Master of Laws
Canadian human rights law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities and protects employees’ right to workplace accommodation to the point of undue hardship. However, the analysis of the case law illustrates that Canadian legal decision makers have not consistently applied the fundamental human rights laws and principles to cases involving individuals with drug and alcohol addiction disability. Stewart v. Elk Valley Coal Corp. provided the Supreme Court of Canada with the opportunity to provide much needed clarity and confirm the correct approach to be applied to claims of discrimination and accommodation on the basis of drug and alcohol addiction. This decision was fatally flawed in its application of the law. Despite this, Elk Valley has provided guidance with respect to the principles to be applied in addiction disability cases, resulting in a progressive movement towards the broad, liberal human rights approach to drug and alcohol addiction disability.
Summary for Lay Audience
Canadian human rights legislation prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of protected human rights grounds, such as disability, and protects employees’ right to workplace accommodation on the basis of their protected characteristic. Under Canadian human rights law, drug and alcohol addiction constitutes a form of disability, attracting human rights protections.
As a human right, the right to be accommodated for a disability must be applied broadly and exceptions should be interpreted narrowly, in order to uphold the fundamental purpose of human rights legislation. The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed that all protected human rights grounds are to be treated equally and the same discrimination and duty to accommodate analyses apply to all protected grounds. Thus, Canadians suffering from addiction are entitled to equal protection under the law as those with any other protected human rights characteristic.
In 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada released the Stewart v. Elk Valley Coal Corp. decision, which failed to apply well-established human rights laws and principles to the termination of an employee with an addiction for violating the employer’s drug policy. This thesis provides an extensive survey of the jurisprudence on workplace discrimination and accommodation on the basis of addiction disability, over the last 12 years, and examines the treatment of this particular human rights ground by legal decision makers across Canada. It analyzes whether Canadian legal decision makers have applied and currently apply fundamental human rights laws and principles to cases of drug and alcohol addiction to reveal any discrepancies between the black letter law and the actual application of the law to addiction disability. This research examines whether Elk Valley set a precedent or followed a line of decisions on addiction disability that also diverge from well-established human rights law and analyzes the implications of Elk Valley on Canadian addiction disability law to determine whether Elk Valley is the new legal norm, thereby shifting the direction of Canadian human rights law, or a judicial misstep among the landscape of workplace disability discrimination and accommodation case law that can be corrected in the coming jurisprudence.
Pronych, Nadia, "Stewart v. Elk Valley Coal Corp.: The Rehabilitation of Addiction Disability Law in Canada" (2020). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7437.