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Court won’t hear 25-year-old case

Human rights complaint dismissed by Supreme Court

Paul Richard at the time of his alleged abuse, in the mid-1980s. Credit: courtesy of Paul Richard
Paul Richard’s legal crusade is over. His Supreme Court case was thrown out May 5, following a 6-year legal battle. In a move Richard calls both unjustifiable and immensely disappointing, the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal stemming from a human rights complaint filed in 2005.
 
In the initial complaint, Richard claimed to have been deeply discriminated against by his coworkers in the federal government for being an openly gay man in the 1970s and ’80s, causing him to lose his job as an economist.
 
At the centre of the case is a rule that forbids cold cases; complaints must be brought to the Canadian Human Rights Commission within a year of the alleged violation.
 
For six years, Richard has had more defeats than victories in the courts, though he won an important one in 2008 — the right to have his case heard despite its statutory expiration. But last week, the Supreme Court dismissed his entire case once and for all.
 
“I’m very disappointed. I don’t understand this,” Richard, 69, says.
 
Richard cites the case of Shirley Christensen, who, as a child, was sexually abused by a priest. She filed her human rights complaint in 2006 — more than 25 years after the abuse — and was successful at the Supreme Court level, winning the right to sue the Quebec priest and archbishop. In October, a federal appeal judge said that controversy around the statute of limitations “was a matter for a trial, not simply a motion for dismissal,” to which the Supreme Court agreed, Canadian Press reported at the time.
 
Despite the differences in type of abuse, the complainants ages at the time of the abuse, and the accused parties, Richard draws many similarities between the two cases: they both endured traumatic experiences of which the psychological damage became apparent only 20 years after the trauma, and both won the right to have their cases heard despite the expired statute of limitations. Because of these similarities and precedents cited in both cases with regard to the statute of limitations in instances of abuse, Richard and his lawyer are both perplexed by the Supreme Court’s refusal.
 
While Richard won the right to have his case heard despite the expired statute of limitations in 2008, his case was dismissed on the grounds that the CHRC and attorney general would be severely prejudiced in presenting evidence and witnesses to support their own case since so much time has elapsed since the discrimination happened.
 
Richard believes the Conservative party has stacked the courts with potentially homophobic Harper cronies over the course of his leadership, and that the government has a vested interest in not permitting this case to be heard by the Supreme Court — namely money. He also suspects gay rights may not be a priority of the high court, much less the government. Richard hopes other civil servants who suffered sexuality-based discrimination come forward to help underline the weight of this complaint. He feels that if he had been permitted to go to the Supreme Court, it would have led to the government’s owing a lot of money in restitution; he also feels things would have turned out differently had a different party been in power at the time of his complaint.
 
Because he can longer pursue this case in the courts due to the Supreme Court ruling, Richard hopes to attract attention to his cause through the media and various civil liberties-oriented groups. He is considering writing a book about his ordeal.