Student with marijuana licence barred from machinery

Campus News

UVic student Bruce Dean’s Bachelor of Fine Arts has been put on hold, as he participates in a human rights case against Facility and Production Manager of Fine Arts Daniel Wilkin and UVic. According to Dean, UVic and Wilkin discriminated against him, preventing him from completing a required course due to his possession of a federal marijuana licence, which he is prescribed to cope with the pain of osteoarthritis in his knees.

In September of 2010, Dean enrolled in Art 104: Foundation Sculpture and Material Methods, a course which requires students to complete woodwork and metalwork projects using heavy machinery. The course was divided between Wilkin, who ran the shop portion, and Megan Dickie, who taught lectures. Dean says that Wilkin’s suspicion of him due to his marijuana licence and the resulting inquiries by UVic were discriminatory, and that wasn’t the only difficulty he encountered with Wilkin. Dean says Wilkin “berated” him in front of other students on two separate occasions: once because his long hair was not tied up according to safety practices and another time because he was late. “I took him aside and tried to call him on it, and say, ‘That’s not the way to handle things if you have an issue; don’t do it in front of the whole class and try to belittle me.’ But he would have nothing with it,” says Dean.

The second week of the course, Dean says he was told by Dickie that he wasn’t allowed in class because of his marijuana licence. “Because of my medical marijuana licence, they wanted me to get a letter from my doctor stating that I was okay to take this substance and work in the shop area,” says Dean. Dean was then taken to the acting Fine Arts Department chair and says he was told he was allowed to go back into the shop, but had to stay away from the equipment and other students. Dean says, “I opted not to go into the class at that moment, because I was too upset . . . I was just in tears all the way home, because it’s just— you just get tired of being called out for your medication, when it’s the healthiest choice for you. There are so many scenarios where people just don’t understand.”

Kim Hart, UVic’s associate vice-president of Faculty Relations and Academic Administration, says, “We don’t currently have in place a specific policy on medical marijuana, but, like any other drug, prescription medication or that sort of thing to which a person has a legal entitlement to use, and is prescribed and has the connection to a disability — then obviously we would recognize that.”

Dean says he has had little to no consultation from UVic. “Nobody ever thought to talk to me about it. And ask me about it. Ask me if I was ever smoking before class at all. Or anything. There was just no discussion; I was a non-entity. I didn’t matter, other than I was somehow an affront to the safety and the well-being of my fellow students and instructors.” UVic is required by legislation to work with students with disabilities. “They’re supposed to make accommodations for anyone who’s disabled,” says Dean, “and that doesn’t mean talk about them behind their backs and then come up with a decision and then boot them out of a class.”

Hart says that UVic does work with students with disabilities through the Resource Centre for Students with a Disability. “There’s all kinds of students on campus who have challenges of various kinds, disabilities of various kinds, limitations and so on.  And so the resource centre for students with disabilities does work very closely with those students, and the university is recognizing it not only has a legal duty to do so, but that’s completely appropriate and keeping with the principles that the university operates under.”

According to documents from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal explaining the court’s ruling, UVic says it did make arrangements on separate occasions to adjust course requirements to allow Dean to complete the course (which due to a surgery is now deferred) while still yielding to UVic’s safety concerns: restricting Dean from operating the heavy machinery required. Hart confirms accommodations were made. “Mr. Dean was offered reasonable accommodation,” she says, “with respect to the coursework that he missed. We adjusted the course content and the timeline for him to complete the courses.” Hart also says that the courses were deferred, giving Dean additional time and extending it as it was needed.

Dean’s case went to The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, which dismissed it, according to court documents, because “the materials don’t establish a link between his marijuana use and his disability,” and furthermore because UVic did make reasonable attempts to accommodate Dean. Dean says the missing link was his marijuana licence, which he didn’t know he needed to submit as it was not disputed by UVic (its existence was the reason he was removed from class). Dean is appealing the decision to the B.C. Supreme Court. “I hope I can have the decision overturned, and then have them do another investigation, so that I can then be cleared. Because I didn’t do anything wrong. So I shouldn’t have been pulled from the class,” he says.

Hart would like to see the B.C. Supreme Court uphold the decision by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. Hart feels the university would be able to justify its actions against Dean. “In any case, he didn’t co-operate in our search for accommodation, and we did ultimately accommodate him,” says Hart.  Hart points out that accommodations have been accepted by Dean. “So, from my understanding,” says Hart, “He’s not taking issue with the accommodation per se. He’s taking issue with the tribunal having dismissed his complaint.”

Ultimately, says Dean, “the help that was supposed to be there to help me wasn’t there. It was just really atrocious and all based upon a guy who knew I had my medical marijuana licence. That’s it. It wasn’t like ‘oh this guy’s baked all the time.’ I’m not like that. I’m a responsible dad. I’m a volunteer in the community.”