A NWT judge has ruled the city does not have to reimburse all Yellowknife Accessible Transit System (YATS) users after taking three months to lower a fare structure that was deemed to be discriminatory.

Elizabeth Portman, a YATS user with multiple sclerosis, challenged the city’s practice of charging YATS users more than users of its regular transit service. In September 2016, Adrian Wright, an adjudicator with the NWT Human Rights Adjudication Panel ruled the practice was discriminatory. The city was directed to pay Portman $8,518.50, and ordered to stop charging higher fares for YATS users.

But the city continued to charge more.

This prompted Portman to bring the matter back to court, where she sought to have the September 2016 order enforced by the adjudicator.

The city lowered fares for YATS users Jan. 2, 2017 — three months after the adjudicator’s initial order and three days before a hearing in civil court was held.

On Jan. 10, 2017, the adjudicator made a second order, this time directing the city to pay each authorized YATS user the difference between the total of all fares paid by YATS users between Sept. 22, 2016 (when the order was made) and Jan. 2, 2017 (when the city complied with it), and the fares a user of the regular transit service would pay for the same number of trips.

Authorized users of the YATS service were not named as parties in the initial complaint, but the adjudicator determined he had the jurisdiction to order compensation for them under the Human Rights Act, a conclusion that largely relied on his legislative interpretation of the term “party.”

The adjudicator’s order, which stood to be a costly one, was appealed by the city. The city’s ordered payout was stayed pending the outcome of the appeal.

In a recent decision, Justice Karan Shaner sided with the city.

Shaner ruled the adjudicator’s January 2017 decision to award compensation to all authorized YATS users, based on his interpretation of the term “party,” was “unreasonable and cannot be sustained.”

Portman wasn’t involved in the appeal proceedings.

The adjudicator’s understanding of the term “party,” a broad interpretation of the word that includes parties not named in the complaint, was “entirely unsupported,” wrote Shaner in the Oct. 22 decision, adding that “taken to its logical conclusion and/or applied in other factual circumstances, it would produce unfair and absurd results.”

Wright overstepped his jurisdiction by including other authorized YATS users aside from Portman in his decision, Shaner ruled.

Applying the adjudicator’s interpretation of the “party” would set a problematic precedent in other cases, stated Shaner.

Brendan Burke

As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility...

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