The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a Victoria man be given a full-time job, and compensation that could reach $500,000 from Transport Canada.
The tribunal ruled Chris Hughes faced discrimination after he was denied a position in 2006, after telling interviewers he had experienced depression.
He learned of the decision in early June.
Hughes said he had done well in preliminary tests and interviews for a marine intelligence officer position with Transport Canada, getting 91 per cent on a knowledge test and acing an hour-long interview with a panel board.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve done,” he said. “But I felt good about it.”
Hughes said the next step was to look at references, which he deliberately left blank because of past problems with his employer. He previously worked for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, now known as the Canada Revenue Agency, and the Canada Border Services Agency.
“I explained to TC that I was a whistle-blower,” he said.
Hughes had filed two internal complaints, one while working on the revenue side of the agency, another while working for the border services branch.
After filing these complaints in 2000, he said, he faced “retaliatory reactions” that made his work life “hostile and toxic” for the next five years before he was forced to resign.
As a consequence of the job loss, Hughes became depressed and was forced to liquefy assets in order to survive.
“I told [Transport Canada] that I had become sick from the reprisals by CRA and CBSA and had to take time off work and that Health Canada was involved. They really didn’t seem put off at all.”
Hughes said he had offered other referrals, and performance reviews from the CRA and CBSA, and that Transport Canada seemed fine with those alternatives.
“Then they called me and told me I had failed,” he said.
Hughes struggled to find work after that and wound up couch-surfing and taking up contract jobs to make ends meet.
In June 2006, he filed a public service commission staffing complaint to get copies of the board notes, which revealed that references weren’t necessary to pass if the interview was strong enough.
However, it wasn’t until 2013 when he saw the original copies of the interview lead sheets that he realized his interview notes had been altered. The finding led to a case with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, where decisions are split between a liability and a remedy hearing. The liability decision came out in 2014 and was in Hughes’s favour, but was then set aside by a federal judge, and appealed, then reinstated.
The delay in the process led to a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, which only added to the complexity.
“In 2009, I did a privacy request to see what was going on,” Hughes said. “The privacy co-ordinator said it would take four years to process because there were 30,000 documents.”
This month, the remedy decision was announced: Hughes would be hired as a marine intelligence officer and be paid for five years of missed payment, which he estimated would be near $500,000, including pensions and benefits.
When reached for comment, Transport Canada said via email:
“Transport Canada is reviewing the remedies decision; the department is not in a position to provide more information on personnel matters.”
Hughes has mixed feelings about the results, saying it took far too long, and that he doesn’t understand why only five of the 12 years were covered. He also has not seen any dates as to when the job or funding will come through.
“Until I’m hired, I’ve asked to have leave with pay now so I can have my health and dental back,” he said. “I’ve also asked that they immediately pay $200,000 so I can repay my debts.”