BC tribunal denies UBCO’s application to dismiss human rights complaint

The BC Human Rights tribunal has rebuked UBC Okanagan’s (UBCO) attempt to dismiss a former student’s complaint about its handling of her sexual assault report.

In today’s decision, the tribunal denied the university’s application to dismiss the complaint from Stephanie Hale, a former UBCO student who alleged that she was sexually assaulted by another student in January 2013 and that the university subsequently mishandled her report.

UBCO had moved to dismiss Hale’s claims of discrimination on the basis of sex and mental health on the ground that they were unlikely to succeed.

But the decision issued by Tribunal member Emily Ohler rejected those arguments, asserting that UBC had a responsibility as a service provider to assist Hale. Ohler also wrote that the university did not convince her that the case was without merit.

“I’m thrilled about the decision that it’s going forward,” said Hale.

First filed in 2017, her complaint was initially directed at both her alleged assaulter and UBCO’s actions between January 2013 and March 2017.

According to Hale, she disclosed the alleged assault in January 2013 to a number of university staff. Since this was years before the province mandates post-secondary schools to have a standalone sexual violence prevention policy, she could only file a complaint through the non-academic conduct process — which she said she was not informed about until February 2016.

The non-academic conduct complaint — which ended in March 2017 — did not succeed, but Hale said she was excluded from the process and her request for a trained investigator was not met.

In February 2018, the tribunal accepted Hale’s complaint but reduced the scope to just UBCO’s handling of her report between February 2016 and March 2017.

UBCO then moved to dismiss her case on the basis there is no reasonable prospect that it would proceed. The university argued that there is no burden on the school or any other service provider “to have in place any particular process for ensuring that sexual harassment does not occur or for addressing or remedying harassment if it does occur.”

Today’s decision rejected that assessment, but did not make any finding of fact. It also encouraged the parties to seek mediation rather than proceed to a tribunal hearing.

UBC declined to comment.

“It would be inappropriate for UBC to comment as the issue remains before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal,” Senior Media Relations Director Kurt Heinrich said in statement to The Ubyssey.

For Hale, her future plan is currently unclear because she has yet to talk to her lawyer.

“... I’m looking forward to learning what the next steps are,” she said.