“We had been waiting a while for that hearing date,” she said. “Now this case is on hold indefinitely ... We’re not even at the stage of having everyone sit down and go to mediation, let alone the stage of having it proceed to a hearing so it’s really sort of making things drag on and it’s problematic.”
Such delays can put a lot of strain on complainants, both emotionally and financially, she said. In some cases, people have lost their jobs due to discrimination and can face real economic pressure until their case is resolved, she said.
These setbacks can also undermine public confidence in the system, she said.
“If they see the human rights tribunal as being an ineffective place to resolve their disputes I think it could result in people not filing claims,” Doctor said.
What’s more, if respondents know the case likely won’t come before the tribunal for years, they can use that to pressure complainants to accept less money or drop their claims, she said.
Adam Savaglio, a Hamilton-based lawyer, said that because the tribunal has specific expertise, more people are turning to it for relief in cases involving sexual assault and other issues where a broader remedy is sought.
But delays caused by understaffing can compromise complainants’ ability to preserve and present evidence, he said, noting memories may become less clear and witnesses harder to find.
“It speaks to procedural fairness and the right to a timely hearing, those are two fundamental principles of our system,” he said.
The governing Progressive Conservatives have consolidated the province’s tribunals, including the human rights tribunal, under one organization, a decision that took effect on Jan. 1.
Vanessa Campbell, a spokeswoman for the human rights tribunal, said all of the tribunals will be reviewed “to identify areas for improvement to make services more streamlined, cost-effective and efficient.”