Construction company owner barred from Alberta human rights hearing after ‘disrespectful and inappropriate conduct’

Illustration: HR Law Canada

The owner of an Alberta construction company — accused of sexual harassment and discrimination — has been barred from taking part in a human rights tribunal hearing following “disrespectful and inappropriate conduct.”

The Director of the Alberta Human Rights Commission brought an application to have the owner’s conduct declared an abuse of process and have him permanently removed from the hearing.

On March 15, in an interim decision, the Alberta Human Rights Commission granted the director’s application.

The case involved three women who alleged he sexually harassed them and discriminated against them in the course of their employment with his companies.

Profanity, disrespectful language

In the months leading up to the hearing, the owner filed communications with the tribunal that “contained profanity, used disrespectful language to describe the complainants and others, engaged in ad hominem attacks on counsel for the Director, and made baseless allegations of bias,” it said.

On Feb. 23 and March 1 this year, the tribunal referred the parties to the bylaws of the commission which oblige parties to act in good faith and civility. It also warned that inappropriate conduct in the course of a tribunal process may give rise to a costs award.

Examples of misbehaviour

The tribunal listed some of the times it reminded the owner to conduct himself in a courteous and respectful manner, including:

  • During the tribunal chair’s opening remarks in the virtual hearing, he repeatedly turned away from the camera. When asked to stay facing the camera so the chair could ensure he was participating, he responded: “You should not have to be a discriminator like you are. You know what, you are a racist.”
  • In his opening argument, he referred to the chair as a “white nationalist” and made baseless allegations of anti-Muslim bias and referred to one of the complainants as “mentally coo-coo.”
  • During testimony of one complainant, he repeatedly interrupted to challenge evidence or express that he was “getting angry.” Multiple times, he got out of his chair and walked away from the camera. At other times, he smirked, rolled his eyes and laughed in an exaggerated manner.
  • He claimed that one complainant, who was crying, was faking it and just “playing.” He later said he would get a bag of onions and fake cry as well.
  • One complainant testified she saw the owner hug, kiss and nuzzle the neck of another complainant and that this conduct was unwelcome. He interrupted saying: “Is this Syria or Canada?” He offered no explanation for that statement.
  • At one point, he leaped out of his chair and paced before moving close to the camera and mouthed what appeared to be “fucking bitch” and other profanities at a complainant.
  • When asked to stop and told it was inappropriate by the chair, he responded: “That’s not acceptable. You know I’m an honourable man. You know what this is? Fucking enough. Bullshit. You know what, fucking enough. Someone can talk (about) me because they want the money for me. How ridiculous that this … and you guys playing a game here.”

In addition, he interrupted counsel for the director and made disrespectful comments. He stated that counsel was “making easy money” in presenting the case of the complainants.

He told the chair: “You’re not doing your job proper ways, you just trying to smash me down. You think you can do it.”

Swearing and leaving the meeting

At one point, he asked the chair how she could sleep at night and then: “You can do whatever the fuck you want” before turning off his camera and leaving the meeting. He did not request an adjournment nor was he granted one.

The tribunal said, before he would be allowed to rejoin, he was required to acknowledge his actions — swearing at the chair and leaving without permission — were inappropriate and give his commitment that this conduct would not be repeated.

As the hearing restarted, he did not initially provide the acknowledgement or commitment. He spoke over the chair, made unfounded allegations of bias, was argumentative and attempted to dictate the process by demanding to call his next witness without giving the director and complainants an opportunity to cross-examine.

Counsel for the director then made an application to have the owner’s conduct declared an abuse of process and have him removed permanently from the hearing. His response was to interrupt multiple times and accuse counsel of bias and misconduct.

Then he shouted the following and left the meeting:

“Fuck you all. Do whatever the fuck you want. What are you gonna do? All fucking, lying with the fucking make me crazy. You know what, fuck you guys all. Do whatever the fuck you want to do. I’m gonna pull my witnesses. Do whatever the fuck you wanted to do. Be an honourable person. Fuck you all, you guys. Now I’m fucking taking off and do whatever the fuck you want to do.”

The conclusion

The tribunal chair “reluctantly” came to the conclusion the owner cannot be permitted to return to the hearing and the complaint must be decided in his absence from this point forward.

“(He) has amply demonstrated that he is not prepared to heed the Tribunal’s directions nor is he willing to conduct himself courteously and respectfully,” it said. “I have no confidence that, in the face of a sternly worded ‘final’ direction, (he) would change his behaviour.”

It also noted that, in the lead up to the hearing, the owner’s written communications were “likewise rude, vulgar, disrespectful and abusive.” With that in mind, it did not believe allowing written submissions from him would be an appropriate alternative.

“While I appreciate that this order will have significant consequences for (him) in that it will prevent him from calling further evidence or making argument in his defense, I am satisfied that it is a necessary action,” it said.

For more information, see Oliva, Pascoe and Strong v TJ Construction Management Ltd., 2023 AHRC 33 (CanLII)