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O/O Loses Human Rights Case

OSHAWA, Ont. - Trucker Wendy Price feels she's been victimized twice. Once in the workplace and once by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.It all started when the Oshawa truck owner lost her bid to ...

OSHAWA, Ont. – Trucker Wendy Price feels she’s been victimized twice. Once in the workplace and once by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

It all started when the Oshawa truck owner lost her bid to have the Canadian Human Rights Commission hear her complaint that a large trucking company declined to enter into a contract with her because she was a woman.

In August, Federal Court Justice Elizabeth Heneghan rejected the latest attempt by truck owner Wendy Price to have the commission hear her complaint against carrier Concord Transportation, Inc. headquartered in Concord, Ont.

Price, according to Heneghan’s judgment, hired junior driver Steve Love in May 1996, and employed him, along with senior driver Allan Kent, in a three-driver team.

In June 1997, Price approached the federally registered Concord, which provides transport services across Canada and the U.S., and asked to become a contractor.

In a meeting between Price, her drivers and two carrier recruitment officers, Price was told she couldn’t be taken on because Love lacked the necessary “mountain driving experience.”

About nine months later, Love joined up with a male multiple-truck owner who got a contract with Concord to have Love work as a team driver. When Price found about this deal in May 1998, she wondered whether Love had gained any “mountain driving experience” since he’d left her employ. She learned he hadn’t.

His lack of experience was the reason she’d been rejected by Concord in June 1997, but here was Love, still with no more experience now hired on by the carrier.

Price felt Concord had refused to hire Love because he was employed by a female truck owner, namely herself. Five months later, in October 1998, she contacted the human rights commission and was sent the necessary papers to file a complaint. She returned the filled-in forms by the end of November.

Five months after that a rights commission official wrote back and told her the commission wouldn’t investigate, but didn’t tell her why – just quoted a section of the human rights act back to her.

Confused by this reply, she wrote Ontario’s Ombudsman, who referred her to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which in turn told Price to contact the Canadian Human Right Commission since Concord was federally registered.

Annoyed by this run-around, Price finally contacted her Oshawa MP Ivan Gross, who seems to have been helpful. In March 2000 Price got sent a second set of complaint forms which she mailed in, and this time, the commission decided to look into her complaint.

The commission sent a copy of her complaint to Unique Personnel Services, which handles human resources for Concord. A lawyer for Unique wrote back urging the commission not to deal with the Price complaint.

The alleged discrimination happened in June 1997. It was now August 2000, and the rights law says complainants have a year to file.

Plus Concord would suffer prejudice trying to find witnesses for a meeting that took place more than three years earlier, the lawyer said. The recruitment officers present at the meeting had left Concord and couldn’t be located.

In May 2001, the commission sent Price a final letter telling her, based on its investigation, her complaint wouldn’t go on to a hearing before a rights tribunal. Price hired a lawyer, Oshawa’s Kelly A. Aitchison, and went to the Federal Court to have a judge review and overturn the commission’s decision.

Her lawyer argued the rejection of the complaint was unfair, and Price didn’t even know about the alleged discrimination until May 1998 – even though the meeting took place a year earlier. That should have the effect of extending the one-year limitation period, she said.

Concord’s lawyer Brampton, Ont. Susan L. Crawford argued that even assuming a May 1998 discovery date, Price was still past the one-year limit.

Justice Heneghan ruled the commission’s finding that the alleged discriminatory act occurred back in June 1997 “was reasonably supported by the evidence,” plus there was no evidence that the commission “did not act in good faith or ignored procedural fairness or relied on improper or irrelevant considerations.”

And Price knew (“or ought to have known”) that she had to file her complaint within a year of the alleged discriminatory act.

“She was in control of initiating a complaint,” wrote Justice Heneghan.

It wasn’t necessary to talk about the merits of the complaint since its lateness alone was sufficient reason to give the commission discretion to refuse to hear it.

Wendy Price told Truck News she’s “devastated,” by the ruling. The decisions will cost her dearly, and she’s already spent upwards of $8,000 in legal fees for the appeal.

She’s also on the hook for a portion of Concord’s court costs, which ended up being about $4,000.

She is very disappointed the commission focused only on the timeliness of her appeal instead of the substance of her discrimination complaint.

She knows the commission itself was responsible for much of the delay by failing to give her proper reasons the first time she filed her complaint.

And the commission, she says, refused to listen to her when she tried to explain why she waited five months to file her complaint after first suspecting discrimination.

She explains both she and Love were constantly on the road and she couldn’t meet with him and discuss her case (and confirm her suspicions) simply because “I couldn’t catch up with him.

“With him travelling team three weeks at a time and my husband driving single two weeks at a time, we never met until October (1998) when I confirmed what had actually happened. Everything was hearsay and suspicion up to that point.”

The commission, she says, “doesn’t know the trucking industry as far as I’m concerned. They didn’t believe me when I told them I couldn’t catch up with Steve. It’s not like I’m going to work every day and seeing my co-workers.”

“The Canadian Human Rights Commission is negligent as far as I’m concerned,” she says. “They didn’t do their job and finding I was out of time was a good way of washing it under the table. I feel discriminated against all over again!

“They didn’t take it seriously enough to extend the one year period. It’s like they don’t even know what trucking is all about. They took the easy way out!”

Still, she says, she’s “learned a lot” from her experience and advises “anybody thinking of going to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, save your time and money! Hire a good lawyer and go directly to court. You’ll get nothing from a government agency. There is no justice for the little man out there.”

Ottawa lawyer Philippe Dufresne represented the Canadian Human Rights Commission. As for Price, she’s now written a letter to Progressive Conservative critic Peter MacKay, in the hopes he will draw attention to the commission’s failing.

“I would like to see someone at the Commission take responsibility for the way my complaint was handled,” says Price. “Someone should have told me right from the start why I couldn’t file a complaint. At least then I could have gone forward knowing how to handle the issue and not wasted more than $10,000 finding out.” n

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