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Could a B.C. human-rights case reveal the recipe for Timbits?

Tim Hortons Timbits are served at the company’s annual general meeting in Toronto, May 10, 2013.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Canadian icon Tim Hortons says it shouldn't have to disclose thousands of internal documents – including recipes – for a B.C. human-rights case in which four temporary foreign workers allege they were discriminated against.

A lawyer representing the restaurant chain made the argument Thursday in B.C. Supreme Court – though the parties agreed to find a different way forward after the judge scolded them for bringing the "silly" disclosure matter to her courtroom.

Four Mexican citizens who came to Canada under the temporary foreign worker program have filed a case at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. They allege they were discriminated against while they worked at two Tim Hortons locations in the northeastern B.C. community of Dawson Creek.

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The complainants say their working conditions were worse than those faced by local employees. They say they were subjected to racist and derogatory comments, and forced to live in substandard accommodation owned by the franchisee for the two restaurants. They also allege Tim Hortons Inc., by participating in the temporary foreign worker program, created the conditions that made the discrimination possible, if not likely.

Both Tim Hortons Inc. and the franchisee, Tony Van Den Bosch, have denied any discrimination took place.

In September, the human rights tribunal ordered Tim Hortons Inc. to turn over documents requested by lawyers for the workers. The documents included what is known as the Tim Hortons Inc. operating manual. The company disagreed with the tribunal's ruling and took the matter to B.C. Supreme Court.

Christopher McHardy, the lawyer representing Tim Hortons Inc. in court Thursday, said the operating manual is essentially a secure corporate website that hosts thousands of documents. He said franchisees, through the website, can download policies ranging from training and signage, to coffee-making. He said the website also contains hundreds of recipes. Mr. McHardy told Justice Janice Dillon that the tribunal's order should be quashed or varied, because much of the material on the website has nothing to do with the discrimination case.

"If the court declines to intervene … it's going to subject the petitioners to an overly broad and arbitrary disclosure order that goes well beyond the tribunal's jurisdiction. It's going to compel them to disclose the confidential and proprietary foundation of their business," he said.

Lawyers for the workers had earlier agreed they did not need access to all the documents, such as the recipes. However, after the two parties were unable to agree on exactly which documents should be turned over, lawyers for the workers changed their tune and requested everything.

The inability to reach an agreement left Justice Dillon irate. She questioned why counsel could not follow standard procedure for such matters. "Now you're coming here … because counsel can't work it out," she said incredulously. The judge, as she left court for the morning break, said counsel could have solved the dispute in ways that did not require the B.C. Supreme Court's time.

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Lawyers for both parties returned after the break and it was announced they had made some progress. Mr. McHardy requested an early adjournment for a hearing that had been scheduled to last two days.

Devyn Cousineau, one of the lawyers representing the workers, said outside court that the judge's words spurred the parties to action.

"Appearing in front of a judge adds a degree of pressure to resolve things that doesn't exist otherwise," she said. She could not provide a time frame for the workers' case moving forward.

Mr. McHardy said outside court that Tim Hortons Inc. had long been prepared to provide the relevant documents. He said he's confident the parties will find a way forward that keeps the Tim Hortons recipes safe and sound.

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Based in Vancouver, Sunny has been with The Globe and Mail since November, 2010. More


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