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Elections B.C. showed no bias in not hiring HST canvasser, rights tribunal finds

Fight HST pin.

Lyle Stafford for The Globe and Mail/lyle stafford The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a complaint from a man who said he was denied a job with Elections B.C. because he was involved in a campaign to abolish the harmonized sales tax.

Elwin Mowry filed his complaint in January, 2011, alleging he was discriminated against because of his political beliefs.

Mr. Mowry had worked for Elections B.C. in 2008 and 2009 as a district electoral officer. Elections B.C. deemed his job performance "marginally satisfactory," but still invited Mr. Mowry to apply to work on the 2011 HST referendum. However, Mr. Mowry said the election body later refused to rehire him because it found out he worked as a canvasser in the campaign to force the government to hold a referendum on the HST.

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Elections B.C. denied any discrimination. It said the political activities of prospective candidates was a legitimate subject of inquiry, although it did not bar anyone from employment.

Adia Kapoor, Elections B.C.'s manager of human resources, told the tribunal that in December, 2010, Craig James, the acting chief electoral officer at the time, expressed concern about canvassers working on the referendum.

"He was concerned about the ability of these individuals to be perceived by the public as non-partisan representatives of Elections B.C. due to their public role in supporting the initiative petition campaign to remove the HST," Ms. Kapoor wrote in her affidavit.

She said Mr. James instructed her to check the list of former district electoral officers and the list of current applicants for such positions against the list of registered canvassers. Ms. Kapoor determined four had been canvassers. Elections B.C. said Mr. Mowry's role was to answer questions in a public place about the anti-HST campaign and accept signatures on petition sheets.

Ms. Kapoor said she advised Mr. Mowry his participation as a canvasser "would be one factor considered by Elections B.C. in the hiring process in order to determine his non-partisan status." She told him canvassers could be seen as having a bias on the political issue and would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Mowry, believing he had no chance of being hired, did not apply for the position. That turned out to be the deciding factor in the human rights case.

Tribunal adjudicator Murray Geiger-Adams said Elections B.C. could only have refused to hire Mr. Mowry if he sought employment, which he did not.

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"I understand Mr. Mowry's position to be that, in their December, 2010, telephone conversations, Ms. Kapoor communicated that his application would be doomed to fail because he had canvassed for signatures on the petition. However, the materials before me, including the written record of their e-mail exchanges, do not tend to support this position," Mr. Geiger-Adams wrote in his judgment, issued last week.

"Ms. Kapoor was consistent in frankly acknowledging that Mr. Mowry's participation in an initiative which might become the subject of a referendum conducted by Elections B.C. was a concern, but equally consistent in stating that such participation was a factor, among others, to be addressed on a case-by-case basis during and after an interview with the person who applied for employment."

In a telephone interview, Ms. Kapoor reiterated it is essential that Elections B.C. staff appear and be impartial in the conduct of their duties.

Of the four people identified by Elections B.C. as canvassers, she said one was hired.

"The decision to hire that one person was based on a number of factors. Of course, we would look at their past work performance. … The other factor that we consider is about the public perception issue. If this person was engaging in political activities, is this person able to retain impartiality and the perception of impartiality in relation to the performance of their duties?"

She said any concerns about that person's impartiality were addressed.

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