Ontario Human Rights Tribunal finds co-op failed to address harassment; awards $30,000 to victims

April 12th, 2016 by Shelina Ali

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has released a lengthy 87 page decision in which it found Rouge Valley Co‑operative Homes and its board of directors did not appropriately respond to a campaign of harassment against 10 of its members. It awarded $3,000 to each of the 10 members/applicants in the case as “compensation for the infringement of their right to be free from discrimination and harassment in the occupation of accommodation, including injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.”

This decision sets out some very clear expectations for housing co‑op Boards in dealing with issues of harassment and discrimination contrary to the Code. Volunteer board members should take note of the Tribunal’s expectations around how responsive and communicative a volunteer board of directors should be when dealing with these issues.

The ten co‑op members were subject to a campaign of harassment beginning April 28, 2012. Between then and September 15, 2012, someone posted what the Tribunal described as “18 vulgar and incredibly vicious messages” directed towards the Applicants.  The Tribunal wrote that “the content of these messages are truly heinous and display a shocking level of ignorance and intolerance.” The messages were anonymous.  Even at the time the hearing, the Co‑op did not know who wrote and posted the messages.

The Tribunal found that the Co‑op’s response to the harassment of the members was deficient in several respects, including:

  1. The lack of human rights training for members of the Board of Directors;
  2. The absence of any anti‑discrimination or anti‑harassment policy at the Co‑op prior to the members bringing their human rights applications against the Co‑op;
  3. The Co‑op’s lack of communication with the members targeted by the harassment and its failure to seriously or addressed it with a sense of urgency, including:
    1. Failing to contact the individuals about the messages being posted in the Co‑op;
    2. Failing to acknowledge the complaints once received;
    3. Failing to assure the members that the complaints were important to the Co‑op;
    4. Failing to assure the members that the Co‑op would take action to address the complaints and
    5. Failing to keep the members updated about the actions being taken by the Co‑op to address the complaints.
  4. Only posting a notice to the entire membership denouncing the messages and reminding members of the right to live in an environment free of harassment, after the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation intervened on behalf of the members in August of 2012.
  5. The Board’s failure to instruct its management staff members to review the security footage to see if the culprit could be identified and its delay in approving the redirection of security cameras which, according to the evidence, did eventually stop the harassment.

The Tribunal noted that the Co‑op’s lack of communication with the members that were being harassed was “its most significant failure.”

The Tribunal also found that a non‑monetary remedy was appropriate, ordering the Co‑op to post copies of the Tribunal’s decision on the bulletin boards of the Co‑op for a period of six months, and to notify all the members of the Co‑op of the decision by sending a notice to each unit.  The Notice had to include the amount of the monetary compensation awarded and the fact that the Co‑op failed to provide its members with an environment free of harassment and discrimination.

The full decision can be read here.

Iler Campbell LLP routinely advises on human rights issues that housing co‑ops and other organizations face, including providing board members with human rights training.  Please contact us for further information.

Filed in: Housing, Human Rights

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