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Harassment arbitration hearing should be open to the public, including the press, arbitrator rules

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A police union’s harassment grievance arbitration hearing should be open to the public, including the press, despite the sensitive issues that it raised, a labour arbitrator has ruled. The case illustrates the publicity risk that employers face in many workplace disputes, and the need for employers to consider publicity when analyzing litigation risk.

The grievance alleged that the police services board failed to provide a harassment-free workplace to its civilian members. The issues had resulted in two workplace investigations that had not resolved the dispute.

The arbitrator noted the general requirement, under the Statutory Powers Procedure Act, that a hearing be open to the public. The police board argued that the press should be excluded.  Two officials with the police force, who were “interested parties” at the arbitration, argued that the hearing should be held in camera – that is, closed to the public and the media.

The arbitrator disagreed. There were a number of factors in favour of having an open-to-the-public  hearing.  This was not a case about a single employee; it raised broader issues about the workplace.  A number of members of the police service were already aware of the case.  The police service was a public body, which was a strong factor in favour of having the hearing be open to the public including the press. The particular reporter who wished to attend the hearing had said that he would not audio-record it, and the risk that media reports would influence witnesses who had not yet testified was low. Although some of the evidence at the hearing might reflect poorly on some of the participants, the arbitrator noted that there may be publicity about this matter regardless of whether media is present.

In the result, the arbitrator ruled that the hearing be open to the public.

Durham (Regional Police Association) v Durham (Regional Police Services Board), 2018 CanLII 28649 (ON LA)