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Alberta Health Services cleared of most discrimination charges in human rights case

by HR Law Canada

The Alberta Human Rights Commission has upheld a decision to dismiss key elements of a human rights complaint filed by a Jewish medical doctor of colour against Alberta Health Services (AHS).

The doctor’s allegations of harassment and discrimination based on his ancestry, race, colour, and religious beliefs were examined in detail, with the Commission finding insufficient evidence to support many of the claims.

Alleged discriminatory conduct

P.R., a forensic psychiatrist who provided services to patients involved in the criminal justice system, reported numerous instances of what he perceived as discriminatory conduct spanning several years.

Notably, he alleged that he was forced out of his medical practice for ten months in 2012, assigned violent and prejudiced patients, and subjected to antisemitic remarks and actions by colleagues and patients alike.

One particularly contentious incident occurred in December 2019, when his “Happy Hanukkah” banner was found crumpled and removed from his office window during his absence.

Despite P.R.’s belief that this was an act of antisemitic vandalism, AHS reviewed security footage which suggested that the banner had been accidentally dislodged by cleaning staff. The Commission upheld the Director’s decision to dismiss this part of the complaint, citing the lack of direct evidence linking the incident to discriminatory intent.

Another significant allegation involved a colleague’s comment in December 2019, where the colleague mentioned knowing several Jewish jewelers in the United Kingdom. P.R. interpreted this as an antisemitic stereotype. However, the Commission found no evidence that AHS had control over or knowledge of the comment, noting that the respondent had robust policies in place to prevent harassment and discrimination, including specific provisions against antisemitism.

P.R. also claimed that in August 2020, he was assigned a clinical social worker known for past antisemitic harassment to work with him on the Edmonton Mental Health Court initiative. The Commission, however, found no substantial evidence to support his allegations of harassment by the social worker, characterizing the incidents as professional disagreements rather than discriminatory actions.

Patients who showed violent and antisemitic behaviour

A pivotal aspect of the doctor’s complaint involved his interactions with patients who exhibited violent and antisemitic behaviour. In March and August 2020, P.R. was subjected to slurs and a violent encounter with a patient.

He contended that AHS’s response, which included a behavioural safety review and subsequent safety measures, implicitly blamed him for the incident. The Commission disagreed, noting that AHS had taken appropriate steps to ensure the safety of all staff and did not condone or allow an environment for such conduct to occur.

Additionally, P.R. accused AHS of failing to adequately support Jewish employees while publicly supporting other marginalized groups such as Black and Indigenous communities. The Commission recognized the gravity of antisemitism but found that AHS’s policies and actions, including specific measures against antisemitism, did not demonstrate a discriminatory focus on other groups to the exclusion of Jewish individuals.

Deeply troubling experiences

The ruling, delivered under section 26 of the Alberta Human Rights Act, affirmed that several of P.R.’s claims did not have a reasonable prospect of success. It emphasized that while the allegations reflected deeply troubling experiences, the evidence did not substantiate a pattern of discrimination by AHS.

Not all of P.R.’s complaint was dismissed, however. The Commission referred several issues to the Tribunal for further consideration. These include whether AHS was his employer under section 7 of the Act and whether the complaint should be dismissed as an abuse of process since similar arguments and remedies were being sought in a civil action for breach of contract.

The Tribunal will also examine claims of discrimination on the grounds of mental disability and allegations of retaliation by AHS in response to the doctor’s medical leave and subsequent requests for accommodation.

As the Tribunal prepares to hear the remaining issues, the focus will be on whether AHS’s actions constituted discrimination under the Act and how his experiences as a Jewish person of colour intersect with broader issues of workplace fairness and equity.

For more information, see Rodd v Alberta Health Services, 2024 AHRC 93 (CanLII)

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