Supreme Court upholds human rights ruling

The Yukon Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Yukon College yesterday in a human rights case brought by a set of elderly twins. Susan Malcolm and Sarah Baker filed a human rights complaint against the college.

The Yukon Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Yukon College yesterday in a human rights case brought by a set of elderly twins.

Susan Malcolm and Sarah Baker filed a human rights complaint against the college and two of its instructors.

They were in their mid-50s when they enrolled in the Yukon College’s Community Support Worker program.

They’d hoped to work with people struggling with mental health issues.

Instead, they say they were mistreated by their instructors.

The instructors told them they were too overweight and unintelligent to complete the course or work in the field.

In at least one instance, the sisters were told they smelled bad and were asked to photocopy their assignments, because the originals smelled of cigarettes.

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

The sisters made their first complaint in November 2004.

In May 2011, the Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication awarded them $10,000 each, as well as court costs.

Not long 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.

The college’s appeal rested on some changes happening within the Yukon Human Rights Panel of Adjudication.

Final arguments in Malcolm and Baker’s original case were made in September 2010.

But they didn’t receive their ruling until May 2011.

Chief adjudicator Barbara Evans ended her three-year term with the panel on December 9, 2010.

The college asserted Evans lacked jurisdiction to issue a decision after her term had expired.

However, Justice Marceau found the panel of adjudicators was distinct from the board, according to the 26-page decision, released yesterday.

The panel of adjudicators is appointed by the territorial legislature for a period of three years.

Whenever there is a complaint, the chief adjudicator forms a board of adjudicators to handle it.

Nowhere in the Yukon Human Rights Act does it require a member of the board deciding on a specific case to be a member of the appointed panel.

Therefore, the expiration of Evans’ appointment to the panel on December 9, 2010 did not rob her board of its jurisdiction to make a decision.

“Of course, we respect the court’s decision, but for us it’s always been a case of defending the integrity and professionalism of our staff,” said Yukon College president Karen Barnes.

“We believe that our staff did nothing wrong, and our position on that has not changed.”

The college will be consulting its lawyers and board to decide its next step.

Malcolm and Baker welcomed yesterday’s decision.

“I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” said Baker. “We thought the case was hopeless.”

The twins received a lot of support from both family and the community, without which they would not have been able to see the case through.

“I don’t think (Yukon College) expected us to fight,” said Malcolm.

“They just had unlimited funds to fight us. All over $20,000, which is nothing for them. It wasn’t worth the money – the taxpayers’ money – or the years it took to fight this.”

The college now has 30 days to make a further appeal to the territorial Court of Appeal, just one step away from the Supreme Court of Canada.

The twins, who turn 65 this coming week, still plan to pursue their dream of working as community support workers, said Malcolm.

“Now that we’ve been vindicated, I think we’ll start looking for volunteer work in that capacity.”

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com

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