Chief Administrative Officer
City of Thorold
3540 Schmon Parkway
P.O. Box 1044
Thorold, ON L2V 4A7
Dear Mr. Fabiano,
I am writing in response to your request for advice regarding the issue raised by people of Aboriginal heritage in your community who find objectionable the current Black Hawk warrior image used by local hockey teams and their associations in Thorold, Ontario.
Human rights law has found that images and words that degrade people because of their ancestry, race, colour and ethnic origin, among other grounds, may violate Ontario’s Human Rights Code especially where they indicate an intent to discriminate, are, or ought reasonably be known to be, unwelcome and contribute to harassment or a poisoned environment.
Under the Code, Aboriginal persons have the right to be free from discrimination, harassment and a poisoned environment in services, among other areas. Part of the aim of the Code is “the creation of a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person so that each person feels a part of the community….”
I have reviewed the logo in question, and it appears to me that a reasonable person would likely find it derogatory towards Aboriginal individuals and not in keeping with the aim of the Code.
Derogatory images and words can have a significant impact on the ability of affected individuals and groups to participate and benefit equally in services such as participating as a member of a sports team or attending games as a spectator. There can also be broader social, emotional, psychological and even economic impacts on such individuals and groups, including how they are viewed and treated in their community at large.
Other communities in Ontario and elsewhere are facing similar issues involving portrayal of derogatory Aboriginal images and words on sports team logos. Some like the Barrhaven community of Ottawa have worked out positive solutions.[i]
Being aware, anticipating potential problems and having a plan that recognizes agreeable solutions with interim steps can help prevent human rights complaints and protect organizations if complaints arise. When human rights issues are raised, all parties involved have an obligation to try and resolve the matter. Sometimes solutions take time and money to put in place. But there can also be substantial financial and social costs if matters are left unresolved and parties end up before a human rights tribunal or court. Failing to act in a timely way puts organizations more at risk.
I was pleased to learn that the City of Thorold took leadership by removing the logo from city property. I encourage you to continue to help the parties resolve any other outstanding matters such as logos on uniforms, merchandise and websites.
Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
[i] See “Goalposts are moving on racist team names,” Ottawa Citizen online at http://ottawacitizen.com/sports/football/gordon-goalposts-are-moving-on-...