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Ontario public service employees sue province, unions over alleged racism

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  • 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


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    Wilson-Raybould to reveal more details, documents on SNC-Lavalin affair

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  • OTTAWA — Jody Wilson-Raybould plans to reveal more — in writing — about her accusation that she faced improper pressure to prevent the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

    The former attorney general has written to the House of Commons justice committee to advise that she intends to make a written submission.

    She says the submission will disclose “relevant facts and evidence” in her possession that will further clarify her previous oral testimony at the committee and “elucidate the accuracy” of statements made by other witnesses who followed her.

    “I trust that the committee will receive this information as part of, and in follow-up to, my testimony on Feb. 27, 2019,” Wilson-Raybould writes. 

    “Further, I do hope my response to the committee’s specific request and the additional information will assist the committee in completing its study on this important matter and in preparing its final report.”

    The Liberal-dominated committee shut down its investigation into the affair on Tuesday, with Liberal members concluding no rules or laws were broken.

    Opposition parties have been demanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau grant a blanket waiver of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality to allow Wilson-Raybould to more fully tell her story.

    Wilson-Raybould says the additional information she will provide in her written submission will stay within the confines of the waiver she has already been granted, covering the period last fall when she claims to have been pressured up to Jan. 14 when she was shuffled out of her dual role as justice minister and attorney general.

    Her letter comes the day after former cabinet minister Jane Philpott fanned the flames of the SNC-Lavalin fire in an interview to Maclean’s magazine, saying there is “much more to the story” — a report that landed in the midst of a Conservative-orchestrated filibuster over the controversy.

    The filibuster, which continued until almost 1 a.m. Friday, was intended to protest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refusal to offer a blanket waiver of privilege and confidentiality that Wilson-Raybould has claimed is necessary if she is to fully tell her side of the story.

    Philpott, who resigned early this month as Treasury Board president, told Maclean’s that she raised concerns with Trudeau, during a Jan. 6 discussion about an imminent cabinet shuffle, that Wilson-Raybould was being moved out of Justice because of her refusal to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case.

    “I think Canadians might want to know why I would have raised that with the prime minister a month before the public knew about it. Why would I have felt that there was a reason why Minister Wilson-Raybould should not be shuffled?” she said. “My sense is that Canadians would like to know the whole story.”

    But Philpott actually appears to already be free to talk about that Jan. 6 conversation with Trudeau: The government has waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality for last fall, when Wilson-Raybould alleges she was improperly pressured, until Jan. 14, when she was moved to the Veterans Affairs portfolio. The waiver applies not just to Wilson-Raybould but to “any persons who directly participated in discussions with her” relating to the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for alleged corrupt practices in Libya.

    That waiver allowed Wilson-Raybould to testify for nearly four hours before the House of Commons justice committee.

    On Thursday, Trudeau rejected the opposition parties’ contention, echoed by Philpott, that a broader waiver is required to cover the period between Jan. 14 and Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet a month later.

    “It was extremely important that the former attorney general be allowed to share completely her perspectives, her experiences on this issue, and that is what she was able to do,” he said after an announcement in Mississauga, pumping up the latest budget’s promise to invest $2.2 billion more in municipal infrastructure projects.

    “The issue at question is the issue of pressure around the Lavalin issue while she was attorney general and she got to speak fully to that.”

    Trudeau also gave his version of the Jan. 6 conversation with Philpott, during which he informed her she would be moving to Treasury Board and that Wilson-Raybould would be taking her place at Indigenous Services. His version echoed the testimony of his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, to the justice committee.

    “She asked me directly if this was in link to the SNC-Lavalin decision and I told her no, it was not,” Trudeau said. “She then mentioned it might be a challenge for Jody Wilson-Raybould to take on the role of Indigenous Services and I asked her for her help, which she gladly offered to give, in explaining to Jody Wilson-Raybould how exciting this job was and what a great thing it would be for her to have that role.”

    Wilson-Raybould ultimately turned down the move to Indigenous Services and Trudeau moved her instead to Veterans Affairs. She resigned a month later.

    The Canadian Press




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    Hungry wolves may get new home at Isle Royale National Park

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  • TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — A U.S.-Canadian team is preparing for another mission to relocate grey wolves to Isle Royale National Park in Michigan from a second Lake Superior island, where the predators are in danger of starvation after gobbling up a caribou herd.

    The targeted pack is on Michipicoten Island on the eastern side of the lake, which was home to hundreds of caribou until ice bridges formed in recent years, enabling wolves to cross over from the mainland and feast on their helpless prey.

    The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources airlifted some of the last surviving caribou to another island last year. Before long the wolves were the ones in trouble, with only small mammals such as snowshoe hare left to eat.

    Their hunting prowess makes them prime candidates for Isle Royale, where a multi-year effort is under way to rebuild a wolf population needed to keep moose numbers under control, Superintendent Phyllis Green said.

    “We can use the good skills of those wolves, and this will match them with a larger island that will give them a better opportunity,” Green said.

    Isle Royale now has eight wolves, including six that were brought there last fall and winter from Minnesota and Ontario. Two of the newcomers were from Michipicoten Island, including the pack’s alpha male.

    Around six are believed to remain on Michipicoten. A crew of pilots, biologists and others will try to capture at least some and fly them to Isle Royale in the next few days, weather permitting.

    Officials had said earlier this month that no additional transfers were planned until this fall or next winter, partly because of a lack of money.

    But two private organizations — the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation and the International Wolf Center — kicked off a fundraising effort, fearing the Michipicoten wolves would run out of food before then.

    “They’re not going to make it,” said Carol Brady, spokeswoman for the foundation.

    The groups have pledged $75,000 between them and have started a GoFundMe campaign to produce the remaining $25,000 needed for a four-day airlift operation. The Ontario ministry granted approval Monday, Brady said.

    As they’ve done before, crew members will trap the wolves with net guns fired from helicopters. They’ll be examined by veterinarians, and those healthy enough for movement will be taken to their new home, where there will be no shortage of prey. Isle Royale’s booming moose population is believed to exceed 1,500.

    “If left unchecked, moose would over-consume the island’s vegetation,” said Rob Schultz, executive director of the wolf centre. “Apex predators like wolves are important components of any healthy, natural ecosystems.”

    John Flesher, The Associated Press


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    march, 2019

    fri8mar - 30aprmar 85:30 pmapr 30Real Estate Dinner Theatre5:30 pm - (april 30) 10:00 pm

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