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What to Expect

Complaint procedure overview

Informal complaint procedure

  1. A complainant shares their concerns with Human Rights Services staff who works with the complainant to resolve the matter.
  2. If possible, the complainant approaches the respondent and resolves the issue, resulting in an informal resolution.
  3. If this is not possible, Human Rights Services approaches the respondent and attempts to resolve the matter.
  4. If resolution is not reached, the complainant decides whether they want to make a formal complaint, and if so the formal complaint process begins.

Formal complaint procedure

  1. A complainant provides Human Rights Services with a written formal complaint, including all supporting documentation and witnesses.
  2. Human Rights Services establishes whether or not the complaint falls under one of the prohibited grounds of the Ontario Human Rights Code.
  3. The formal written complaint is shared with the respondent, who has 10 days to respond in writing, including their supporting documentation and witnesses.
  4. This response is shared with the complainant, who has the opportunity to rebut the complaint and share their side of the story.
  5. The documentation is reviewed and witnesses are interviewed by the Complaints Resolution Advisor.
  6. The Complaints Resolution Advisor will then provide a written case analysis which is given to the decision-maker, who is always a senior administrator at Ryerson.
  7. The decision-maker provides their decision.

Human Rights Services complaint procedure details

The Human Rights Services complaints procedures support both the spirit and the letter of Ryerson’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy and as such they should be read and interpreted in conjunction with the policy.

The policy and procedures are based on principles of fairness and due process for all parties involved in any human rights proceeding at Ryerson. These complaints procedures apply to cases of direct and systemic discrimination, and to cases of harassment.

The informed resolution procedure

If someone believes they have been discriminated against or harassed

Any member of the Ryerson community who believes they have been discriminated against or harassed on the basis of any of the prohibited grounds listed in the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy is encouraged to discuss that matter with Human Rights Services. Human Rights Services does not advocate for any individual or group and does not take sides on an issue. We will listen to the concerns and assess whether they fall within the jurisdiction of Ryerson’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy.

Where the concerns are outside of the policy’s jurisdiction or where they would be more appropriately dealt with under another policy or agreement, Human Rights Services will make the appropriate referral.

Where the concerns are within the jurisdiction of Ryerson’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy, we will inform the person raising the concerns of various options and methods for dealing with the situation. We will also inform the person raising the concerns of any external avenues of redress such as the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, the police, the courts and/or a collective agreement. The person raising the concerns may explore these alternative avenues of redress even while steps are being taken under Ryerson’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy. It should be noted, however, that one cannot pursue a grievance under a collective agreement while at the same time proceeding under this policy and these procedures.

A grievance may be “set aside” on an interim basis, pending the outcome of Human Rights Services’ intervention. If that intervention is not satisfactory to the griever, they may resume the grievance. The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal may advise a complainant to exhaust the avenues available within Ryerson before proceeding with a complaint at the Tribunal. Although individuals may initiate action on their own when they feel they have been discriminated against or harassed, they are encouraged to consult with Human Rights Services to discuss options.

Informal resolution procedure

The informal resolution process allows individuals to sort out concerns quickly and amicably, without initiating formal investigation procedures. Human Rights Services staff advises and suggests various options available to the person raising the concerns. The person raising the concerns may decide to communicate to an individual that certain behaviors, remarks, or communications are unwelcome and/or involve treating him/her differently on the basis of one of the prohibited grounds listed in the Human Rights Policy.

An individual may choose to communicate their concerns directly or indirectly, verbally or in writing. Some individuals may prefer to remain anonymous, some may choose to identify themselves and others may prefer to communicate through a third party. This third party may be the Human Rights Services staff, a supervisor or a peer.

Conciliation

If the person raising the concerns chooses, Human Rights Services may appoint the complaints resolution advisor to conciliate the matter. Conciliation is used as a means to settle human rights concerns at the lowest level possible and without initiating any formal investigation procedures. In their role as “conciliator” the advisor is impartial and facilitates a resolution between both parties by acting as a “go-between.” Neither party will be required to attend any joint meetings during the conciliation process unless they both agree to such.

Where the matter is resolved through conciliation, the advisor will prepare a written record of the resolution to be signed by both parties. The signed resolution will be kept in Human Rights Services. The person raising the concern and the person about whom the concerns were raised will each be given a copy of the resolution. Where the resolution has been breached, a formal complaint may be initiated.

In the event that the matter is not resolved through conciliation or by communicating the concerns to the individual, the person raising the concerns may choose to file a formal discrimination and harassment complaint.

Although individuals may choose to forego the informal resolution process and proceed directly to the formal process, Human Rights Services encourages attempts to settle concerns through informal, conciliatory routes.

Decision regarding how to proceed with concerns

At any stage of the informal resolution process, the person raising the concerns is the one who chooses amongst the options outlined by staff from Human Rights Services, if she/he chooses to pursue any action at all. An individual may simply choose to speak to Human Rights Services to become informed about his/her options, the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy and Procedures, and human rights matters generally, without initiating any action whatsoever.

At any stage of these complaints procedures, whether informal or formal, an individual may choose to withdraw his/her concerns or complaint. An individual should communicate in a signed letter to Human Rights Services advisor the desire to withdraw a complaint.

Formal complaint and investigation procedure

Filing a formal complaint

Where the matter is not resolved through discussion and conciliation at the informal stage, or where that process is bypassed, an individual may file a formal complaint, provided that the allegations being made, on their face, present a case of discrimination or harassment on the basis of a prohibited ground.

The complainant prepares, signs, and submits a letter of complaint to Human Rights Services in which she/he explains the incidents giving rise to the allegations of discrimination or harassment. Human Rights Services staff are available to provide advice with respect to the form and content of the letter.

In some situations it may be necessary to separate the complainant and the respondent during the course of an investigation. For example, it may be appropriate to separate an employee and a supervisor where the employee has complained that a supervisor discriminated against him or her. Staff from Human Rights Services will discuss with the complainant and/or the respondent whether there is a need for such arrangements and how they might be organized. Where separation is deemed appropriate, the staff will contact the necessary individuals to make such arrangements. Where there are safety concerns, separation arrangements will be made prior to the respondent being notified of the complaint.

The decision-maker

Upon accepting a complaint, Human Rights Services staff are responsible for identifying who will be responsible for deciding the complaint. The decision-maker is always a senior administrator at Ryerson. Where the respondent is a faculty member, the respondent’s dean will normally decide the complaint. Where the respondent is a student, the vice-provost students will normally act as the decision-maker.

Where the complainant believes that the respondent’s chair (where the respondent is a faculty member) or senior director (where the respondent is a staff member) may not be distanced enough from the respondent to decide the matter, the complainant may request that either the dean or the vice-president having authority over the respondent decide the matter. Human Rights Services will consider the complainant’s concerns in deciding who the decision-maker will be.

Where the complaint involves allegations of systemic discrimination in the polices and/or practices of the university, the decision-maker will be a vice-president other than the one who is responsible for overseeing the policies and/or practices in question.

Communicating the complaint

Once a formal complaint has been filed, staff from Human Rights Services staff will contact the respondent and inform him/her that a complaint has been filed and will forward the complaint to the respondent.

The staff will also provide a copy of the letter of complaint to the senior administrator and the vice-president having jurisdiction over the respondent. As well, the staff will provide the complainant, the respondent and the senior administrator with a copy of the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy and Procedures and a letter, which identifies and explains the respective roles of the Human Rights Services and the decision-maker.

Both the complainant and the respondent are encouraged to contact staff from Human Rights Services with any questions regarding the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy and Procedures.

In exceptional situations, staff from Human Rights Services may be required to notify selected others within the university’s line structure that a complaint has been filed and is under investigation, for example, where the complainant and the respondent are to be separated and alternate work or study arrangements are required, or where there are safety concerns.

The investigation

What does an investigation look like?

Staff from Human Rights Services work independently throughout the investigation to develop an investigation plan identifying the issues of the case, who will be interviewed, which questions will be posed and which documents will be requested for review. The investigator conducts all of the investigative interviews with the complainant, respondent and witnesses. The investigator may also request to examine, photocopy and/or remove any documents or objects from any location of the university which are or which may be relevant to the complaint.

Investigations require the cooperation of the complainants, respondents, witnesses and any other person who may become involved in a complaint and who may be asked to provide evidence. The investigator will inform the manager of Human Rights Services where someone appears to be obstructing an investigation. The manager will take appropriate action.

The investigator meets with the complainant and the respondent

After having reviewed the complaint and any relevant documentation, the investigator contacts the complainant and the respondent to arrange separate interview times. At the time of this initial contact, staff will review the formal complaint procedures and the respective roles of the investigator, advisor, the decision-maker and the vice-president.

Investigators conduct interviews with the complainant and the respondent separately and may need to meet with each party several times during the course of the investigation. Any documents, names of witnesses, and other facts/issues or submissions which the complainant or respondent believe to be relevant to the complaint should be provided to the investigator at any time during the investigation. After having met with the respondent and having heard his/her reply to the allegations, the investigator will communicate the respondent’s reply to the complainant.

Conciliation as a means to resolution

At any stage of the investigation, a complainant or a respondent may choose to ask the investigator to conciliate the matter. If the other party agrees, the investigator will work with both parties and attempt to determine a resolution which is satisfactory to both parties. A written record of the resolution will be prepared by the investigator and signed by both parties. The resolution will be kept in the investigation file which is retained in Human Rights Services. The complainant and the respondent will each be given a copy of the resolution.

Human Rights Services will forward a copy of the resolution and a summary of the complaint to the senior administrator and to the vice-president having jurisdiction over the respondent.

Where it is found that either party has breached the terms of a resolution an investigation will be conducted and an appropriate remedy/penalty will be instituted.

Where conciliation efforts do not result in a resolution, the staff continues to investigate the complaint.

The case analysis

At the conclusion of the investigation and after having reviewed and analyzed all the evidence, the investigator prepares a case analysis. The case analysis is a thorough and detailed investigative report in which the positions of the complainant and the respondent are presented, and the issues of the case and the evidence is analyzed against the provisions of the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy, the Ontario Human Rights Code, and relevant human rights case law. The staff may choose to comment on the severity and nature of the behavior and/or comments that were investigated.

Disclosing the case analysis

Before providing the case analysis to the decision-maker, the investigator will disclose the case analysis to the complainant and to the respondent, in person preferably, or by registered mail. The investigator will meet separately with the complainant and the respondent to review the evidence presented in the case analysis. At this stage, both parties have one final opportunity to reach a resolution through conciliation.

After having disclosed the case analysis to the parties, both the complainant and the respondent will be given seven business days to review the case analysis and to make any further submissions. Human Rights Services will receive, review and reply to any further submissions received from either the complainant or the respondent. The investigator will then forward the case analysis, any further submissions and their replies to the submissions to the senior administrator for a decision.

The senior administrator renders the decision and remedy/penalties

The senior administrator will meet with the staff to review the case analysis. Within ten working days of receiving the investigator’s case analysis and any further submissions, the senior administrator will render a decision and where applicable, will determine an appropriate remedy/penalty. In reaching a decision the senior administrator considers the evidence and issues presented in the case analysis and any advice sought from the staff of Human Rights Services.

In rendering the final decision the senior administrator will choose one of four possible findings:

  • Discrimination or harassment did occur
  • Discrimination or harassment did not occur
  • There is insufficient evidence to support a finding of discrimination or harassment
  • The complaint is trivial, frivolous, vexatious or made in bad faith.

If a complaint is upheld, the senior administrator determines an appropriate remedy/penalty by considering the following:

  • Any advice sought from and provided by the Human Rights Services investigator and/or from the staff of Human Rights Services;
  • the principle of progressive discipline;
  • Ryerson’s commitment to education as a means to prevent the repetition of discrimination and harassment;
  • the nature of the discrimination or harassment; and,
  • the intent and impact of the discrimination.

Where the respondent is either a faculty or staff member of Ryerson, the senior administrator is encouraged to also seek the advice of the appropriate Human Resources staff.

Examples of remedies and/or penalties are included in the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy. Severe forms of discrimination and harassment will be treated severely.

The senior administrator will provide a written decision, and where applicable a remedy/penalty, to the complainant, the respondent, and the staff of Human Rights Services. The investigator will provide a copy of the decision, the case analysis, and any submissions and replies to the staff of Human Rights Services, the vice-president having authority over the respondent.

The appeal procedure

Appealing a finding or a remedy/penalty

Findings and remedies/penalties in human rights cases can be appealed on matters of substance and/or process to the vice-president having authority over the respondent.

A complainant or respondent wishing to appeal a finding or a remedy/penalty in a formal complaint submits to the staff a written request for appeal and an explanation of the basis for the request, within ten business days of the senior administrator’s finding.

Human Rights Services forwards a copy of the written request for appeal to the complainant, respondent, the senior administrator who decided the matter, and the vice-president having jurisdiction over the respondent. Upon receiving a copy of the request for appeal the staff forwards to the vice-president a copy of the investigation file (with names and identifying information of witnesses deleted) and meets with the vice-president. Human Rights Services provides written notice to the other party that an appeal has been requested, within three business days of having received the written request for appeal.

The vice-president decides whether to grant an appeal

The vice-president decides whether to grant an appeal. This decision will be communicated in writing to the parties within five business days of having received notice of the request for appeal.

In deciding whether to grant the appeal, the vice-president reviews the investigation file, and may speak with the Human Rights Services staff, the senior administrator, and the person making the request for appeal. When deciding whether there is sufficient justification to grant an appeal, the vice-president considers the following:

  • Whether there was a technical flaw in the application of the procedures at the formal complaint level.
  • Whether the finding is consistent with the evidence.
  • Whether the remedy/penalty is consistent with the finding and/or evidence.
  • Whether the appeal is trivial, frivolous, vexatious or made in bad faith.
Where the vice-president does not grant the appeal

Where the vice-president does not grant the appeal she/he will provide the parties with written reasons for the decision. A copy of that decision and reason is also forwarded to Human Rights Services and to the senior administrator who was involved in the initial decision.

The decision of the vice-president not to grant an appeal is final with respect to the options available within Ryerson’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy and Procedures. An employee who is not satisfied with the vice-president’s decision not to grant an appeal may pursue external avenues of redress.

Where the vice-president grants the appeal

Where the vice-president grants the appeal she/he will review the investigation file (with names and identifying information deleted), the senior administrator’s finding and remedy/penalty, and any other relevant documents and information. She/he may also interview the complainant and the respondent, and may choose to interview the senior administrator and the Human Rights Services staff.

The vice-president will communicate the findings of the review in writing to both the complainant and the respondent within 15 days of the commencement of the review. A copy of the findings will be provided to Human Rights Services and the senior administrator. A decision of the vice-president is final with respect to the options available within Ryerson. Where contractually permitted, an employee who is not satisfied with the vice-president’s decision may commence a grievance. Where applicable, any complainant or respondent not satisfied with the decision may pursue external avenues of redress.

Vice-president’s power to intervene in discrimination and harassment prevention matters

Notwithstanding the informal resolution process and the formal complaint procedures, a vice-president may intervene in any human right issue, whether or not a complaint has been filed, where circumstances warrant an immediate response such as where there are safety concerns; where the university response or action is required in order to prevent a potential future liability for the university; and, where she/he judges it to be in the best interests of the complainant, the respondent, and/or the university at large.

The vice-president’s decision to intervene will be based on the advice of the manager of human rights services, and where applicable will take into consideration any safety and security concerns.

Any decision regarding a discrimination or harassment matter arising from a vice-president’s intervention under this policy will be subject to the appeal procedures contained within this policy/procedure.

Where there is evidence of systemic discrimination at the university and no individual wishes to make a complaint

Where there are allegations of systemic discrimination in the policies and/or practices of the university and no individual wishes to make a complaint, the manager of Human Rights Services in consultation with the assistant vice-president, vice-provost, equity, diversity and inclusion may recommend that the vice-provost faculty affairs intervene to deal with the matter. Where it is decided that the matter requires further research or investigation the vice-president will appoint the investigator to conduct an investigation, using these procedures.

In rendering a decision in a case involving allegations of systemic discrimination, the vice-president may wish to consult with the manager of Human Rights Services or the assistant vice-president/vice provost equity, diversity and inclusion.

Where concerns are repeatedly expressed about the same individual by various persons but no person wishes to make a formal complaint

Where concerns of harassment and discrimination are repeatedly expressed about the same individual by several persons but no one wishes to file a formal complaint, Human Rights Services staff shall advise the assistant vice-president/vice provost equity, diversity and inclusion and they will decide how to proceed. The vice-president/vice-provost equity, diversity and inclusion may appoint the complaints investigator to investigate the matter, or she/he may decide that an education program for the respondent is appropriate, or that the respondent should be advised of such allegations. Where the Human Rights Services investigates the matter she/he will do so according to these complaints.

General procedures

Time frame for completion of formal investigation and appeal process

Ryerson will always aim to complete formal investigations as expeditiously and as thoroughly as possible. The Human Rights Services staff will normally conclude a human rights investigation within 60 business days from the commencement of the investigation.

Where an appeal of a decision or remedy/penalty is accepted, the appeal will normally take 15 business days. These and other time frames discussed throughout the complaints procedures may be extended by Ryerson at its discretion, upon the recommendation of the Human Rights Services staff. The complainant, respondent and senior administrator will be notified of any time extensions.

Standard of proof

In order for a complaint to be accepted by Human Rights Services, a complainant must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. A prima facie case of discrimination is established where on the fact of the allegations and in the absence of a defense or a justification from the respondent one could reasonably conclude that discrimination occurred. The onus is on the complainant to provide evidence that the respondent discriminated against or harassed him/her.

In assessing evidence collected during an investigation, the civil standard of proof is used. This involves evaluating the evidence and the allegations on a “balance of probabilities” and where the preponderance of evidence supports the allegations, even though it may not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was discrimination or harassment, the complaint may be upheld.

Right to representation

At any interview or proceeding complainants and respondents may choose to have present a representative and one person for support, such as a friend, relative or partner. Interpreters, including sign language interpreters, will be provided upon request.

The investigator may decide to exclude from any investigative interview any person who is adverse in interest to the complainant and/or the respondent.

Confidentiality

The university recognizes the importance of confidentiality for all parties involved in a complaint of harassment or discrimination. The university will make every reasonable effort to balance confidentiality with its legal responsibility to provide a work and study environment free from harassment and discrimination.

The general practice of Human Rights Services is to keep all information confidential except as outlined in the above procedures, for example where specified individuals in the university must be notified of any formal complaint, where the Human Rights Services staff needs to make arrangements to separate the complainant and respondent during the course of an investigation, where the staff needs to interview witnesses, et cetera. Complainants, respondents and witnesses to an incident or a complaint are encouraged and advised to exercise their discretion regarding with who they share information.

Notwithstanding the above, there are additional circumstances which may require the Human Rights Services staff to discuss a particular situation with a more senior authority within and authorities outside of the university. These exceptional circumstances might include, for example:

  • An assessment of imminent danger (e.g. someone is reported to be homicidal or suicidal or has received a death threat, etc.)
  • Where there are reasonable grounds to believe the university could be held liable under the Ontario Human Rights Code or some other legislation for failing to take appropriate action (e.g. failure to exercise due diligence in protecting the safety of someone it believed was at risk)
  • Where otherwise required by law (e.g. suspected child abuse, by subpoena, etc.)

These above circumstances represent exceptions, not the rule, and are necessary to ensure the university is meeting its legal obligations.

If a complaint is found to be vexatious or made in bad faith

Where there is evidence that a complaint is vexatious or is made in bad faith, the Human Rights Services staff will cease investigating the allegations of the complaint and will investigate whether the complaint is vexatious or is made in bad faith. Where a respondent claims a complaint is vexatious or made in bad faith but presents no evidence to support the claim, the Human Rights Services staff will proceed with the investigation of the original complaint. Where there is evidence to support a respondent’s claim that a complaint is vexatious or made in bad faith, the investigator will investigate such and will prepare a case analysis on that point for submission to the senior administrator who will decide that matter and issue a remedy/penalty. The same procedures which apply in an investigation of discrimination and harassment apply to an investigation into whether a complaint is vexatious or made in bad faith.

Any person who is found to have filed a vexatious complaint or to have made one in bad faith shall be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including any of the remedies and penalties imposed where there has been a finding of discrimination and harassment, as discussed in the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy.

Explanations of what constitutes trivial, frivolous, vexatious and made in bad faith complaint are found in the policy.