By RON FANFAIR
A youth services officer at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre (RMYC) has filed a workplace discrimination complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).
Keith Hassell, who is a Seventh-day Adventist, is seeking reasonable accommodation for the purposes of religious observance, $125,000 monetary compensation for mental anguish, additional damages for lost sick days and earnings, promotion to a full-time managerial position and human rights and sensitivity training for the respondents.
The New York-born law enforcement officer joined the Brampton youth facility as an unclassified employee in December 2009 shortly after moving to the Greater Toronto Area to join his Canadian-born wife.
Hassell, who created a youth foundation while he was a Connecticut police officer, claims a White youth services officer upbraided him for not employing aggressive restraint techniques against a Black youth during a security incident at the facility just over a year ago.
“At the time, the young man was compliant and properly under my control,” said the father of four. “It appeared the suggestion was based on stereotypical views of the need to have young Black males subject to greater control. I was very concerned about this situation as it suggested an unwarranted different standard for the treatment of Black male youth and increased scrutiny for me dealing with these youth. I felt singled out as a male of African descent dealing with a young Black male.”
Hassell said his fears were exacerbated later that day when another youth services officer told him he was a marked man and that he should watch his back.
He said he approached the youth services manager about the threats and that manager in turn informed the then acting deputy administrator and also the then youth centre administrator about Hassell’s concerns.
“They were reluctant to assist and despite my request, did not contact the police,” said Hassell.
Last May, Hassell claims the then youth services manager told him he would be his slave for the day, and a month later while in the process of restraining a Black youth, another officer intervened and punched the young man several times in his head.
He said he decided to file an OHRC complaint after exhausting all internal possibilities.
“I went through the grievance process and the stage two procedure where I went to the grievance settlement board for mediation arbitration,” said Hassell. “Nothing, however, was accomplished and I was left with no other choice.
“I come from the hardcore Brooklyn projects and I have an understanding of what it takes to work with young people, the majority of whom come from socially deprived neighbourhoods with myriad problems,” he said. “I have experience working with youths and I can relate to them. I think this has created some jealousy in the work environment that is supposed to help rehabilitate these young people.”
Hassell also claims he has been offered less work hours than other unclassified staff who are junior to him and he was assigned Saturday shifts after being offered a six-month contract in March 2010 for a back-fill position.
Because of his religious observance, he was forced to decline the contract, resulting in the loss of salary and related benefits.
Opened in May 2009, the RMYC is a secure custody facility that can accommodate up to 192 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 who are detained or serving sentences.
The co-ed facility, named after former Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, includes a secondary school for educational and vocational learning and a multi-faith spiritual and religious care centre.
Less than six months after the facility opened, the province’s advocate for children and youth, Irwin Elman, found himself investigating cases of excessive use of force by some staff.
“What’s more, despite the centre’s much-publicized commitment to “state-of-the-art” programming – a proven tool in preventing young people from becoming repeat offenders – it simply doesn’t exist,” Elman said at the time.
The centre falls under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Ministry of Children & Youth Services.