Another sexual harassment complainant turned away from Human Rights Commission

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Samantha Chapman says she contacted the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to ask about filing a sexual harassment complaint but was turned away because of the 12-month limit. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)
Samantha Chapman says she contacted the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to ask about filing a sexual harassment complaint but was turned away because of the 12-month limit. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)

A second woman who says she was sexually harassed while working at a Halifax-area recycling depot is calling for legislative changes after she was turned away from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission because she did not contact them within the required 12 months.

Samantha Chapman worked at Beaver Enviro in Spryfield from June 2017 until November 2018, when she went on maternity leave.

It wasn't until last September that she contacted the commission to inquire about making a formal complaint.

During that initial call, a commission staff member informed Chapman that since she had missed the 12-month window to file a complaint, she would not be allowed to proceed.

"I was really mad about the situation," Chapman said. "Twelve months is just not enough."

When her maternity leave was finished in November 2019, she chose to go back to school instead of returning to her job.

Samantha Chapman is one of two people to contact the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to file a complaint about harassment at this Spryfield business.
Samantha Chapman is one of two people to contact the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to file a complaint about harassment at this Spryfield business.(Robert Short/CBC)

She is the second person to come up against the 12-month statute of limitations when trying to file a complaint against Beaver Enviro.

Last month, Christine Shupe's case was dismissed after the commission listed the wrong business name on the official complaint. The provincial Human Rights Act did not allow the error to be corrected, and Shupe was not permitted to file a new complaint because of the 12-month rule.

The owner of Beaver Enviro, Wyatt Redmond, denied any harassment ever took place with Shupe or Chapman, and called it a "fabricated situation."

"There's no substantiation to the accusations that are made," he said. "We're shocked and surprised."

12 months too restrictive

Under the Human Rights Act, people must make a complaint within one year of the last date of discrimination. But some say that's not always enough time for victims to come forward.

Chapman said she initially struggled to decide whether to speak out.

"You're going to fight with yourself in your head to be like, 'Is it a smart move to even bring it up? Do I come forward? What's going to happen if I come forward and nobody believes you?' A lot of stuff went through my head the first year."

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission declined an interview request from CBC News.

Equity Watch, a group that acts as a watchdog for the commission, said people who have experienced human rights violations may have had to quit their job, may be searching for employment, may have financial difficulties or problems with their personal relationships.

"That means that top of mind is not filing a human rights complaint," said group spokesperson Judy Haiven. "And when they get around to doing it, knowing that there's nowhere else for them to go, the Human Rights Commission slams the door on them."

Judy Haiven of Equity Watch says she'd like to see the 12-month statute of limitations on filing Human Rights Commission complaints extended.
Judy Haiven of Equity Watch says she'd like to see the 12-month statute of limitations on filing Human Rights Commission complaints extended.(Brian MacKay/CBC)

In the case of sexual harassment, victims may not recognize it as such because they internalize that treatment and come to see it as "normal," said Nicole Slaunwhite, a counsellor with the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia.

Slaunwhite fields phone calls and emails from the public to help them explore their legal options after facing discrimination. She said sometimes harassment causes mental health challenges that delay a person's ability to report it.

Unlike with sexual harassment complaints, there is no time limit on filing sexual assault charges.

"Is sexual harassment that doesn't escalate to sexual assault, is that any less important?" asked Slaunwhite. "I think probably for the people who experience that, they would say, 'No, I was equally traumatized and this was an awful experience.'"

Haiven said Equity Watch would like to see the statute of limitations extended to three years, as it is in Quebec.

Human Rights Act due for overhaul

Nova Scotia's Human Rights Act is over 50 years old.

Randy Delorey, the minister responsible for the act, was unavailable for an interview with CBC News.

Premier Iain Rankin said Friday that updating the act was not a priority coming into this sitting of the House, but if the legislation is that old, it "probably needs a revamp."

He said the issue is a "perfect scenario" for an impending review that will evaluate whether government programs are meeting Nova Scotians' needs.

Extensions permitted 'in exceptional circumstances'

The act does allow the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to grant extensions of up to 12 months "in exceptional circumstances," if doing so is in the public interest and is equitable to both the complainant and the respondent.

The commission said it does not track the number of extensions granted each year.

Chapman said complainants should at least be allowed to get some sort of sounding board when they go to the commission.

"Have some empathy for these people that are going to open up about what they went through and not just be like, 'Sorry, it's been 12 months, can't help you.'"

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