Cowichan District Hospital. (Citizen file)

Supreme Court orders review for Island hospital pharmacist human rights case

Issue over Human Rights Tribunal focused on how quickly discrimination complaints were filed

A B.C. Supreme Court justice is allowing a review of a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision involving a former pharmacy assistant who made a pair of discrimination complaints against Island Health after stints at two Vancouver Island hospitals.

Homa Safaei lodged one complaint against Island Health in November 2016 and a second against both the health authority and the Hospital Employees Union in September 2017, after working at Cowichan District Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox.

Safaei is a Muslim from Iran. Over the two complaints, Safaei makes a number of allegations including being made to feel unwelcome on Vancouver Island and that she would lose her job if she filed a human rights complaint. A co-worker allegedly belittled Safaei’s credentials and accused her of coming here and taking other people’s jobs.

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The tribunal dismissed the complaints largely because they occurred outside the six-month window in which complainants are supposed to launch a complaint.

Safaei noted a number of reasons for a delay in filing, including a wish to rectify the matter through other avenues, such as a union grievance or WorkSafeBC. She also alluded to mental health issues related to the stress of working in the environment as a factor.

“The central questions in this case concern the tribunal’s exercise of its discretion to accept a late-filed complaint and the court’s exercise of its discretion to accept a late-filed judicial review application,” Justice Nitya Iyer wrote in her Sept. 23 decision.

Iyer granted the petition for a review of the first complaint but dismissed the request for the second. Specifically, she granted the review in order for the tribunal to consider a new allegation from May 26, 2016, which fell within the six-month window of the first complaint.

There is no reference to the May 26 incident in the first HRT decision, only that the complainant went on stress leave the following day before being dismissed in June.

“The first decision does not refer at all to the May 26 allegation,” Iyer wrote. “The omission is significant.”

Safaei worked in the Comox Valley between November 2015 and the end of January 2016, then worked at Cowichan District Hospital from Feb. 26 to June 6, 2016, and she was let go within the probationary periods at each.

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