclose her illness during the job interview. If the employer had felt that Paquette gave false or incomplete answers during the job interview and that it lead to a breach of trust in the employer-employee relationship, he should have dismissed her immediately, said the Tribunal. But by allowing her to continue to work, the employer ratified the contract, even if he demanded that she provide a medical certificate proving that she was capable of fulfilling her responsibilities as a patient care attendant, added the Tribunal.

The lesson is clear, said Bouchard. “Employers have to act immediately and not rest on their laurels if they are certain they were deceived,” said Bouchard. “They must terminate the employment contract.” But Lampron believes the matter is far from being clear-cut. If the deceitful reply was in response to a question that may be deemed to be discriminatory under the Quebec Charter, then an employer may have no grounds to fire an employee, said Lampron.

According to Maurice Drapeau, a lawyer with the Quebec human rights commission, the Paquette case is important because it is one of the rare cases that dealt with a dismissal based on a disability. Most complaints the Quebec human rights commission deals with are cases dealing with discrimination at the pre-employment phase of recruiting, said Drapeau. “People may have health problems but that does not mean they are unable to fulfil their job responsibilities,” said Drapeau. “The problem we come across very frequently is that employers are looking for employees in perfect health, in part because of insurance costs. So this is a very important ruling for people with disabilities.”

This story was originally published in The Lawyers Weekly.

Quebec Court of Appeal overturns discrimination case

In a ruling that took human rights lawyers by surprise the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned a discrimination case against aeronautics multinational Bombardier Inc. after holding that there was no evidence that a Canadian pilot of Pakistani origin was a victim of ethnic discrimination.

The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, in a precedent-setting ruling that held that Quebec human rights laws prevail over American anti-terrorism efforts in Canada, ordered the Montreal-based firm three years ago to pay Javed Latif $319,000 in damages after it found that the pilot’s human rights were violated when Bombardier barred him from flight training at a Montreal facility because U.S. authorities had designated him a security threat. The Tribunal also ordered Bombardier to cease respecting U.S. national security decisions when pilots are seeking flight training under Canadian licences.

But in a unanimous 40-page facts-specific decision that reviewed the evidence of the case, the Quebec Court of Appeal took issue with the fact that the Tribunal based its decision almost entirely on an expert report and testimony of University of Windsor law professor Reem Anne Bahdi. The report concluded that U.S. post 9/11 security measures are generally riddled with stereotypes about Muslims and persons of Arab origin, and therefore the decision to deny Latif must have also been discriminatory. The appeal court found the report was not scientifically objective and had numerous flaws and shortcomings.

“I find it difficult to see how we can allow ourselves to make a judgment that an anti-Arab or Islamaphobic sentiment in the U.S., following the events of September 11, 2001, would be sufficient to create the necessary causal link between the refusal of American authorities to issue a security certificate and (Latif’s) Pakistani nationality,” wrote Justice Marie St-Pierre in Bombardier inc. (Bombardier Aerospace Training Center) v. Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, 2013 QCCA 1650. “In the relevant period (2003-2008), Bombardier trained a number of pilots of Arab, Muslim or Middle-Eastern descent who underwent the same security verifications and who received positive responses.”

But human rights experts are concerned that the Quebec Court of Appeal has as of late far too easily accepted motions for leave to appeal decisions issued by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, shown little deference to Tribunal rulings, and adopted rules of the Civil Code of Quebec to human rights matters.

“I have the impression that this case was treated as an ordinary commercial law matter that applied civil law rules,” observed Christian Brunelle, a law professor at the Université de Laval. “It ignored the quasi-constitutional status of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, its distinct nature compared to civil law, and the importance of interpreting human rights violations generously and liberally. It worries me.”

Brunelle, who is conducting a study examining how decisions by the Tribunal fare before the Quebec Court of Appeal, is all the more concerned because there are clear signs that the appeal court “seems to have great interest” in hearing cases stemming from the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal — and does not hesitate to overturn them. The appeal court normally shows much deference over the appreciation of evidence made by judges of first instance, but “for reasons I cannot explain entirely” it seems to be far less reserved when it comes to reviewing evidence from Quebec Human Rights Tribunal decisions, said Brunelle.

Its penchant to apply a “civil law analysis grid” to decide human rights issues is equally disconcerting, with the result that they are more demanding in terms of causality, added Brunelle. The Bombardier decision is a case in point. While the Tribunal held that Latif’s ethnic origins played a role, “perhaps minimal but nevertheless a real one,” in the U.S. decision to blacklist him, the appeal court found that there was no such evidence. “The question then is what evidence is required to invoke discrimination or does one have to demonstrate causality,” asked rhetorically Brunelle. “Depending on what approach one takes, there are different consequences.”

That is an issue that the Court of Appeal of Ontario grappled with over the course of the summer in Peel Law Association v. Pieters, 2013 ONCA 396. In a 45-page ruling, the Ontario appeal court held that all that is required is that there be a “connection” between the adverse treatment and the ground of discrimination. In short, the ground of discrimination must somehow be a “factor” in the adverse treatment. “The Divisional Court’s requirement of a “causal nexus” or a “causal link” between the adverse treatment and a prohibited ground seems counter to the evolution of human rights jurisprudence, which focuses on the discriminatory effects of conduct, rather than on intention and direct cause,” said Justice R.G. Juriansz.

Thanks to the different tack taken by Quebec appeal court, Quebec human rights jurisprudence is developing “differently” compared to the rest of Canada, asserts Brunelle. “It gives the impression that the Quebec Charter, which is a quasi-constitutional law, is taken less seriously in Quebec regarding issues of discrimination than is the case elsewhere,” remarked Brunelle.

The Bombardier case raises yet more troubling issues, says Montreal lawyer Alain Lecours of Lecours & Hébert. Following the appeal court decision, it now seems that another nation can impose conditions on Canadian companies operating on Canadian soil, says Lecours. A Bombardier executive testified before the Tribunal that American authorities told him not to train Latif, and that if it did, there would be “serious consequences” for Bombardier. Justice Michele Rivet of the Tribunal criticized in her ruling Bombardier for taking the U.S. designation in faith and not trying to find out whether Latif was a security risk for Canadians. “Following this decision by the Quebec Court of Appeal, we now find ourselves in a situation where a foreign state can put pressure and impose conditions on Canadian enterprises here” in Canada, remarked Lecours.

That point of view is echoed by Catherine McKenzie, who represented Latif. “The way that Bombardier acted in this case by applying an American decision, without doing any independent verification on its own as to its validity – and knowing that Latif would have no ability to know the evidence against him or appeal the decision – is permissible,” said McKenzie, a Montreal litigator with Irving Mitchell Kalichman. “That is the impact of this decision.”

A spokesperson for the Quebec Human Rights Commission declined to comment on the case while a Bombardier spokesperson would only say they are pleased by the ruling.

Blind man wins discrimination case

A now-defunct Montreal nightclub was ordered to pay $2,500 in moral damages to a blind man for refusing to grant him and his guide dog access to the dance floor, following a ruling by the Quebec Court of Appeal that raises the bar for business to accommodate disabled people.

In a majority decision that demonstrates yet again the appeal court’s penchant to overturn rulings by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, the appellate court held that Simon Beauregard was a victim of discrimination because the nightclub did not take reasonable efforts to accommodate him.

“The principles that emerges from this ruling is that it will take extremely serious reasons to refuse to accommodate someone so in one sense one can rejoice but what preoccupies me is that the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal does not appear to benefit from a minimal amount of deference by the appeal court,” remarked Christian Brunelle, a law professor specializing in human rights at the Université Laval. “The appeal court does not shy away from overturning the Tribunal’s rulings, sometimes even over the appreciation of evidence. That’s what it seems to have done here.”

The ruling, which marks the first time the Quebec appeal court ruled on access to public spaces for service dogs for disabled persons, imposes a “heavy burden” on business that adopt a discriminatory policy to prove that it was based on a bona fide and reasonable justification, said Marc Benoit, an employment lawyer with Loranger Marcoux in Montreal. “Can you imagine the burden that it places on service providers who have to make a decision on the spot,” asked rhetorically Benoit. “The bar is higher than it was.”

On May 2009, Beauregard went to the Radio Lounge Bar with his guide dog and a friend, and was told by the manager that he had to leave the animal in the coat-check area. The bar’s staff were concerned about the presence of the service dog in the middle some 500 partygoers, and feared that it could lead to falls, pushing and shoving, and even fights, even though Beauregard insisted he had never had a problem in other establishments. The owner of the bar, Ahmed Ziad, stepped in and offered Beauregard and his service dog access to a V.I.P. lounge, located away from the dance floor. A month later, Beauregard lodged a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission alleging that he was a victim of discrimination, based on his handicap and the means he used to “palliate” his handicap, infringing articles 10 and 15 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

On February 2013, 18 months after the Commission took legal action before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, the Tribunal cleared the bar owner of any wrongdoing. The Tribunal held that while preventing Beauregard and his service dog to gain access to the dance floor was discriminatory, it found that the refusal was based on “a real and reasonable” concern for security. The “mere presence” of the dog on the dance floor where there were several hundred patrons, “many of who were probably drunk,” created a high risk for falls, said the Tribunal.

The appeal court, heeding guidance issued by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Grismer case [British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles) v. British Columbia (Council of Human Rights), [1999] 3 S.C.R. 868] and the Meiorin case [British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. BCGSEU, [1999] 3 SCR 3, 1999] overturned the Tribunal’s ruling. In Meiorin, the SCC developed a new test for all types of discrimination that broadened the notion of the duty to accommodate. Once a plaintiff establishes a prime facie case of discrimination, the onus lies with the defendant to prove on a balance of probabilities that the policy or standard has a bona fide and reasonable justification. In order to establish this justification, the defendant must prove that that it adopted the policy or standard for a purpose or goal rationally connected to the function being performed, that it was adopted in good faith, and that the policy or standard is reasonably necessarily without incurring undue hardship. A serious risk or excessive cost may be considered as undue hardship.

The Quebec Court of Appeal held in Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse c. 9185-2152 Québec inc. (Radio Lounge Brossard), 2015 QCCA 577 that the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal did not apply all of the elements of the Meiorin test correctly. The Tribunal correctly came to the conclusion that Radio Lounge passed the first two steps of the Meiorin test: its decision was based on a legitimate objective, that is, to ensure the security of its clients, and the nightclub acted in good faith. But the appeal court found that the Tribunal did not apply the third part of the test correctly. Instead “it limited itself to finding that the presence of the guide dog could entail a ‘high’ risk of incidents,” said Justice Jean-François Émond in reasons that Justice Marie-France Bich agreed with. “It did not consider whether the evidence had established the ‘serious’ or ‘undue’ nature of such risk or even its existence. It therefore bypassed the issue without addressing the fact that no actual accommodation had been seriously considered. In this case, the risk was assessed in light of evidence based on impressions.” Granting access to the V.I.P. section was not in fact an “actual accommodation,” but rather was an exclusionary measure that had the effect of isolating Beauregard.

“The appeal court first of all confirmed the importance of granting equal access to handicapped people, and it reminds establishments – private as much as public – that blind people accompanied by service dogs must have access to the establishment,” remarked Marie Dominique, a lawyer with the Quebec Human Rights Commission who successfully plead the case. “They cannot allege a risk to skirt around their obligation to take reasonable steps to accommodate, unless the risk is serious or excessive. So this ruling goes further than the majority of decisions on matters regarding access to public spaces for handicapped people.”

Benoit, however, is concerned about the burden of proof that service providers will have to establish to justify a discriminatory policy. He notes that a business that does not provide a reasonable accommodation will have to demonstrate that the risk is excessive and serious, and that it cannot be based on preconceived ideas or notions. “It has to be based on objective evidence – and it is going to be really interesting to see how service providers will be able to prove that before the courts,” said Benoit. “The burden of proof has become excessively high for service providers.”

Appeal court Justice François Pelletier would have upheld the Tribunal’s ruling. He asserted that the appeal was principally based on an appreciation of evidence, and that deference should have been given to a “specialized body” that was given the mandate to decide on human rights matters. Besides, it was reasonable to conclude that it would have been “unwise” to allow the dog access to the dance floor given the risks that it posed under the circumstances, added Justice Pelletier.

The ruling also appears to go against the grain of yet another ruling by the SCC that seemingly lowered the bar over the duty to accommodate, according to Brunelle. In Hydro-Québec v. Syndicat des employé-e-s de techniques professionnelles et de bureau d’Hydro-Québec, section locale 2000 (SCFP-FTQ), [2008] 2 SCR 561, 2008 SCC 43, the SCC overturned a ruling by the Québec appeal court and held that an employer’s duty to accommodate ends where the employee is no longer able to fulfill the basic obligations associated with the employment relationship for the foreseeable future.

“The SCC held in the Hydro-Québec ruling that the Meiorin test must be read with a certain degree of flexibility,” noted Brunelle. “However, in the Radio Lounge decision, the appeal court takes a very strong stance and states the obligation to accommodate is extremely important. But in reading the decision one would be hard-pressed to figure out what the nightclub could have done more. Not much guidance is given to determine what is considered to be an excessive risk.”

News roundup: A truce, a crucifix and class actions

A truce has ostensibly been declared by two men who dominated the legal and political scene in Quebec over the past year. Premier Jean Charest and former Justice Minister Marc Bellemare have seemingly dropped lawsuits against each other, launched in the wake of the judicial nomination scandal in the province.

Nearly a year ago the former justice minister rocked Quebec with explosive allegations that powerful party fundraisers tainted the judicial appointment process six years ago. On the same day Bellemare lodged a formal complaint with Quebec’s provincial police force, Premier Charest launched a $700,000 libel lawsuit against the former justice minister for “false, malicious and defamatory remarks” and appointed former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache to preside over a commission of inquiry into Bellemare’s allegations. Bellemare, in turn, sued Charest as well.

The Bastarache commission made in late January sweeping recommendations to address “several weaknesses” in the Quebec judicial selection and appointment process “vulnerable to all manner of interventions and influence” even though it dismissed Bellemare’s allegations that he acted under undue pressure by Liberal Party fundraisers, with the consent of Premier Charest, in the appointment of judges.

Last month the Quebec government introduced a series of new interim rules that drew tepid praise.

In a press release issued yesterday, Bellemare gives a number of reasons for dropping the suit, surprisingly stating that the whole episode “was blown out of all proportion.” He also said that the lawsuits and the Bastarache commission “cost Quebec taxpayers millions of dollars.” Quebec taxpayers, however, were no longer picking up the tab for the legal battle the two protagonists were fighting against each other.

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Never mix politics and religion, so the adage goes. Jean Tremblay, mayor of the City of Saguenay, doesn’t buy it.

The City and the mayor were recently ordered to pay $30,000 in moral and punitive damages by a Quebec Human Rights Tribunal to a citizen for discriminating against his freedom of religion and conscience, and to remove a crucifix and a Sacred Heart statue from city council meetings as well as to stop reciting a prayer before each city council meeting. “By reciting a prayer and displaying religious symbols in a hall where all citizens are invited to participate in the life of a democratic municipality, the Mayor and the City of Saguenay did not respect its obligation to remain neutral,” said the Tribunal.

The outspoken mayor launched a campaign to collect funds for an appeal, and it’s working. So far, the city has collected more than $100,000, an indication that “Quebecers are attached to their identity, their tradition and their culture,” says the mayor.

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Quebec used to have a deserved reputation as being a haven for class action suits.

The pendulum began to swing four years ago when the appellate court affirmed in Bouchard v. Agropur Coopérative et al the necessity of a legal relationship between the petitioner and all of the entities he wishes to sue. In Lallier vs Volkswagen Canada inc. and Del Guidice c. Honda Canada inc., the Court of Appeal established more precise criteria that place a higher burden on plaintiffs to pass the authorization stage, said class action expert Peter Richardson of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. “These are criteria defense lawyers have been trying to plead for many years but maybe now are getting recognition,” said Richardson, who successfully pleaded the Volkswagen case.

“It’s never been easy to obtain class action authorizations, but with these two rulings the Quebec Court of Appeal has certainly made it more difficult than ever,” remarked class action expert Fred Adams of Adams Gareau in Montreal.

It may be more daunting but it is certainly possible. Over the past week Quebec Superior Court authorized two class actions.

A class-action lawsuit launched by a Montreal sixplex building owner who blames Montreal’s aging sewage pipes for repeated flooding over the last five years was granted authorization. Eugène Robitaille is seeking $2,000 for each homeowner who signs on as well as the cost of repairs.

Also granted authorization was a class action launched by Option consommateurs, a consumer rights non-profit organization, against furniture retailer The Brick for alleged misleading advertisement. Option consommateurs is seeking punitive damages of $5 million after it says The Brick claimed clients would not have to pay interest on financed purchases for 15 months. The suit says that clients are in fact charged an annual fee of $35.

Trucking company ordered to pay $10,000 for discrimination

A Montreal-area trucking company has paid the price for having a well-entrenched policy of refusing to hire female truck drivers.

The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ordered Bernard Wolinsky, owner of Laurentian Shavings Products Inc. and Lanjay Peat Moss Inc., to pay $10,000 to a female truck driver for discrimination.

The Tribunal, which found that Wolinsky refused to consider the complainant’s application because she was a woman, held that her right to be treated with equality and dignity had been breached. She was awarded $7,000 in moral damages, and $3,000 in punitive damages.

The complainant, answering a classified advertisement, dropped off her curriculum vitae at the company’s headquarters. As the complainant was shown into Mr. Wolinsky’s office, he told her that he did not hire women. He did not interview her even though she had five years experience working part-time for a number of transportation companies.

According to the evidence before the Tribunal, Wolinsky told her: “We don’t take women here. It’s very difficult for a woman to remove the snow from the roof of the trailers.” When informed by a Human Rights Commission investigator that a complaint was lodged against him, Wolinsky replied: “I don’t hire women. It is my prerogative.”

In 2009-2010, the Human Rights Commission investigated 52 files of sex discrimination, 35 of which were related to employment, and several involved women’s access to non-traditional jobs.

The complainant, answering a classified advertisement, dropped off her curriculum vitae at the company’s headquarters. As the complainant was shown into Mr. Wolinsky’s office, he told her that he did not hire women. He did not interview her even though she had five years experience working part-time for a number of transportation companies.

According to the evidence before the Tribunal, Wolinsky told her: “We don’t take women here. It’s very difficult for a woman to remove the snow from the roof of the trailers.” When informed by a Human Rights Commission investigator that a complaint was lodged against him, Wolinsky replied: “I don’t hire women. It is my prerogative.”

In 2009-2010, the Human Rights Commission investigated 52 files of sex discrimination, 35 of which were related to employment, and several involved women’s access to non-traditional jobs.

News roundup: On crucifixes, missing judges and spying

The City of Saguenay and Mayor Jean Tremblay has been ordered to pay $30,000 in moral and punitive damages by a Quebec Human Rights Tribunal to a citizen for discriminating against his freedom of religion and conscience. The City and the mayor were also ordered to remove a crucifix and a Sacred Heart statue from city council meetings as well as to stop reciting a prayer before each city council meeting.

“By reciting a prayer and displaying religious symbols in a hall where all citizens are invited to participate in the life of a democratic municipality, the Mayor and the City of Saguenay did not respect its obligation to remain neutral,” said the Tribunal.

In spite of the ruling, it appears that Quebec’s National Assembly will not follow suit. A crucifix placed over the Speaker’s chair will stay put.

This is not the first time that Mayor Jean Tremblay lost an expensive court battle. In 2009, in a ruling that harshly castigates the mayor for providing testimony akin to science fiction, Quebec Superior Court condemned the city and the mayor to pay nearly $600,000, plus interest and legal costs, to the city manager for wrongful dismissal.

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Quebec crown prosecutors and government lawyers have long complained about being woefully understaffed. Now Court of Quebec judges have joined the chorus. The criminal section of the provincial court in Montreal is apparently in dire straits. Out of its roster of 32 judges, five have retired, one passed away, one is ill and one was nominated to Quebec Superior Court — and none have been replaced. All of which has led to lengthy court delays, said Justice Ruth Veillet, the Court of Quebec coordinating judge for the Montreal region. She has gone so far to wonder “whether if we are going to free people who have committed serious crimes?”

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Surreal, almost akin to a novel by John Le Carré. It appears that the City of Montreal conducted a ten-month long investigation against a public servant who has become its nemesis – the city auditor. City comptroller general Pierre Reid allegedly led the operation, and investigators ostensibly even examined confidential e-mails, apparently including  e-mails between clients and lawyers, which is supposed to be protected by client-sollicitor privelage, according to a report by Montreal newspaper La Presse.

“By its length and magnitude, this intrusion, or this interference, are akin to systematic espionage and a real fishing expedition that were clearly meant to build a case against the auditor general,” city auditor Jacques Bergeron wrote in a three-page letter to members of city council.

Quebec Municipal Affairs Minister Laurent Lessard publicly rebuked the city, pointing out that “the auditor must have a free hand. He’s there to audit the administration and not to be audited by the administration.”

Gilles Ouimet, the head of Quebec’s legal society, told me today that even if the allegations are true (which he described as disturbing), there is little that the Barreau du Quebec would be able to do.