Blencoe v Willis & the BCHRC et al [2001]

Case summary

In this case, the Court ordered that the sexual harassment complaints against former BC Cabinet Minister Robin Blencoe must proceed. The British Columbia Court of Appeal previously stayed the complaints, agreeing that the Tribunal had lost jurisdiction to hear the complaints.

West Coast LEAF’s involvement

LEAF intervened in the case because of its importance for the rights of women, who make up 95 percent of sexual harassment victims. It argued that access to the human rights process for sexual harassment victims is essential to the right of women to equal treatment in employment and to be free from sexual harassment.  As for the delay, it argued that the Court must also consider the equality and security rights of complainants.

The intervention was managed by West Coast LEAF, which included covering costs, facilitating the subcommittee and providing administrative and staff support.


In a unanimous decision, the SCC held that the stay of the proceedings was improper and the complaints should proceed. Five justices, led by Michel Bastarache, considered and analyzed the role of Section 7 of the Charter. They concluded that neither Blencoe’s right to “life” nor “security of the person” was affected by the delay that had occurred. The remaining four justices dealt with the case based on administrative law principles.

“Notwithstanding that the Court approached this case in different ways, this is a positive decision,” said LEAF Counsel Jennifer Conkie. “The partial dissent acknowledges that complainants have a serious interest in the expeditious processing of human rights complaints and must be considered when fashioning a remedy. In this way, the dissent, as well as the majority, addresses the imbalance at the Court of Appeal, which ignored the complainants and allowed the respondent’s interests to trump the process.”

“It is also significant that the Court awarded costs against the Human Rights Commission to both the complainants and the respondent.  This shows how seriously the Court viewed the Commission’s handling of this matter,” continued Ms. Conkie.

“We do regret that the Court did not explicitly address the context of sexual harassment, including its impact on women,” said Ms. Mathen.

“Nonetheless, we are encouraged that the majority declined to equate sexual harassment in the human rights context with sexual assault in the criminal context. This could have seriously hampered the ability of human rights commissions to process these complaints. Fortunately, the Court recognized and distinguished the important differences between each system.”

Case documents

Factum – Supreme Court of Canada

Decision – Supreme Court of Canada

Case documents

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