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Diabetic CIDA employee who sought Afghan posting loses discrimination case

A Canadian International Development Agency employee who battled for a foreign-aid posting in Afghanistan that she lost because she has type one diabetes has lost her legal case against the government.

In making her case that she should be allowed to work in Afghanistan, Bronwyn Cruden, a CIDA office project manager, had secured the support of two medical specialists who said her diabetes would not inhibit her from doing her job.

The Ottawa Citizen outlined Cruden's case in 2009. At the time, she had filed a discrimination case with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against CIDA and Health Canada and had gone so far as to email then CIDA minister Bev Oda to ask for her to intercede.

"I can't understand why I can't find anyone to help me," Cruden told The Citizen.

The newspaper reported CIDA's decision not to allow Cruden to work in Afghanistan was based on a recommendation from a Health Canada doctor, who assessed Cruden's health in spring 2008 and concluded her diabetes would put her at "risk for destabilization requiring extensive and/or sophisticated medical evaluation/treatment not available at this post."

The doctor's report came after Cruden returned from a brief assignment in Kandahar where, on Feb. 11, 2008, she suffered a severe case of hypoglycemia while sleeping and went into convulsions. 

She was woken up, examined, and given an injection of glucagon, and later went to work at the usual time.

"It was recommended by the doctors there that she be repatriated to Canada," a recent federal court ruling says. "Although Ms. Cruden informed CIDA that she disagreed with the assessment and wished to complete her assignment, CIDA ended her temporary duty assignment and returned her to Canada."

In September 2011, the human rights tribunal ruled in Cruden's favour, convinced that she was discriminated against based on her medical condition.

Even while ruling in her favour, the tribunal "concluded that accommodating Ms. Cruden in a posting in Afghanistan would have caused CIDA 'undue hardship' ... The evidence indicates significant health and safety risks for the complainant in working in Afghanistan, as well as safety risks for those fighting the war in Afghanistan should they have to assist the complainant."

Moreover, the tribunal noted, “There are no Canadian medical facilities at the Canadian embassy in Kabul.  Moreover, there is no ambulance or 911 services.  In any emergency situation, a patient would require transportation by armoured car.  The journey may also be delayed due to conflict.  Afghan hospitals are considered too dangerous for western nationals."

But a recent federal court judgment overturns that decision -- and has ordered Cruden to pay the government's legal costs on the case.

"The (human rights) Tribunal found that CIDA had established at the hearing that Ms. Cruden could not be accommodated without undue hardship," federal court judge Russel W. Zinn said in his May 21, 2013, ruling, noting that Cruden did not challenge that finding. "In light of that finding, there was no discriminatory practice and thus there can be no violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act, as was alleged in the complaint."

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead




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