The human rights complaint against the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association is moving ahead to a hearing. The complaint will also include the City of Surrey as a defendant.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT) recently ruled against the City’s request to be removed from the complaint, clearing the way ahead for a hearing. All sides now await a hearing date.
Another major development is that the complaint will not be heard as a “class” complaint, but rather as a “group” complaint, after a ruling by the Tribunal.
Both the City and the Rodeo Association asked the BCHRT to “reconsider the decision to proceed with the complaint.” The City of Surrey also asked the Tribunal to “reconsider proceeding against the City” as City lawyers argued the City was not “an appropriate respondent” to the complaint.
The BCHRT ruled against both, deciding to proceed to a hearing. The Tribunal published its findings on their website Feb. 28 in a 22-page doc. The document names the complainants as, “Laura Ballance on behalf of Laura Ballance, Sarah Bolton, Aija Chaney, Launa Hinkson, Meredith Waite, and Jenece Stinson”and the respondents as “the Lower Fraser Valley Exhibition Association and City of Surrey.” (The Lower Fraser Valley Exhibition Association operates as the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association.)
The human rights complaint was originally filed anonymously on July 12, 2021 with the BCHRT “on behalf of workers and volunteers who have experienced discrimination contrary to section 13 of the Human Rights Code committed by the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association.”
That first complaint was eventually withdrawn and a new complaint was filed.
The refiled complaint named the City of Surrey as a co-respondent with the Rodeo Association and it alleges “the Association and the City have continuously contravened s. 13 of the Code by upholding a hostile and poisoned work environment and by failing to respond to race-based, disability-based, and sex-based harassment and discrimination.”
It alleges “the Respondents’ condonation and refusal to address hostile and demeaning conduct by management and board members disproportionately impacted women, racialized people, and people with disabilities.”
And it also alleges, “this poisoned work environment also impacted others who were forced to witness the discriminatory conduct.”
As a former communications contractor for the Rodeo Association, Ballance took on the role of “Representative Complainant” in the refiled complaint, as the anonymity request was withdrawn. Ballance, president of LBMG (Laura Ballance Media Group), posted an appeal on Twitter March 3, 2022, revealing herself as the “Representative Complainant.” In the Tweet Ballance wrote, “Hardest decision of my professional career but I know in my heart it is the right thing to do.”
The Cloverdale Reporter reached out to Ballance for a comment on the latest development in the complaint process and Ballance responded with a statement via email.
“We are incredibly thankful for this ruling,” Ballance wrote. “We are anxious to get to the next step of the Tribunal process.”
The City of Surrey had sought to remove itself from the complaint on a few technicalities, but the BCHRT ruled against them. In her ruling, Tribunal member Kathleen Smith wrote, “I am not persuaded that the screening process was unfair to the City. I reconsidered the decision to proceed against the City based on the allegations set out in the complaint and am not persuaded to change my decision.”
In another major development, Smith wrote in her decision the complaint will not proceed as a “class” complaint.
“The complaint will proceed as a group complaint not a class,” Smith wrote. “The Complainant will have 30 days to finalize the group membership and provide additional particulars, including dates for specific allegations of discrimination in the complaint.”
Susanna Quail, lawyer for the six complainants, argued, overall, the women represent a class with multiple subclasses, but Smith said Quail’s argument of “class” fell short of the definition.
“The proposed class, as set out in the complaint, is overbroad and lacks common issues capable of collective resolution,” Smith wrote. “Similarly, I am persuaded that the Revised Class, including the Subclasses, does not solve the issues and continues to be over-inclusive and lack common issues.”
Smith found that going forward as a class complaint would be “inefficient and unmanageable and the complaint is more appropriate as a group complaint seeking systemic remedies.”
Now that the complaint has transformed into a group complaint, Smith wrote, the process will “allow the Respondents to make full answer to the case against them.”
The document filed Feb. 28 also includes some of those specific allegations involving the six women named as the complainants. From the document:
“Laura Ballance, a long-term contractor and volunteer, alleges she experienced sexism and witnessed ableism and racism. She also alleges she was rebuffed when she attempted to address Mr. MacSorley’s misogynistic conduct.”
“Sarah Bolton, a former office employee and later a contractor, alleges that Mr. MacSorley made her uncomfortable with inappropriate comments, yelled at, and threw objects at her. She also alleges she witnessed Mr. MacSorley harass others.”
“Aija Chaney, a former employee in the maintenance department, alleges that she experienced sexual harassment on her crew, and when she raised it with Mr. MacSorley, he did nothing to address it. She also alleges Mr. MacSorley failed to accommodate her pregnancy.”
“Launa Hinkson, an office employee, alleges that Mr. MacSorley verbally and physically harassed her, and when she sought assistance, she was ignored and mocked. She also alleges that Mr. MacSorley made ablest comments about volunteers in front of her.”
“Meredith Waite, a year-round volunteer, alleges that Mr. MacSorley made racist remarks in front of her. She also alleges he made ableist remarks in front of and about her, including demeaning and degrading comments about her disability income and mobility devices.”
“Jenece Stinson, a volunteer, alleges that the Association’s President made inappropriate sexualized comments to and in front of her. She also alleges that Mr. MacSorley banned volunteers with disabilities rather than address safety concerns and accommodation needs.”
Smith added that a lot of the allegations in the complaint “lack specificity and particularity.” She said many allegations are undated and they don’t “always set out how the alleged incident is connected to a protected characteristic.”
She ended by writing the complainants have 30 days to add more details to the allegations, which includes dates and specifics.
Read the full “reasons for decisions” on the Tribunal’s website at bchrt.bc.ca.