“Harassment” is now actionable in Alberta

The Alberta Courts have recently recognized “harassment” as a cause of action. This means that individuals in the province who are subjected to harassment may commence a court action for a civil remedy.

Alberta Health Services v Johnston, 2023 ABKB 209 (“Johnston”) involved a mayoral candidate for Calgary’s 2021 mayoral race who disseminated misinformation, conspiracy theories and hatred toward Alberta Health Services (“AHS”) and an AHS employee for enforcing public health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. He described the AHS employee as a “terrorist” and “fascist,” mocked her and her family, and engaged in conduct that could be interpreted as inciting his followers to violence against the employee and her family.

The Court found that existing grounds for commencing an action did not address the harm caused by harassment and determined that it was necessary to recognize “harassment” as a new cause of action to fill a gap in the law.

To establish “harassment,” the defendant must have engaged in repeated communications, threats, insults, stalking or other harassing behaviour in person or through other means that:

  1. the defendant knew or ought to have known was unwelcome;
  2. impugned the dignity of the plaintiff;
  3. would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of their loved ones, or could foreseeably cause emotional distress; and
  4. caused harm.

The Court awarded the employee $100,000 for the harassment she suffered without requiring the employee to adduce any evidence of illness. The Court was satisfied that the defendant’s conduct caused the employee to fear for her safety and her children’s safety, resulted in emotional distress and had a significant impact on the quality of life of the employee and her family.

The recognition of this new tort in Alberta is a reminder to employers that they must take extra caution to ensure that their employees are afforded a safe work environment, that is free from harassment. The cause of action of “harassment” may expose employers to liability for harassment perpetrated by employees in the workplace.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.