KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Former firefighter Liane Tessier believes that Halifax employees who suffered racism, misogyny and bullying at work deserve a public inquiry, not just some quarterly updates to Council and a review by an external consultant.
The city has been under pressure to act since a Nova Scotia Human Rights tribunal found examples of widespread and horrible racism at Halifax Transit. In early 2016 another report referred to similarly widespread racism, misogyny and ableism at the division that employs the City’s outside workers.
Meanwhile Tessier herself was bullied and harassed by city managers and fellow male workers, and had to fight both the city and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to finally be vindicated last year and for the city to (sort of) apologize. It took her well over a decade to reach that point.
She has since co-founded Equity Watch, an organization by and for victims of workplace bullying. More members of Equity Watch are HRM employees than work anywhere else, Tessier says.
“The city isn’t just reluctant to change, they actively resist change. I had to fight them for 12 years to prove that gender discrimination was happening. The city simply can’t be trusted,” Tessier tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.
To illustrate her point Tessier describes how during a restorative meeting organized by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, Halifax fire officials and Human Resources types she named and talked in detail about her abusers.
“They all just sat there and stared at the ground in front of them,” Tessier says,”They didn’t even take notes.” Not one of Tessier’s abusers was ever penalized for their actions. In fact, many of her abusers were promoted.
A press release issued by Tessier on behalf of Equity Watch points out the difference between a public enquiry and the process that Halifax Council apparently has settled on.
A public inquiry would seek input from public interest groups (especially those from affected by the discrimination e.g. women, African Nova Scotians and the disabled) as well as former aggrieved employees of HRM, and give them tools to monitor HRM’s progress. Given that the problems are plentiful and systemic a public enquiry is the only way to get to the bottom of things, the press release states.
Tessier is not opposed to the quarterly updates, she just thinks it isn’t enough. “Why not do both,” she asks.
As part of her settlement with HRM, Tessier also asked for an independent inquiry, with a more narrow focus on gender discrimination at Halifax Fire. That request too was rejected by the City as being too expensive.
“But look at all the money the city spends on lawyers to fight people like me, not to mention the small fortunes it pays on settlements when the city is found to be in the wrong,” Tessier counters. “You just can’t investigate yourself, simple as that.”
The current trend among councillors and mayor is to claim that they weren’t aware of any problems within the City that they lead. Tessier doesn’t think this is a credible excuse. Indeed, her own case, as well the troubles at Halifax Transit and among the outside workers have all been widely reported, going back many years.
That claim of innocence and ignorance was also recently contradicted by several former councillors.
On June 14 former councillors Sue Uteck, Dawn Sloan, and Jackie Barkhouse told the Nova Scotia Advocate that the previous Council was well aware of occurrences of workplace racism and bullying. They too are calling for a public inquiry into the matter, and they too are adamant that anything led by staff will be inadequate.
“(A public inquiry the only way to get to the root and to have any success on a go forward basis,” said Barkhouse at that time. “An external consultant is absolutely not adequate. It needs to be done outside of HRM.”
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