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Minimizing trauma

Monday, October 23, 2023

Steph applied to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) seeking compensation from her landlord for harms caused while renting the landlord’s unit. Steph explained that she experienced physical and sexual assaults by another tenant, which caused her emotional, physical and psychological harm. Steph told us that during the RTB’s dispute resolution hearing, the landlord and a witness bullied her with abusive and offensive accusations that made her feel unsafe. She also said that the arbitrator adjourned the hearing multiple times, adding to her stress and reminding her of the trauma she experienced during the tenancy. Steph felt the arbitrator was not sensitive to the effects of trauma and did not take adequate steps to avoid re-traumatization during the dispute resolution process.

Distressed about her experience, Steph reached out to our office.

We investigated whether the RTB followed a fair process in conducting Steph’s dispute resolution hearing. We also investigated whether the arbitrator took reasonable steps to conduct the hearing in a way that recognizes the impacts of past trauma on hearing participants, similar to the experience that Steph had reported to the RTB.

The RTB’s Rules of Procedure for Dispute Resolution did not have a specific section on how to conduct hearings in a trauma-informed way, but did state that inappropriate behaviour was not to be tolerated and provided directions on how to respond to hostile, rude and inappropriate participants, including the option to exclude them from the hearing. While the arbitrator in Steph’s case did not appear to consider how to prevent additional trauma through the hearing process, they were mindful of the seriousness and sensitive nature of the hearing and allowed Steph’s therapist to attend and assist her in the proceedings.

Based on the evidence, it appeared the arbitrator in Steph’s case took into consideration the content of the hearing and its impact on Steph and took steps to minimize the potential impact on her. However, because the arbitrator did not specifically consider how to minimize trauma, we asked about the resources and training made available to arbitrators about trauma-informed practice. After reviewing the RTB’s training manual, we noted there was no information about trauma, nor were there any policies, guidance or structured training about trauma-informed practice.

After expressing our concerns to the RTB, it agreed to update its standard training for arbitrators to include the principles of trauma-informed practice to inform arbitrators about what steps they can take to minimize further harm and trauma for hearing participants.