Federal Court of Appeal affirms dismissal of human rights complaint not filed on individual’s behalf

Human rights commission finds it has no jurisdiction over complaint raising accessibility issues

Federal Court of Appeal affirms dismissal of human rights complaint not filed on individual’s behalf

The Canadian Human Rights Commission committed no error in concluding that Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians lacked standing to file a complaint with the commission because it was not an individual, the Federal Court of Appeal recently said.

The case arose when Alliance filed against Employment and Social Development Canada a complaint alleging that its grant process, and particularly its website for funding applications, were inaccessible.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission accepted that the complaint raised serious human rights issues and engaged a strong public interest in ensuring the accessibility of the government’s services and programs, particularly those aiming to support persons with disabilities.

However, the commission held that the complaint was beyond its jurisdiction. The commission characterized the complaint as one made by Alliance, not by an individual. The commission noted that the Canadian Human Rights Act, 1985 protected individuals, not corporations.

Alliance filed a judicial review application seeking to set aside the commission’s decision. The Federal Court dismissed the application upon finding it reasonable under the principles in Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Vavilov, 2019 SCC 65.

Alliance appealed. First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, which received intervener status, alleged that the commission’s decision conflicted with precedents where it considered complaints made by organizations.

The intervener referred to the commission’s 2016 decision relating to a complaint that the intervener filed. This complaint argued that Canada discriminated against First Nations children and families.

Jurisdictional finding affirmed

In Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians v. Canada (Attorney General), 2023 FCA 31, the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

According to Agraira v. Canada (Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness), 2013 SCC 36, in an appeal from a judicial review of the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal should decide whether the Federal Court identified and properly applied the correct standard of review. The appellate court should step into the Federal Court’s shoes and should focus on the administrative decision.

In this case, the Federal Court correctly identified and properly applied the standard of review, the appellate court ruled. The Federal Court properly found that characterizing the complaint was a “factually-suffused task” involving the commission’s expertise, the appellate court said.

The commission reasonably characterized the complaint in the way that it did, the appellate court held. The commission did not premise its decision on a conclusion that it lacked jurisdiction over any discrimination complaint made by an organization, the appellate court added.

The commission agreed with the report of a human rights officer, which acknowledged that an organization could file a discrimination complaint on an individual’s behalf if the individual faced the alleged discrimination, the appellate court noted.

Lastly, the commission did not ignore portions of the complaint, the appellate court said. The commission considered the entire complaint, including parts that potentially supported Alliance’s characterization of the complaint, the appellate court added.

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