TORONTO — Two Ontario public service employees have launched a lawsuit against the provincial government and the unions that represent them, alleging they’ve been subjected to systemic racism for years.
Jean-Marie Dixon and Hentrose Nelson claim they experienced prolonged anti-black racism that led to harassment and mistreatment over their careers in the Ontario Public Service.
They allege such mistreatment took the form of aggression from colleagues, co-ordinated attempts at intimidation, being mistaken for janitorial staff and demotion from long-held positions.
The women also allege the unions they belong to failed to respond to their complaints and helped uphold a culture of systemic racism.
The $26-million lawsuit, which contains unproven allegations, calls for a number of actions, including a “truth and conciliation” commission for racialized employees of the Ontario Public Service and anti-racism training for all staff.
The government and one of the unions named in the suit didn’t respond to request for comment, while another union — The Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario — said it couldn’t comment on individual cases but it had long advocated for an end to systemic discrimination within the public service.
Dixon, a Crown lawyer currently on leave from her role with the Ministry of the Attorney General, said the ideals that shaped her career expectations have been entirely at odds with her experience of working for the Ontario government.
“I went in with the idea that I would be able to work for an employer that valued humans, that valued dignity, that encouraged people to seek justice,” she said at a news conference in Toronto on Thursday. “My dreams were crushed. I immediately began to experience anti-black racism in the workplace.”
The allegations laid out Dixon and Nelson’s statement of claim involve many aspects of the women’s work lives.
Both allege mistreatment at the hands of individual co-workers, harassment from peers and superiors, and a lack of support from the labour groups ostensibly there to help them fight back against workplace discrimination.
Dixon, who has worked for the OPS since 2002, alleged there were times when co-workers unplugged her work equipment and forced her to leave rooms where she was trying to conduct government business, making it clear that she was not welcome.
She also alleged fellow employees made remarks about the superiority of blonde-haired, blue-eyed children, as well as assertions that “addressing racism in the office would not and should not come at the discomfort of white staff.”
Dixon also alleged a co-ordinated effort to alienate her, claiming colleagues who showed her support were threatened with professional reprisals.
Nelson, who joined the OPS in 2004 and has worked various administrative roles most recently at the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, alleged a supervisor engaged in an escalating campaign of harassment. This allegedly included assigning Nelson “menial” and “degrading tasks,” such as cleaning out drawers and unravelling phone cords, which were not requested of white colleagues.
Nelson alleged the stress caused by the work environment led to illness that ultimately resulted in the premature birth of her baby.
Prior to this, Nelson alleged a supervisor verbally expressed a fear of black women, adding she felt she was repeatedly placed in the position of having to prove her intelligence and competence.
The statement of claim alleges that “anti-Black racism, and racism in general, along with white privilege and white supremacy, are pervasive and entrenched within the OPS.”
Both Dixon and Nelson further allege that the unions representing them — the Association of Law Officers of the Crown and the Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees — were complicit in upholding a discriminatory system.
“The culture of systemic and institutional anti-Black racism in the OPS influenced AMAPCEO and ALOC so that they have been and are ineffective in protecting the well-being, safety, interests, and concerns of the plaintiffs,” the suit alleged.
AMAPCEO said it takes its responsibility of representing members seriously.
“AMAPCEO has long advocated for the OPS Employer to end systemic discrimination within the OPS and promote equity in our members’ workplaces,” president Dave Bulmer said in a statement.
Both women are on leaves of absence and alleged they felt forced from their workplaces because of efforts to speak out.
The government’s own anti-racism policy acknowledges issues within the ranks. According to a 2017 report, racialized groups make up 23 per cent of the OPS workforce but between 17 and nine per cent of senior managers, with the number shrinking as rank increases.
“We need to recognize that there are systemic racism barriers that prevent people from reaching their full potential,” the anti-racism policy reads. “We need to recognize that histories of colonialism and slavery have resulted in institutionalized inequity for Indigenous, Black and racialized people.”
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
Trans Mountain puts contractors on notice to get ready for pipeline restart
OTTAWA — Construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is set to restart in the next month, just in time for the official kick-off of the federal election.
Trans Mountain Corp., the federal crown agency that owns and operates the pipeline, said Wednesday that work on the terminals in Burnaby, B.C. is set to restart immediately, while work laying pipe on the route in parts of Alberta are on track to start within the next month. Construction contractors were told they have 30 days to hire workers, prepare detailed construction plans and mobilize equipment.
“This is a major milestone,” said Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi.
Getting construction underway likely leaves many Liberals breathing a sigh of relief, including Sohi, whose riding is just a few kilometres from the Edmonton terminal where the pipeline begins. His already shaky re-election prospects would be even tougher if the pipeline remained stalled.
The federal campaign has to begin no later than Sept. 15 for an Oct. 21 vote, but Sohi said getting shovels in the ground on Trans Mountain has nothing to do with politics.
“I know people want to link this to elections,” he said. “I have never linked it to elections. I always tell that we owe it to Albertans, we owe it to Canadians, energy sector workers and communities who rely on middle class jobs that we get the process right.”
Sohi won in 2015 by less than 100 votes, one of only four Liberals elected in Alberta in the last election. All four seats are considered in play in this election, and anger in Alberta about the struggling oil industry is one of the reasons why.
Sohi visited with pipeline workers on site in Sherwood Park, Alta., on Wednesday. He told them that 4,200 people should be working on the project before the end of the year and the new completion date is in 2022. When the pipeline was initially approved in 2016, construction was supposed to be done by the end of this year.
Sohi also said the construction is going ahead “despite the fearmongering of some Conservative politicians to tell Canadians minutes after we approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that the construction will never happen.”
Edmonton Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux was not impressed with the news.
“Canadians have heard time and time again that Justin Trudeau wants to get pipelines built, yet in four years he has done the exact opposite,” Jeneroux said in an emailed statement.
The Conservatives say the Liberals have killed other pipelines and now have a new environmental assessment process coming in that will ensure no more pipelines are ever approved going forward.
“These decisions are all part of Justin Trudeau’s plan to phase out Canada’s oil and gas sector,” Jeneroux said.
The federal Liberals approved the Trans Mountain expansion in 2016, but the pressure to bring the project to fruition heightened in May 2018 when the government decided to buy the pipeline for $4.5 billion when Kinder Morgan Canada backed away under the uncertainty of numerous legal challenges and political fighting. The Liberals said the government would buy the pipeline, build the expansion and sell it back to a private investor.
The court decision three months later to rip up approval threw all those plans in jeopardy.
After another round of Indigenous consultations and a new review of the project’s impact on marine life off the coast of Vancouver, cabinet green-lighted the expansion for a second time in June.
Six British Columbia First Nations and at least two environment groups have filed new court challenges against the approval.
The Canadian Press
Huawei executive’s defence team alleges Canadians were ‘agents’ of the FBI
VANCOUVER — A defence team for a Chinese telecom executive is alleging Canadian officials acted as “agents” of American law enforcement while she was detained at Vancouver’s airport for three hours ahead of her arrest.
In court documents released this week, defence lawyers for Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou point to handwritten notes by Canadian officers indicating Meng’s electronics were collected in anticipation of a request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States.
The notes show the RCMP asked the FBI if the U.S. was interested in Meng’s luggage and that a Canada Border Services Agency officer wrote down Meng’s passcodes, while another questioned her about Huawei’s alleged business in Iran.
This happened before she was informed of her arrest, the defence says.
“The RCMP and/or CBSA were acting as agents of the FBI for the purpose of obtaining and preserving evidence,” alleges a memorandum of fact and law filed by the defence.
“The question that remains is to what extent and how the FBI were involved in this scheme.”
The materials collected by the defence were released ahead of an eight-day hearing scheduled for September, in which the defence is expected to argue for access to more documentation ahead of Meng’s extradition trial.
The Attorney General of Canada has yet to file a response and none of the allegations have been tested in court.
Meng’s arrest at Vancouver airport has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Canada and China and drawn international scrutiny of Canadian extradition laws.
She was arrested at the behest of the U.S., which is seeking her extradition on fraud charges in violation of sanctions with Iran.
Both Meng and Huawei have denied any wrongdoing. Meng is free on bail and is living in one of her multimillion-dollar homes in Vancouver.
The RCMP and CBSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the documents but have said in a response to a civil claim that border officials only examined Meng and her luggage for immigration and customs purposes.
Meng extradition trial won’t begin until Jan. 20, but the court documents shed light on her defence team’s planned arguments that her arrest was unlawful and for the benefit of the United States.
“These are allegations of a purposeful violation of a court order and the abuse of important Canadian legal norms for improper purposes, namely, to further the objectives of the requesting state,” the defence says.
They plan to argue that the U.S. committed an abuse of process by using the extradition proceedings for political and economic gain. Parts of the defence are comments by U.S. President Donald Trump that he would intervene in Meng’s case “if necessary.”
The seizure of electronics and questioning of Meng by border officials in Canada also follows a pattern of how Huawei employees have been treated at U.S. ports of entry.
“This targeting has included the apparent abuse of customs and immigration powers to search and question Huawei employees at various U.S. ports of entry,” the documents say.
The defence accuses officers of intentionally poor note keeping that obscures what exactly happened, including why the arrest plan apparently changed.
The documents suggest that Canadian officials initially planned to arrest Meng “immediately” after she landed, by boarding the plane before she got off. Instead, three CBSA officers immediately detained Meng when she disembarked the plane while two RCMP officers stood nearby and watched, despite their knowledge of the warrant calling for her “immediate” arrest, the defence says.
The defence argues spotty notes kept by the CBSA officers constitute a “strategic omission.”
“When assessed together, a clear pattern emerges from these materials: the CBSA and the RCMP have strategically drafted these documents to subvert the applicant’s ability to learn the truth regarding her detention,” the defence says.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press
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