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Yukon Human Rights Commission sees many vaccine mandate inquiries

Director praises staff’s work keeping up with questions. Few inquiries proceed to formal complaint.
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The Yukon Human Rights Commission office is seen in downtown Whitehorse. The office says its received an increase in calls relating to COVID-19 complaints. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)

An increase in inquiries regarding employment issues since the announcement of the Yukon government’s vaccine mandate has led to an increased workload for the Yukon Human Rights Commission.

Human Rights Commission director Birju Dattani said from the beginning of the fiscal year on April 1, 2021, the commission has received a total of 359 inquiries.

Of those, 78 were related to COVID-19 and 41 were directly related to mandatory workplace vaccine policies. Thirty of the vaccine policy inquiries came from employees and the remaining 11 were from employers.

Inquiries have increased sharply since the announcement of the Yukon government’s vaccine mandate for its employees and contractors in mid-October 2021.

Out of 117 inquiries, 52 concerned COVID-19 and 36 concerned workplace vaccine policies.

COVID-19 inquiries have become a large part of the commission’s work, Dattani said.

While inquiries relating to the vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 issues have become very common, few of them have proceeded to the stage of a formal complaint under the Yukon Human Rights Act.

“As vaccine mandates/proof of vaccination requirements are still new, the number of complaints received are relatively low,” Dattani wrote in an email to the News.

“To provide an actual number at this time would risk revealing the identity of the parties and would therefore be contrary to the commission’s policies to maintain confidentiality of personal identifying information.”

Dattani said a serious and individual look is taken at each complaint received by the commission.

Dattani says it is only because of commitment of the commission’s staff that they are able to keep up with the services they offer amid the increased workload.

“We’ll put in a lot time and effort into ensuring, at least as of this moment that, individuals in the territory who have cause to seek us out in any way, shape or form are not suffering as a result, but that isn’t to say that our workload has not increased,” he said.

Dattani said employees represented by a union or other body must exhaust options available through their representative organization before proceeding through the commission process.

Steve Geick, president of the Yukon Employees Union (YEU), said complaints when the mandate was first introduced also increased workload for the union. He said YEU has an active policy grievance with the Yukon government over the arbitrary way the vaccine mandate was introduced. He added that any complaints or requests for an individual grievance the union has received has not resulted in any further grievances being filed.

“Each one is reviewed by our labour relations team and a decision as to whether there is merit is made. As mentioned none have met that bar. The individuals are informed of that in writing. That is the trigger to satisfy our obligation of duty of fair representation and enables the individual to access the Human Rights approach,” Geick wrote in an email to the News.

Dattani said the process is also slightly different for employees of federally regulated industries such as airlines and interprovincial trucking companies and employees of the federal government. They will have to inquire with the Canadian Human Rights tribunal.

According to Dattani, the human rights commission is still receiving inquiries relating to the vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 concerns and probably will for the foreseeable future.

He said a finite number of people won’t get the vaccine and will continue to run afoul of vaccine mandates and proof of vaccination requirements— he expects they will also continue seeking information through the human rights commission.

Dattani added that none of the avenues available through the human rights commission lead to a particularly fast resolution and complaints can be active for months or even years.

The Yukon Human Rights Commission has compiled an online resource answering frequently asked questions regarding COVID-19. It is available at yukonhumanrights.ca/covid-faqs.

Contact Jim Elliot at jim.elliot@yukon-news.com



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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