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BC Supreme Court Overturns Human Rights Tribunal in Learning Disability Case
April 28, 2008

The British Columbia Supreme Court has overturned a decision of the BC Human Rights Tribunal, which ruled that the Ministry of Education and the North Vancouver School District had discriminated against a student with a severe learning disability.

In the human rights decision, the Tribunal ruled that the Board had discriminated against the student in question by failing to provide him with intensive education supports including specific programs, training and services, which the Tribunal said could have led to better learning outcomes for the student. According to the Tribunal, the failure by the Board to provide such specialized programs and services constituted discrimination in the provision of services customarily available to the public. The Ministry’s failure to properly fund the District so that these services could be provided was also considered by the Tribunal to be discriminatory.

The Ministry and Board appealed the Tribunal decision to the BC Supreme Court, which has recently held that the Tribunal erred in finding that the failure to provide specific services and programs to the student was discriminatory. In reaching this conclusion, the Court ruled that the appropriate comparator group for the purpose of considering the discrimination claim was other special needs students and not, as the Tribunal had said, all students.

The Court also found that, at the time of the alleged discrimination, many of the programs the Tribunal said should have been provided to the student were in fact new programs and therapies that had not yet been evaluated, accepted, or routinely offered to students, by the education community. As access to such programs and therapies were not a service customarily offered by the Board or the Ministry to students with any other type of disability, the Court concluded that the failure in this case to provide this student with the specific programs and training identified by the Tribunal was not discriminatory. With regard to the claim against the Ministry, the Court ruled that the Tribunal erred in concluding the Ministry had discriminated against students with severe learning disabilities by capping the funding available to a school district in relation to special needs students.

The BC Supreme Court decision has been appealed to the BC Court of Appeal.

British Columbia (Ministry of Education) v. Moore, 2008 BCSC 264