Federal Court

Contempt Of Court

As allegations of harassment serious, reinstatement not appropriate remedy

Applicant, federal public servant and suspended member of Professional Institute of Public Service of Canada (“Institute”) sought judgment finding Institute guilty of contempt for failing to implement order of Public Service Staff Relations Board (“Board”) dated August 26, 2009. Board order’s central element was reinstatement of applicant’s status as elected official of bargaining unit to all of her elected and appointed positions subject to normal operation of constitution and by-laws of bargaining unit. Applicant was never reinstated to any of elected or appointed positions, all of whose terms of office had now expired and had so expired at time of contempt proceeding before this court. Institute argued that it acted properly in not reinstating applicant to office because that obligation was, by very terms of Board order itself, subject to normal operation of Institute’s constitution and by-laws, which provided that holder of office in Institute must be member in good standing of that organization. Applicant no longer met condition of being member in good standing in Institute since October 15, 2009, when she was suspended for period of five years by Executive Committee because two harassment complaints lodged against her or her husband by members of Institute were found substantiated after investigation by outside investigator appointed by Institute. Institute was guilty of contempt of “Order of Board” dated August 26, 2009. Board order, read in context of member’s reasons, was clear and unambiguous - reinstate applicant immediately in order that her term of offices not expire and real harm she suffered not be repaired. Institute was well aware of its obligations under Board’s order. That was why it sought to stay operation of Board’s order at time when its harassment investigation was well advanced. In this context, it was unreasonable for Institute to interpret Board order as permitting subsequent event such as suspension of membership which would nullify reinstatement. If disciplinary issues arose later to warrant action, Institute could do so at that time. Institute had right to investigate and to discipline applicant. Allegations against her and her husband were serious. Question was whether they amounted to harassment, and whether penalty and its timing were reasonable and proportioned. Institute did not meet its evidentiary burden of establishing lawful excuse. However, as issue of her suspension from membership was still outstanding and allegations of harassment were found to be serious, reinstatement was not appropriate remedy. Parties were given six weeks to reach settlement. If settlement was not achieved within six weeks, court will ask parties for submissions on appropriate remedy. Court remained seized of matter.

Bremsak v. P.I.P.S.C.

(Feb. 16, 2012, F.C., Lemieux J., File No. T-2049-09) 99 W.C.B. (2d) 221 (43 pp.).

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