In today’s Toronto Star, Ashante Infantry writes about the longest running human rights case in Canadian history (23 years). It has finally been settled, but the plaintiff has not won.
Despite the fact that the Ontario Human Rights Commission ruled in his favour 3 times over the past 23 years, the directives were ignored by his employer and Michael McKinnon has had no relief. In fact, his supervisor, the ring-leader of the racial taunts against McKinnon for being Cree, has been promoted with a salary increase during this time. McKinnon, by contrast, is on anti-depressants.
It’s a sad reality that racism (and all the other “isms”) are still occuring in our society and workplaces. Sadder still is that directives from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) can go unheeded.
The images we see, the news we read, and the stories we here – as well as those we don’t, by omission in schools, media, family and communities etc. – all teach us who has value in our society. When we don’t challenge these messages and assumptions, they are allowed to continue – and escalate.
Not heeding a OHRC directive speaks of how pervasive these beliefs must be in the jail that McKinnon worked at, for management to not even be swayed by a human rights ruling. It also speaks of a work environment that is poisoned – not just for McKinnon and other First Nations or Aboriginal peoples (and possibly for other “minority groups” as well), but also for their colleagues who may have wanted to speak up, but didn’t (or couldn’t).
Michael McKinnon is a broken man, because he proudly celebrated his cultural heritage at his wedding, and invited colleagues he thought were friends. For 23 years he has been fighting for his right to dignity, respect, and a safe workplace. No one should have to endure that.
Many of us take a safe and respectful workplace for granted, and can’t even imagine what that is like. It is our vigilance, and willingness to speak up, that can make a difference for those for whom work is not a safe or respectful place. Hopefully Bill 168 will help to ensure that happens more and more.
copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
Founder, Building Equitable Environments