Inclusion Media release Racism

Media release: Equity Watch calls for independent forensic human resources audit of Halifax Regional Municipality in light of record human rights award in harassment case

In light of a record award by a Human Rights tribunal to a Halifax Transit worker, Equity Watch, a Nova Scotia human rights advocacy group, is renewing its call for an independent forensic human resources audit of Halifax Regional Municipality.

On Wednesday, May 15, adjudicator Lynn Connors released a monetary award in the case of Mr. Y.Z., a former Halifax Transit mechanic who was harassed and discriminated against at work. At nearly $600,000, the award is the largest ever by a Nova Scotia human rights tribunal. YZ (and other workers) had suffered from a racist reign of terror at the transit garage in Burnside. Connors’ initial decision, finding HRM liable for the human rights abuses, was released in May 2018.

“What we have here is a catastrophic system failure of supervision and of human resource management,” says Equity Watch spokesperson Judy Haiven, a retired professor of management at the Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University. “We need to know not only what happened, but why it happened,” says Haiven, “Justice needs not only to be done but be seen to be done. And that requires an expert external to HRM. Even with all the good will in the world, the employer itself is not the one to clear the air and get to the bottom of the problem.”

Haiven compares the situation at Halifax Transit and other business units of HRM as akin to a bridge collapsing. “When a bridge collapses, whether or not it results in loss of life, and notwithstanding the expertise of the owner, independent forensic engineers are called in to find out why it happened and how to prevent similar events in the future. The public has a right to get the answers to these questions from a totally independent source.” For example, the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy collapsed last August, killing 43 people and leaving 600 people homeless. Part of the investigation was conducted by a specialist Swiss laboratory. The entity operating the bridge was not allowed to merely apologize and say, (as has HRM CEO Jacques Dubé in the Y.Z. case) “We remain unwavering in our commitment to continually do better.”

Equity Watch also sees other lessons emerging from the YZ case:

·       Ultimately, the citizens of Halifax, are on the hook for not only the $600,000 award but also for the heavy costs of an avoidable management failure, not only in Transit, but other units of HRM.

·       Although we applaud the size of the award as a modicum of justice for the years of suffering by Mr. Y.Z.,a white man, we note that neither the late Randy Symonds, an African Nova Scotian co-worker of YZ’s, who also suffered the discrimination at Transit and complained to the Human Rights Commission, (nor Mr. Symonds’ surviving family) received anywhere near that compensation in a settlement brokered by the Commission in 2006.

·       We note the irony: Mr. Y.Z., a white man, was harassed because his wife was black. Is racism in Nova Scotia so virulent that the merely associating with blacks is abhorrent to some whites? In answer, we note the 2010 burning of a cross in the yard of an interracial couple near Windsor, NS. The perpetrators were deservedly convicted of a hate crime under Section 319(1) of the Criminal Code. Equity Watch has also received a number of complaints of discrimination against whites associating with blacks. So the answer to our own question is: YES. Racism affects everyone. Racism hurts everyone. But it hurts black people most.

·       In the human rights board of inquiry hearing, the lawyer for HRM made the outrageous argument that the racist comments endured by Symonds, YZ and others were protected under the free speech provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Board of Inquiry Chair strongly rejected this argument. We note that HRM has never publicly disavowed their lawyer’s insulting contention.

·       Equity Watch strongly supports trade unions. We have spoken out about the difficult position they face in matters like this. But we seriously ask about the role of the union purportedly representing Mr. Y.Z., Randy Symonds and the other workers in Metro Transit. Isn’t a union supposed to protect its members against harassment, bullying and discrimination, even if those offences are committed by their fellow union members? While the employer bears primary responsibility for the misbehaviour, the union bears some as well. And while HRM has publicly apologized and attempted to make some amends, we have absolute silence from the Amalgamated Transit Union. It is way past time that they came forward to clarify their position. Shame on them.

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Equity Watch