A federal court has tossed out the results of a workplace harassment complaint at Canada's broadcast and telecom regulator, concluding that the investigation was unfair in part because of the chairman's involvement as both witness and judge.
The investigation and its aftermath led to Raj Shoan, the former regional commissioner for Ontario for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), losing his job when the federal cabinet revoked his appointment in June. He was less than three years into a five-year term as commissioner at the time.
In the initial case filed in April, 2015, Mr. Shoan sought a judicial review of chairman Jean-Pierre Blais's decision to accept the results of a third-party inquiry that found Mr. Shoan had harassed a CRTC employee through a series of e-mail exchanges.
Filings in the case, as well as additional legal challenges that Mr. Shoan has launched against the CRTC, reveal animosity between the two men and provide a glimpse of a working environment that several people at the commission itself described as "toxic."
Federal Court Justice Russel Zinn heard the first case in June – just two days before the cabinet order revoking Mr. Shoan's appointment – and, in a ruling published Friday, he concluded that there was a denial of procedural fairness and natural justice in the way the harassment investigation was conducted.
He said there was evidence that the investigator approached the complaint with a "closed mind" and that Mr. Blais's "dual role" as witness and decision maker was unfair.
Justice Zinn said Mr. Blais gave evidence in the investigation that went far beyond the scope of the original complaint and included negative assessments of Mr. Shoan such as: "it is difficult to trust him," and "as soon as he arrived, Commissioner Shoan gave the impression that he wanted to take more and more of the spotlight."
The judge wrote: "It is impossible to see how, in light of the opinions expressed by the chairman … it could be said that he, whether consciously or unconsciously, could decide the matter fairly."
"It is troubling because … the investigation veered from the initial complaint to explore whether Commissioner Shoan created a toxic work environment at the CRTC – a view that appears to have been first expressed by the Chairman to the Investigator and then found by her as fact," Justice Zinn later added.
The judge said that while he found aspects of the investigator's report unreasonable, "this should not be interpreted as a finding that there were no issues with any of Commissioner Shoan's e-mails," adding that Mr. Shoan tends to use "direct and often confrontational language" and his detailed analysis of the complainant's e-mails "would not likely be well received by anyone." But Justice Zinn said it was not for him to determine whether they constituted harassment.
He concluded that the finding of harassment should be set aside but said there was no point in sending it back to be considered again because Mr. Shoan's appointment has been revoked. (Mr. Shoan is also appealing the cabinet's decision to fire him and is seeking an injunction of that decision at a hearing on Tuesday.)
Justice Zinn also ordered the government to pay Mr. Shoan $30,000 in legal costs.
Commission spokeswoman Patricia Valladao said in an e-mail Friday: "The CRTC remains committed to a healthy, harassment-free and respectful workplace." She added that lawyers for the government "will be considering the next steps," but that the CRTC presently has no further comment.
Mr. Shoan said in a statement posted online Friday that he is "grateful for the considered decision of the Federal Court." He said he is examining "additional legal options with my team in regard to the harm that I have suffered as a result of the false allegations and flawed findings made against me."
Before his appointment was revoked, he was one of eight commissioners, including the chairman. Commissioners at the regulator take part in public hearings and vote on policies and applications.