Does a human rights board need to find discrimination in order to settle?

The man couldn’t walk to the fishing hole and was forced to drive to it across an access road.
The man couldn’t walk to the fishing hole and was forced to drive to it across an access road. (Photo:REUTERS/Ints Kalnins)

Does a human rights board have to find discrimination before agreeing to settle a case even if the person complaining is satisfied with the settlement?

A Nova Scotia Court of Appeal case in which a disabled man was prevented from making his way to his favourite fishing hole, asked just that question.

The man couldn’t walk to the fishing hole and was forced to drive to it across a Department of Natural Resources access road. The department decided to block access to the road and he filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission alleging discrimination based on physical disability.

The department offered a concession to the man, which he accepted and they forwarded it to the commission for an order of settlement. However, the commission wasn’t happy with the settlement, because the department wouldn’t admit there had been discrimination and they were concerned that future cases would be negatively affected by the lack of admission.

The man at the centre of the complaint was happy with the settlement and didn’t participate in further actions the commission took, because he wasn’t interested. That was telling to the court.

The judge asked why a settlement order needs a finding of discrimination if the person who alleged discrimination is fine with the settlement?

In the court’s view, refusing a settlement without an admission of discrimination, “would add a wholly unnecessary layer of procedures, costs and resources to a process where settlement had already been achieved through non-adversarial discussions between the parties.”

Settling a case without it having to go to court is always in the public interest as it saves time and money.

The applicable human rights law should be interpreted in a way that allows for settlement without a finding of discrimination, especially as “the Act [Human Rights Act of Nova Scotia] expressively promotes the use of settlement agreements as a means to achieve its goals.”

The court concluded that the human rights commission was wrong in their refusal and ordered for the settlement to go ahead.

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