The complaint against the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association will be heard by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
The tribunal announced Feb. 28 that it would hear the case.
Laura Ballance—president of LBMG (Laura Ballance Media Group), and a former Rodeo Association communications contractor—announced the news on social media March 3.
In the announcement, Ballance said she was taking on the role of “representative complainant” in the case. She also appealed for victims who may have been impacted by alleged abuses at the Cloverdale Rodeo to visit a law firm’s website for more information.
“Although I can’t comment on the specifics of the Human Rights Tribunal case at this time, I will say it was an incredibly difficult decision to take on the role of representative complainant in this case, but I believe it was absolutely the right thing to do,” Ballance said in a statement to the Cloverdale Reporter.
Ballance said she looks “forward to proceeding to the hearing so that the many witnesses can have an opportunity to testify and the full magnitude” of the alleged abuses are brought forward and the “brave women who have come forward can have their day in court,” the statement said.
Lawyer Rachel Roy, from the law firm Allevato, Quail, & Roy (AQR), filed the complaint with the tribunal in July 2021 on “on behalf of workers and volunteers who have experienced discrimination contrary to section 13 of the Human Rights Code committed by the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association.”
In the complaint, allegations of eight years of systemic racism, sexism and physical abuse were levelled at Mike MacSorley, former general manager of the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association, although the complaint does not name MacSorley as a respondent—only the Cloverdale Rodeo Association.
The complaint alleges the Rodeo Association contravened the Human Rights Code “by upholding a hostile and poisoned work environment and by failing to respond to race- and sex-based harassment.”
On AQR’s website appeal page, it notes the City of Surrey is now named as a respondent in the complaint, although in the original complaint, filed in 2021, the City of Surrey is not named.
“A human rights complaint has been launched on behalf of workers and volunteers of the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association against the Association and the City of Surrey,” the AQR website says.
It also notes, anyone who was a contractor, employee, or volunteer of the Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition Association could be included in the complaint if they “experienced, witnessed, complained of, or were impacted by hostile or demeaning conduct by management and/or members of the Board of the Association between 2012 and July 12, 2021.”
Gerry Spielmacher, Rodeo Association president, did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.
In a press release issued after the complaint was filed in 2021, the Rodeo Association said it takes the allegations against them very seriously and they were “vigorously working” to gather all the information they can.
“The (Association) will respond fully within the process determined by the Human Rights Tribunal.”
The release then explained three steps the board had taken—prior to the filing of the Human Rights complaint—after an internal human resources investigation was undertaken in February of 2021 to address concerns at the time.
The release noted, “The general manager responsible was removed in February; a draft for Respectful Workplace Policy has been developed; a process for anonymous reporting of workplace concerns to an independent professional is included in that policy.”
The AQR website also details how the complaint process will unfold.
AQR says this is a “class complaint” and that means one person, a “representative complainant,” makes a complaint “on behalf of a class of people who share characteristics.”
In this case, Laura Ballance is the representative complainant. Ballance worked as a communications contractor for the Rodeo Association for many years.
According to the website, the tribunal first accepted the complaint on Jan. 19. They then issued a “Notice of Complaint Proceeding” on the last day of February.
“The parties have until April 4, 2022 to agree to try to resolve the complaint via mediation (which would take place on October 4, 2022 with a mediator provided by the Tribunal).”
If no agreement on mediation is made, then both the city and the Rodeo Association must file their response to the complaint by April 4.
“At this point, the respondents can apply for the complaint to be dismissed without a hearing,” the website says. “If they choose not to, or if their application is denied, the Tribunal schedules a hearing at least six months later.”
After a hearing, it could take up to another six months for the tribunal to make a decision.