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Why the CDPDJ Should Allow Unionized Workers to File Individual Discrimination Claims

By Joel DeBellefeuille, Founder and Executive Director of the Red Coalition Inc.

Unionized workers in Quebec face a significant barrier in seeking justice for discrimination due to the current requirement to file grievances through their unions. This system often fails to address the unique and often complex dynamics within unions, where conflicts of interest and inadequate responses to individual grievances can prevail. The Red Coalition Inc., a lobby group committed to fighting racism and discrimination, advocates for the Quebec Human Rights Commission (CDPDJ) to adopt a policy similar to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and allow unionized workers to file individual claims directly.

Autonomy and Empowerment
Unionized workers often encounter complex internal union dynamics that can result in their grievances being overlooked or inadequately addressed. Allowing them to file individual claims with the CDPDJ empowers these workers to seek justice independently, ensuring their voices are heard without intermediary influences. This autonomy is essential, especially in cases where union interests might not align with individual grievances. In Ontario, the Ontario Divisional Court confirmed that unionized employees have the right to choose between filing a grievance through their union or pursuing an individual claim at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO).
This change would empower workers to take control of their cases, fostering a sense of agency and encouraging them to address discrimination without fear of retribution or dismissal of their concerns. It recognizes that while unions play a critical role in advocating for worker rights, they are not always equipped to handle every individual case of discrimination impartially. The autonomy provided by direct access to the CDPDJ ensures that all workers have equal opportunities to seek redress, promoting fairness and justice.

Enhanced Protection of Human Rights
Human rights violations demand a specialized and consistent response, which the CDPDJ is well-equipped to provide. Unlike union grievance processes, which may lack focus on human rights, the CDPDJ can offer thorough investigations and impartial resolutions. This ensures that human rights laws are applied consistently and that victims of discrimination receive the protection they deserve.
The specialized focus of the CDPDJ allows for more comprehensive handling of discrimination claims, ensuring that each case receives the attention and expertise it warrants. This enhanced protection is crucial in addressing the nuanced and often deeply rooted issues of discrimination that unionized workers may face. By handling these claims directly, the CDPDJ can ensure that human rights violations are not only addressed but are prevented from recurring, fostering a safer and more equitable workplace for all.

Addressing Conflicts of Interest
Unions may sometimes be implicated in discrimination claims, either through the actions of their representatives or their policies. This creates a significant conflict of interest when the union is responsible for handling the grievance. Allowing workers to file claims directly with the CDPDJ eliminates this conflict, ensuring that cases are assessed impartially. For example, if a union representative is accused of discriminatory behavior, the union’s internal grievance process may not be the most appropriate venue for resolving the complaint due to inherent biases. The CDPDJ can provide an impartial forum, free from internal politics and conflicts, ensuring that justice is served fairly and objectively.
By providing an independent and unbiased avenue for filing discrimination claims, the CDPDJ ensures that all workers have access to fair and just resolutions. This is especially important in cases where the union may have a vested interest in the outcome, potentially compromising the integrity of the grievance process. Addressing conflicts of interest in this manner enhances the credibility and effectiveness of the human rights protection system in Quebec.

Encouraging Transparency and Accountability
Providing an alternative route for discrimination claims encourages unions to handle grievances more diligently and transparently. Knowing that workers can take their cases to the CDPDJ motivates unions to address complaints effectively, fostering a culture of accountability. This dual-path system benefits all union members by creating a more responsive and fair environment.
Transparency and accountability are critical in ensuring that discrimination claims are handled appropriately and fairly. When unions are aware that their actions are subject to external review, they are more likely to implement robust processes for addressing discrimination and preventing future occurrences. This not only benefits the individuals involved but also promotes a healthier and more inclusive workplace culture overall.

Legal Precedents and Fairness
Adopting the OHRC’s approach in Quebec aligns with established legal principles, ensuring fairness and equity for all workers. The Ontario Divisional Court’s decisions in cases such as London District Catholic School Board v. Weilgosh and Rogers Communications Inc. v. Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 31 highlight the necessity of allowing individual claims. These cases affirm that unionized employees have the right to pursue individual claims at the HRTO, ensuring equal access to justice and human rights protections regardless of union status.
This practice guarantees that human rights protections are not contingent upon union membership or internal union policies, but are universally accessible to all workers. Adopting this approach in Quebec would align with these established legal principles, promoting fairness and equity for all workers. It underscores the importance of providing equal opportunities for justice, reinforcing the universality of human rights.

Comprehensive Human Rights Framework
Amending regulations to allow unionized workers to file individual claims with the CDPDJ would create a more inclusive human rights framework in Quebec. This ensures that all workers have the opportunity to seek redress for discrimination through a specialized, impartial body, enhancing public confidence in the system’s ability to protect against discrimination. By aligning with best practices observed in other jurisdictions, Quebec can demonstrate its commitment to upholding high standards of human rights protection.
A comprehensive human rights framework is essential for maintaining public confidence in the system’s ability to protect individuals from discrimination. By aligning with best practices observed in other jurisdictions, Quebec can demonstrate its commitment to upholding high standards of human rights protection. This move would not only benefit unionized workers but also enhance the overall effectiveness and credibility of the human rights system in Quebec.

Context and Importance
The Red Coalition's dedication to combating racism and discrimination is exemplified by our pivotal role in last year's Le Devoir investigative report, where 30 employees revealed systemic racism and discrimination. 
The findings from the Le Devoir report revealed a disturbing pattern of systemic racism within Montreal’s city workforce, with employees reporting various incidents of discrimination and bias. Union president Guylaine Dionne expressed frustration with the city’s failure to prioritize these issues, highlighting a critical need for more effective mechanisms to address discrimination claims. The Red Coalition’s advocacy played a crucial role in bringing these issues to light, demonstrating the importance of providing unionized workers with direct access to the CDPDJ.
In conclusion, allowing unionized workers to file individual claims with the CDPDJ would ensure that human rights protections are universally accessible, impartial, and robust. This change would enhance worker autonomy, address conflicts of interest, and foster greater transparency and accountability within unions, leading to a more just and equitable society for all Quebecers. We urge the CDPDJ to consider this important amendment.
For more information on the issue of racism among city workers, you can refer to the detailed report by Le Devoir and coverage by the Montreal Gazette.

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