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Court decision demonstrates more action needed to address racial discrimination

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March 2, 2005

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For immediate publication

Toronto - As Black History month comes to a close, Chief Commissioner Keith Norton today remarked on a recent Ontario court decision that serves as an important reminder that racial discrimination is still a major concern in our society.

On February 8, 2005, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Divisional Court, overturned a decision of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in a case that originated as a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The complaint involved a Black employee of Mardana Ltd. (a Brampton Ontario location of Mr. Lube) who claimed he and other Black employees had been subjected to hurtful racial slurs, taunts and name-calling in the workplace over a period of three years, and alleged that he was dismissed from employment because of his race.

The Divisional Court rejected as “common myth” the notion that an employee’s dismissal cannot be racially discriminatory simply because an employer had hired and promoted the employee. The Court ruled that the employer was at least reckless, if not wilful, in allowing a poisoned work environment to exist and ordered the employee an award of $10,000.00 for mental anguish and $25,131.35 to compensate for lost wages. The Court also ordered the employer to implement a workplace anti-harassment policy, staff training, an internal complaint process, and to provide management with human rights education under the Commission’s supervision.

Reacting to the Court’s decision, Chief Commissioner Keith Norton stated, “This ruling sends a very clear message that employers are responsible for ensuring workplace environments are free of harassment and discrimination. They may be held liable for harassment carried out by any employee in a position of authority. They may also be liable if they knew, or should have known about the harassment, but failed to take steps to prevent it.” 

There is concern in other sectors as well. The Commission recently referred three complaints to the Tribunal; two dealing with allegations of racial harassment, bullying, streaming, and discrimination arising from the application of discipline in a school; the other dealing with allegations of racial profiling by a private security guard agency.

In a public statement last December marking the one-year anniversary of the Commission’s report on racial profiling, Chief Commissioner Norton voiced concern over the systemic and troubling nature of these issues and called on government and public and private sector entities responsible for public safety and security to take concrete action. 

“We cannot afford to shelve the issue”, Norton vowed, stating the Commission is adamant that it will continue to act if others do not.  Meanwhile, the Commission is moving ahead on its own commitment to develop a policy on racism and racial discrimination, which it plans to release later this year.

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Afroze Edwards
Sr. Communications Officer
Communications and Issues Management
(416) 314-4528

Jeff Poirier
Senior Policy Analyst
Policy Education, Monitoring and Outreach Branch (PEMO)
Ontario Human Rights Commission