Racism continues to be a systemic obstacle

By Patrick Hunter Thursday July 11 2013 in Opinion
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When the Employment Equity Act was conceived, developed and passed in the Ontario legislature, the objective was to ensure that employers would not only develop a diverse workplace, but would be less likely to discriminate on the basis of a number of things, including race. Well, the Harris government managed to convince voters that it would mean disaster. The Act was repealed.


Would we have been better off now if the Act was in still in place? I would like to think so. However, life has taught us that the best of intentions can go wrong, and they often do. Nevertheless, the idea spawned internal policy changes in a number of large organizations. That does not mean that everything is working as it should.


Public sector organizations, one would think, would be the leaders in ensuring that their workplaces would be virtually above reproach. Well, as it turns out, some seem to genuinely try. Some put the bare minimum of effort into it, hiring a diversity professional with limited scope and budget to try to implement change.


This past weekend, the Toronto Star ran a story about a case of alleged racial discrimination against the Toronto Police Service (TPS) that has been filed with the Human Rights Tribunal. What is remarkable about this case is that the complainant, Garnette Rose, is a former TPS officer. The complaint is not specifically based on Rose’s race – he is of African descent – but on a reference to his “Jamaican accent” referenced in an email. The email was apparently sent by a senior officer who was commenting on Rose’s qualifications for a possible job assignment.


The Star’s article also details Rose’s conduct in other circumstances for which he was disciplined. Whether these will have a bearing on his case in terms of racial discrimination is one of the decisions that the Tribunal will have to make. However, one has to ask, why was it necessary to comment on his accent, and why specifically Jamaican?


There are two persons of African descent who are deputy chiefs at the TPS. And there is a retired deputy chief who is also of African descent. I am sure that if they wanted to, they could tell stories, enough to fill a book, on the “racial challenges” they may have had on the way up to their current positions. Whether, during their ascendancy, they filed complaints about racial harassment, we may never know because, most of those challenges, as the Star article suggest, are kept internally.


Nevertheless, a few years ago, Black officers did break that silence with respect to their treatment having been pulled over for no other reason than they are Black.


Sometime ago, I also wrote about the struggle by Black members of the Ontario Public Service who were remarkably still trying to get some recognition in climbing to senior positions within the OPS. The Secretary of Cabinet had created a diversity office with the Chief Diversity Officer given the opportunity to sit in with the Deputy Ministers Council. The unfortunate outcome, according to sources, has been a struggle between the Diversity Office and the Black OPS. The Chief Diversity Officer appears to be working to discredit the Black OPS network.


The Black OPS group has met with senior officials of the OPS, including the Secretary of Cabinet, repeatedly, without any substantial gains. One could reasonably suspect that this division between the Diversity Office and the Black OPS group could be a deliberate set up in order to nullify the more pointed demands of the latter against the softer, less targeted approach of the former.


There is one Black deputy minister that I know of in the Ontario Public Service. There are a few assistant deputy ministers. That is one thing at the heart of the matter – the lack of specific numbers which detail the statistical breakdown of minorities within the OPS and where they are in the leadership spectrum. The resistance to publishing those figures is considerable and the reason for not doing so can be summed up by saying that they would be embarrassing.


The same may be said for the federal government. Again, the disaggregation of statistics in the federal public service would probably prove to be even more embarrassing. Put it this way, I would be surprised to find out that there is a Black deputy minister in the federal public service.


At the City of Toronto level, again, one wonders if any Blacks remain at senior levels since Ken Jeffers – shall we say – retired?


The Toronto Housing Corporation has a Black president and Chief Executive Officer. In the last few months, senior Blacks have been replaced as the Black president has surrounded himself with White senior officers.


The politics of race within large institutions is still very much with us in 2013. It is not that Blacks have not achieved significant status on an individual level. The problem, however, continues to be a systemic obstacle.


So many of us have reached burnout levels just dealing with it.

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