Gender identity discrimination now prohibited in Saskatchewan

This week, the Saskatchewan government amended its Human Rights Code to add gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination, joining the Northwest Territories, Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador in so doing. It also amended the code with respect to discriminating against gay and lesbian renters, and increased certain penalties.

According to a CTV Saskatoon report on Justice Minister Gordon Wyant’s account of the amendment, “previously transgender people were implicitly protected under the code. Wyant says the bill sends a message to the transgender community that their rights are enshrined in law.”

The gender identity amendment may have been partly inspired by a September 2013 mediated settlement by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission after a bridal boutique was found to have violated the code when it refused to serve a potential customer because she was transgender.

Chief Commissioner David M. Arnot announced Dec 10, “advocates for the transgender community had been asking for changes to the Code that would clarify the rights of transgender people. Legislators have been working hard to find language that would not have unwanted outcomes.”

MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP partner Leah Schatz, summarized the rental amendment on the firm’s westernemployerscounsel.com blog as “a narrowing of the exemptions previously provided to landlords when renting residential property units attached to residential units housing either the landlord or his or her family members. This exemption previously applied to attached units. It now applies solely to units sharing a common entrance.”

Penalties for violating the code have also been increased in this round of amendments, including raising the maximum fine for damages to feelings, dignity, and self-respect to $20,000 from $10,000.

Although matters under the code are often settled in mediation, in July 2014, the Court of Queen’s Bench decided a hotel owner-manager had sexually harassed a female hotel clerk contrary to the code.

In Empire Investments Corp. v. Pontes, the court held that for “gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment [John] Pontes must pay the complainant the maximum possible award under the code of $10,000 for injury to feelings, dignity, and self-respect.” He was also ordered to pay $31,900 for lost earnings, plus costs of “$3,000 for vexatious, frivolous and abusive conduct in the court proceedings.”

That $10K might have been $20K if the decision had come down now.

Update 4:45 pm.: Corrected minister's name.

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