The Yukon government has missed a deadline when it comes to defending itself against human rights complaints involving the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
At the same time, letters from the Department of Justice lawyers suggest the government intends to take the case to court and ask a judge to rule whether or not the human rights commission has the authority to investigate at all.
It’s just the latest in a long-brewing battle between the government and the commission over how jail complaints get investigated and by whom.
In letters from January, obtained by the News, a government lawyer proposed a series of dates, mostly in March, for a judicial review.
The commission responded that it would be inappropriate to stop proceeding with the human rights complaints until the court documents asking for a review have actually been filed.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Yukon court registry had no record of a request for judicial review being filed.
The Department of Justice refuses to say what its plans are. Spokesperson Caitlin Kerwin said the department won’t be commenting at all on the matter. It is now in front of the Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication, which she called a “quasi-judicial” tribunal.
Meanwhile, without a court order stopping it, the human rights complaint process continues to plod along slowly.
There are three complaints that have been filed against the jail. According to the commission, each complaint is slated to get its own hearing in front of a panel of adjudicators.
All three complaints allege that the inmates were discriminated against, based on, among other things, physical or mental disability.
Late last year the board of adjudication officially confirmed that it had received the complaints.
On Dec. 12, 2014 the clock started ticking. Both sides were given deadlines ranging from 15 to 90 days to start providing information.
Witness lists and other documentation were due from the government last week.
The commission’s director, Jessica Lott Thompson, said there isn’t much she can say about the cases at this point. But she did confirm that the commission has not received anything from the government.
The commission has submitted all of its paperwork on time, she said.
She said the commission is “ready to go” and wants to see the process “followed and respected.”
Questions to Kerwin about why the government missed the deadline were also not answered.
“Any information on that front was privileged and confidential communication between legal council,” she said.
The next deadline is 90 days from Dec. 12. That’s when the government has been asked to provide information about the facts it intends to prove and the issues it wants the board to decide.
This fight over investigating human rights at the jail started in the summer of last year.
There are no real penalties set out in the board’s rules or the legislation when it comes to missing deadlines, Thompson said. The board could make an order forcing the government to comply or take the matter to the Yukon Supreme Court, she said.
Based on letters between the two sides, the Yukon government is arguing that a plain reading of Yukon legislation shows that the commission does not have the authority to investigate since the jail has its own investigation body, known as the Investigations and Standards office.
The human rights commission shot back that the government’s position is without legal precedent and that government lawyers provide “no case law to support this view that human rights law in Yukon should be so drastically diminished as compared to everywhere else in Canada.”
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