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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 e…


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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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    Environment

    Growing wildfire prompts evacuation of High Level, Alta.

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    HIGH LEVEL, Alta. — A northern Alberta town and a nearby First Nation are being evacuated due to the threat of an encroaching wildfire.
    Thousands of people are being told to leave High Level, as well as the Bushe River Reserve, via Highway 58…


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  • HIGH LEVEL, Alta. — A northern Alberta town and a nearby First Nation are being evacuated due to the threat of an encroaching wildfire.

    Thousands of people are being told to leave High Level, as well as the Bushe River Reserve, via Highway 58 east of the communities since highways south and west have already been closed due to the blaze.

    The Chuckegg Creek fire has been burning for several days, but grew substantially from Sunday, when it covered about 25,000 hectares, to an estimated 69,000 hectares on Monday.

    At the time the evacuations were ordered, the flames were only about three kilometres from High Level.

    “The winds are pushing the smoke away from the Town of High Level. It looks very scary on the horizon, but in the Town of High Level the skies are blue and sunny and windy,” Mayor Crystal McAteer told a telephone news conference on Monday afternoon.

    Reception centres for evacuees have been set up in High Prairie and Slave Lake, and officials are arranging transportation for residents who can’t get out on their own.

    McAteer said the evacuation is being co-ordinated in zones. People should expect to be away for 72 hours.

    She said about 4,000 people from High Level were affected by the order, and another 750 from Bushe River.

    Earlier in the day, the town warned on its website that people should fill up their vehicles and collect important documents in case they were ordered to leave at short notice. Power has also been knocked out because of the fire, but was expected to be restored Monday evening.

    Mandetory evacuation orders for residents south and southeast of the town, and south of Bushe River, were issued early Monday.

    Provincial officials said the evacuation of High Level would take a maximum of eight hours, but since some people had already left, they said it could be completed sooner.

    Alberta Health Services said it had evacuated 20 patients from the Northwest Health Centre in High Level and relocated them to other communities.

    Scott Elliot, an incident commander with Alberta Wildfire, told the news conference that the wildfire was mostly headed away from High Level, but that city officials decided it was best for everyone to leave since the flames were so close.

    “If there was a subtle shift in the wind direction, that would increase the likelihood of rapid fire spread towards the community,” Elliot said.

    Crews are using sprinklers on structures on the edge of the town closest to the fire.

    McAteer said people were complying with the evacuation order.

    “People are of course afraid because they remember the wildfires of Fort McMurray, but we talked to a lot of the residents and reaffirmed that we were being proactive,” she said.

    A 2016 wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., destroyed one-tenth of the city and some 88,000 people were forced from their homes.

    Slave Lake, where a reception centre has been set up for residents of High Level, was also evacuated because of a wildfire in 2011 that destroyed parts of the community.

    The Alberta government issued a fire ban and restricted off-highway vehicle use for numerous parts of the province late last week due to forecasts that called for little precipitation and strong winds.

    Highway 16, a major thoroughfare between Edmonton and Prince George B.C., was forced to close in both direction Sunday when a wildfire crossed the roadway west of Edson, Alta., but was reopened early Monday.

    —By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

    The Canadian Press


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    Health

    Focus on traumatized boys critical to gender equality, new research shows

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    TORONTO — Boys in poor urban areas around the world are suffering even more than girls from violence, abuse and neglect, groundbreaking international research published on Monday suggests.
    The study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, along with …


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  • TORONTO — Boys in poor urban areas around the world are suffering even more than girls from violence, abuse and neglect, groundbreaking international research published on Monday suggests.

    The study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, along with similar new research, suggests an adequate focus on helping boys is critical to achieving gender equality in the longer term.

    “This is the first global study to investigate how a cluster of traumatic childhood experiences known as ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, work together to cause specific health issues in early adolescence, with terrible life-long consequences,” Dr. Robert Blum, the lead researcher for the global early adolescent study, said in a statement. “While we found young girls often suffer significantly, contrary to common belief, boys reported even greater exposure to violence and neglect, which makes them more likely to be violent in return.”

    The study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at childhood traumas suffered by 1,284 adolescents aged 10 to 14 in more than a dozen low-income urban settings around the world such as the United States, China, the U.K., Egypt and Bolivia.

    Overall, 46 per cent of young adolescents reported experiencing violence, 38 per cent said they suffered emotional neglect and 29 per cent experienced physical neglect. Boys, however, were more likely to report being victims of physical neglect, sexual abuse and violence.

    While higher levels of trauma lead both boys and girls to engage in more violent behaviours, boys are more likely to become violent. Girls tend to show higher levels of depression.

    Separately, a new report to be released next month at an international conference in Vancouver concludes that focusing on boys is critical to achieving gender parity. The report from the Bellagio Working Group on Gender Equality — a global coalition of adolescent health experts — finds boys and men are frequently overlooked in the equality equation.

    “We cannot achieve a gender-equitable world by ignoring half of its occupants,” the report states. “It is crucial that boys and men be included in efforts to promote gender equality and empowerment.”

    For the past six years, a consortium of 15 countries led by the Bloomberg School of Public Health and World Health Organization has been working on the global early adolescent study. The aim is to understand how gender norms are formed in early adolescence and how they predispose young people to sexual and other health risks.

    Evidence gathered by the study indicates boys experience as much disadvantage as girls but are more likely to smoke, drink and suffer injury and death in the second decade of life than their female counterparts.

    The key to achieving gender equality over the next decade or so — as the United Nations aims to do — involves addressing conditions and stereotypes that are harmful to both girls and boys, the researchers say. They also say it’s crucial to intervene as early as age 10. The norm is now age 15.

    “Gender norms, attitudes and beliefs appear to solidify by age 15 or 16,” the working group says. “We must actively engage girls and boys at the onset of adolescence to increase total social inclusion and produce generational change.”

    Leena Augimeri, a child mental-health expert with the Child Development Institute in Toronto, agreed with the need to focus on boys as well as girls. At the same time, she said, the genders do require different approaches.

    “Boys are equally at risk,” said Augimeri, who was not involved in the studies. “When we look at the various issues that impact our children, we have to look at it from different perspectives and lenses and you can’t think there’s a one fit for all.”

     

    Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press


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