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College spends $1M fighting human rights complaints

Yukon College spent more than $600,000 in legal fees to fight a human rights complaint filed by two elderly twins. "They just had unlimited funds to fight us...

Yukon College spent more than $600,000 in legal fees to fight a human rights complaint filed by two elderly twins.

“They just had unlimited funds to fight us, all over $20,000, which is nothing for them,” said twin Susan Malcolm.

“It wasn’t worth the money - the taxpayers’ money - or the years it took to fight this.”

Malcolm and her sister, Sarah Baker, filed a human rights complaint against the college and two of its instructors in November 2004.

At the time, the sisters were in their mid-50s and had enrolled in the college’s community support worker program in the hopes of helping people who struggle with mental health issues.

Instead, they allege they were harassed and discriminated against by their instructors.

The instructors commented on the twins’ health, their weight and even said they smelled, according to the sisters’ testimony.

Malcolm and Baker were not allowed to continue a practicum they missed because of an illness and were told they would receive terrible references.

Following a lengthy hearing, the Yukon Human Rights board of adjudication ruled in favour of the twins, awarding them $10,000 each, as well as court costs.

Soon after the decision was released, the sisters received an email from Yukon College offering to double their compensation if they didn’t talk to the media.

They agreed.

But then the college appealed the decision.

In December, the Yukon Supreme Court ruled against the college’s appeal, upholding the original decision in favour of the twins.

“The college spent a lot of money on a case that never had to happen,” wrote Baker and Malcolm in an email this week.

“We would like to ask the board of governors why they let the harassment continue until the college mounted legal fees in excess of more than half a million dollars.”

On top of the $618,433.44 the college spent fighting the twins, it also spent $380,348.22 fighting other human rights cases over the last decade, for a total of more than $998,000.

“Nobody likes to spend that much,” said college president Karen Barnes this week.

The college spent a third of that million paying a Vancouver lawyer to represent it during the twins’ hearing, she said.

“But we didn’t anticipate the hearing would take that many days,” said Barnes.

The college has money set aside in its annual budget to cover legal costs, but the twins’ case far exceeded what was available, forcing the college to dip into its reserves.

“We drew money down from our reserves so that we wouldn’t impact programming,” said Barnes.

It’s up to the college board to decide how its reserves are spent, she added.

Following the twins’ case, the college has revamped its student complaints process.

“Some policies were not as complete as they should have been,” said Barnes.

But the college is still arguing its instructors did nothing wrong in the twins’ case.

“The college incurred the expense because we felt we were defending an important principle - that our staff did nothing wrong and the claims against them were baseless,” said Barnes in a release.

“We continue to maintain that position.”

It’s a position that shocks the twins.

How can the college maintain it did nothing wrong? ask Baker and Malcolm.

“The resources spent by the college surely offered the best defence money can buy, and they were still found guilty.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at