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Yukon Supreme Court opts to not review decision on complaints by deaf student

Human rights commission will investigate only more recent complaints. Court finds this reasonable.
The courthouse in Whitehorse (Joel Krahn/Yukon News Files)

The Yukon Supreme Court will not review a decision from the territory’s human rights commission regarding the treatment of a hearing impaired student in the school system.

A Nov. 29 decision penned by Suzanne Duncan, the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice explains why the court will not weigh in on the Yukon Human Rights Commission’s (YHRC) May 2020 decision to accept only part of the student’s complaint for further investigation.

The decision explains that the student, whose name is made anonymous in court documents, alleges discrimination for the duration of his time in school. The human rights commission will look into some of the more recent complaints citing a portion of the Human Rights Act that specifies that complaints must be brought within 18 months of the alleged contravention.

“The earliest allegations accepted for investigation by the YHRC occurred within 23 months of the making of the complaint. The YHRC rejected the allegations before that time because they were out of time, not a continuing contravention of discrimination occurring in later years, and did not merit an exercise of discretion,” the judgement reads.

Duncan writes that the YHRC did not accept the argument from the student and his lawyer that the student’s allegations of systemic discrimination were sufficient to forego the time limitation.

The student complained to the human rights commission that the Yukon Department of Education discriminated against him throughout his years at school between 2007 and 2018 due to his hearing impairment. It states that he struggled with reading and language especially and that he claims that the department’s failure to accommodate his disability amounted to denying him meaningful access to education.

The Yukon Supreme Court decision details the student’s complaints. They include the lack of the recommendation of an individual education plan by school administrators before the student started kindergarten and the rejection of the students’ parents requests for a tutor during school hours in other supports. In the school years leading up to the complaint, the student claims the use of American Sign Language interpretation and other support systems became sporadic and the department of education also denied funding for him to attend the British Columbia School for the Deaf.

The complaint to the human rights commission was received in August 2019. The commission accepted the later allegations of discrimination, some from as long ago as 2017 when they were considered a continuing contravention of his rights. This means they were directly related to similar failures to accommodate the student’s needs that took place around the same time.

The student argues that YHRC’s decision to exclude the older allegations of discrimination was unreasonable.

In a decision that included analysis of choices made by other Canadian human rights commissions under similar circumstances Duncan found the human rights commission’s assessment of the Human Rights Act was reasonable and concluded that the court should not review it. Duncan found that there were enough differences between the various allegations of discrimination that they were not consistent with a continuing contravention of the student’s rights by the government.

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Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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