The Complaint Process


How Do I Make a Complaint?

The Human Rights Commission is mandated to uphold the provisions set out in the Human Rights Act. Due to the limitations set by our legislation, not all circumstances where an individual is treated unfairly will constitute a violation of the Act. Click on the appropriate link to view the Human Rights Act, or contact our office to find out if you have a complaint that can be investigated under the Act.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against and wish to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, you must contact the Commission within twelve months of the date that the alleged discrimination occurred. If the discrimination is/was ongoing, you must contact the Commission within 12 months of the most recent incident in the ongoing discrimination

You can speak with an Investigator by phone, email, or in person by making an appointment with our office. The Investigator will ask you for information that will allow him/her to determine whether your complaint is one the Commission is able to accept. Our Executive Director makes the final determination on whether we will accept a complaint.

Once a complaint is accepted, our Investigator will draft the complaint based on the information you provide. A final draft will be sent to you for review and signature. Once your signed complaint is received by our office, the investigation into the complaint will proceed.

A complaint will be considered and investigated by an officer of the Commission without cost to you. The Human Rights Commission is a public service agency, and the Commission investigator represents the Commission and the public interest. The Commission Investigator is not an advocate for the Complainant. The role of the Investigator is a neutral one, with a goal of providing the Commission with relevant information upon which the Commission will base their decision whether to dismiss a complaint or refer it to a Board of Inquiry.

When a human rights complaint is filed with the Human Rights Commission, one of the duties of the Commission is to try to settle the complaint. As part of this process, the Commission is now offering mediation services. Mediations are conducted by a lawyer from our office trained in mediation. Mediation is a collaborative problem-solving process facilitated by an impartial third party. The goal of mediation is engage the parties in a conversation with an aim to resolve the ongoing dispute or conflict. The mediator does not judge who is right or wrong, but instead helps the parties to understand the other’s perspective of a particular issue. It is the parties who must decide on the solution to the conflict. The mediator will not impose a decision or settlement on the parties. Mediation is voluntary and therefore the Complainant and the Respondents must all agree to participate. If the parties choose, they can also have legal representation present at the mediation. If no agreement is reached at mediation, the matter will be returned to the human rights investigator responsible for the file, who will then continue with the investigation of the human rights complaint.

The following process will then be followed:

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Investigation Phase

Step One

The complaint will be assigned to one of the Commission’s Investigators. The Respondent (the person(s) or organization(s) against whom the complaint has been filed) will be notified that a complaint has been filed and that it is being investigated and will be given the opportunity to respond to the complaint. Once the Respondent has provided a response the Complainant will be provided a copy and an opportunity to make comments. The Investigator may interview the individuals involved, inspect records or documents, and has certain powers to enter buildings to seek evidence. These powers are set out in s. 27 and 28 of the Act. One the investigation is complete the Investigator’s findings are compiled into a report. Upon completion, the parties are given one final opportunity to comment on the report.

At any point during the investigation stage, in accordance with section 32 of the Act, the Executive Director can choose to dismiss a complaint or part of a complaint, if, in his/her opinion, the complaint is outside the jurisdiction of the Act; is frivolous, trivial, vexatious or made in bad faith; or where the substance of the complaint has been dealt with in another proceeding. The Executive Director also has the power to defer a complaint until the outcome of another proceeding, such as a grievance arbitration or a court action, where he/she is of the opinion that an alternate proceeding is capable of dealing with the substance of the complaint.

Step Two

Commission staff will attempt to help the parties involved in the complaint reach a settlement (a solution to the problem to which both parties agree). Where a settlement is reached, the Commission file on the complaint file is closed, and no further action will be taken unless one or both parties fail to comply with the terms of the settlement. If no settlement is reached, or if there is non-compliance with the terms of a settlement, the complaint will proceed to STEP THREE.

Step Three

The Investigator’s Report is sent to the Commission’s appointed board for review. This group, which is made up of individuals appointed from various parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, decide whether to refer the complaint to the Board of Inquiry. If the complaint is not referred to the Board of Inquiry, the matter is closed, subject to an appeal (see STEP SIX). If the complaint is referred to a Board of Inquiry legal counsel from the Commission will be assigned, a Board of Inquiry will be appointed, and dates are set for a hearing of the complaint.

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Board of Inquiry Phase

Step Four

The Board of Inquiry is made up of a number of Adjudicators. Each complaint that reaches this stage is heard before one Adjudicator in a public hearing. The Complainant and Respondent each have a chance to present their arguments. The Commission takes the lead in presenting the complaint, but all parties can choose to be represented by legal counsel if they wish or can choose to present their own evidence and make arguments to the Board of Inquiry on their own behalf. Commission legal cousel are not the lawyer for the Complainant or the Respondent. The role of Commission counsel is to present the complaint and represent the public interest.

Step Five

After hearing all of the evidence the Adjudicator will decide if there has been a violation of the Act and will provide his/her decision in writing. If a violation of the Act is found to have occurred, the Adjudicator will order the Respondent to stop the violation, and can also order the Respondent to provide opportunities or privileges that have been denied, to pay compensation to the Complainant, and/or order other remedies to compensate the Complainant for the discrimination he/she suffered. The Adjudicator’s decision is legally binding on the parties, but it can be appealed to the Supreme Court Trial Division.

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Appeal Phase

Step Six

Both a Complainant and Respondent have the right to appeal the decision of the Board of Inquiry to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Trial Division. An appeal must be filed within thirty days from the date on which the prospective Appellant received the order of the Board of Inquiry. The Supreme Court can confirm, reverse, or vary the decision and orders of the Board of Inquiry.

A Complainant can seek judicial review in the Supreme Court Trial Division if Commissioners choose not to refer a complaint to the Board of Inquiry (see STEP THREE), or if the Executive Director dismisses the complaint (see STEP ONE).

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If you think that you may have a complaint, or have questions about the complaint process, please contact the commission.