B.C. human-rights complaint continues to percolate against Tim Hortons

A Tim Hortons restaurant in Ontario. (Wikimedia).

VANCOUVER — Canadian coffee giant Tim Hortons and franchise operators in two British Columbia communities have lost their bids to toss out separate human-rights complaints lodged by the United Steelworkers Union and Mexican workers.

In decisions posted online, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled recently that the complaint by the union on behalf of Filipino workers in Fernie, B.C., and parts of a separate complaint by Mexican workers in Dawson Creek, B.C., will proceed to hearings.

The complainants, employed under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, argued they were discriminated against because of their race, ancestry and place of origin.

The union alleged the Filipino workers were denied overtime premiums, given less-desirable shifts and threatened with being returned home.

The Mexican workers alleged they were subjected to inferior working conditions, racist and derogatory comments and forced to live in sub-standard living conditions.

None of the allegations has been proven.

Named as respondents were Tim Hortons Inc. (TSX:THI); TDL Group Corp., a subsidiary that oversees restaurant operations; Fernie franchisees Pierre Pelletier and Kristin Hovind-Pelletier; and Dawson Creek franchisee Tony Van Den Bosch.

Tribunal member Walter Rilkoff threw out an application by the company and the Fernie franchisees to dismiss the complaint.

"I am not prepared to exercise my discretion to dismiss the complaint without a hearing," he wrote in his Nov. 5 ruling. "I am not persuaded that there is no reasonable prospect that the complaint will succeed."

On Nov. 6, tribunal member Catherine McCreary dismissed the Dawson Creek complaint against Tim Hortons Inc. and the part of the complaint against TDL Group that focused specifically on discrimination against residential tenants.

But she ruled the complaint against TDL Group under Section 13 of the Human Rights Code, which deals with discrimination in employment, would proceed to hearing as will the entire complaint against the franchisee.

"I urge all parties to use the mediation services of the tribunal to try to arrive at a mediated outcome for the complaint," she said.

In its arguments to have the complaints dismissed, Tim Hortons said while it has the authority to set such business terms as prices, menus and branding, it is not involved with employment contracts.

The company argued franchisees operated as independent contractors.

Keven Drews, The Canadian Press

Story updated at 08:44 ET on Nov. 10.

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