Reign of Terror in Halifax Transit: independent forensic human resource audit needed

streetcar2019:  Overturned streetcar: art installation at the site of Bloody Saturday in Winnipeg by Noah Gonick (filmmaker and artist)– in celebration of Winnipeg General Strike 1919.

One hundred years ago, the Winnipeg General Strike began. First the 300 women telephone operators walked off the job,  followed by 30,000 other workers in all kinds of occupations – bakers, clerks at Eaton’s, factory workers, tram drivers,  postmen, journalists, teachers, tradesmen and railway workers – even the city police and firemen went on strike.

streetcar2Photo: 21 June 1919

For 6 weeks in the heat of early prairie summer, workers ran the city.  The Strike Committee decided when and how bread and milk were delivered, which shops were open and what services provided.  They held Winnipeg in a tight grip. For the first time in “modern” Canada, there was a huge action by organized workers to fight against the political elite, the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (forerunner of the RCMP), and the Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand.  The Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand represented the businessmen, bankers and politicians in Winnipeg and the province,  who normally controlled the lives of workers.  The Citizens’ Committee claimed it was the Bolsheviks who were behind the strike.  Obligingly, The New York Times ran a headline at the start of the strike:  “Bolshevism Invades Canada.”

The strike heralded a new workers’ solidarity, grounded in the expression “an injury to one is an injury to all.”  Workers ran a major Canadian city for six weeks.  Trade unions made a breakthrough in that their shared aims and resolve paved the way to many victories and to massive organizing over the next fifty years.

It’s against this backdrop I look at what happened last week to YZ, mechanic at Halifax Transit.  The racism, harassment and physical threats that happened to YZ continue to happen to hundreds if not thousands of workers across our city and province.  Unfortunately – unlike in the Winnipeg General Strike — we see few unions that take on the problem of member-on-member violence and harassment. In the specific case of YZ (whose identity has been protected because he fears for his safety) the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) has said barely a word either last  week or throughout the 8 plus years it has taken for the YZ case to wend its way through the NS Human Rights Commission.transit1

YZ is white.  He is married to an African Nova-Scotian.  He started work as a mechanic at Halifax Transit in 1979.  Due to racial taunts about his marriage to a black woman,  he went  on long-term disability from 2004-06. He briefly returned but has not been able to work since January 2007. That was 12 years ago.  In 2006 he filed a complaint of discrimination with the NS Human Rights Commission.  In fact YZ had also become a support person for one co-worker in particular – Randy Symonds who was African Nova Scotian.

It took the Commission eight years — until 2014 — to launch a Board of Inquiry. The Board convened hearings for three years until 2017.  In March, 2018 the board chair, lawyer Lynn Connors, released her decision which concluded  that  YZ had been discriminated against, and that HRM (his employer) had tolerated a poisonous work environment.transit2

It took another year for Connors to assess and award the damages to YZ. That was the nearly $600,000 awarded to YZ, which was in the news last week.

The background to the YZ case is worth understanding. The attacks against him included:

  • degrading and hateful comments.
  • garbage left on his work bench.
  • being given different and more “dirty” work to do.
  • denial of a day off work to get married, when others got time off. The supervisor had seen YZ’s black fiancée drop him off at work. The supervisor then treated YZ worse and differently than other workers.
  • a BBQ at the union’s social club, Club 508, where YZ and his wife heard a co-worker say “We don’t want those kind of people here, they weren’t invited.”
  • a co-worker testifying that she heard someone say, “Blacks were not welcome” at the party.
  • One particularly racist co-worker, Arthur Maddox, acting rude to YZ’s wife when she phoned to speak to YZ.

YZ’s wife wrote a letter of complaint about her phone call with Maddox to Transit management.  The supervisor claimed he checked and it had all been taken care of.

By 2000, the taunting and harassment of YZ spread to two newly hired workers– African Nova Scotian Randy Symonds, who worked in the storeroom and mechanic David Buckle.

  • Symonds was told that coal mining “was nigger work and for whops”
  • Maddox said “racism should be a law and that you can shoot someone and get away with it”
  • Maddox told Symonds was to “suck me boy”
  • Maddox called Symonds racial slurs six to seven times a week
  • Symonds was called a “New York ghetto dweller”
  • Symonds was physically threatened many times by co-workers. Maddox jumped over the stores counter and physically threatened him.
  • Co-workers made fun of Buckle’s hair and “hair-do”
  • One mechanic hollered for all to hear that he refused to train “No Good-For-Nothing Indian.”Another said, “I won’t be training any fucking Indians.”
  • Co-workers used the term “Got Buckled” if a job was not done well, was a dirty job, or something did not work right.

There was a reign of terror at Transit – and no one in authority intervened.

In May 2001, Transit fired Arthur Maddox (the especially racist worker). The union, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU),  filed a grievance grievance2 to get Maddox his job back. Not willing to subject himself to more antagonism and possible violence, Symonds declined to testify at an arbitration hearing. The employer was left without a strong case and agreed to a mediated settlement with the union.  Maddox was reinstated with six moths of back pay a year  after his dismissal. In the meantime, another worker had written graffiti on the washroom wall:  “All minorities not welcome, show you care, burn a cross [signed]– a member of Baby Hitler.”

Maddox returned to work, seemingly vindicated.  Six months later, he tried to run down YZ with a bus in the transit garage. YZ testified that he believed Maddox “blamed me and my wife” for his firing and that this was “revenge.”  YZ reported this and the other incidents to management, and the supervisor said he could not recollect the incident with the bus in the garage, and did not investigate or take any action.

In 2003 Randy Symonds filed a complaint with the NS Human Rights Commission, demanding a public enquiry and $100,000.  No other worker, not even YZ, would sign onto his complaint.   Due to financial pressures, in 2006 Symonds accepted a settlement which a “gag order” kept secret.  Not able to return to the poisoned work environment, he spent his last 7 months on Workers Compensation due to stress. Readers should know that in NS, Workers Compensation pays only 75% of earnings for the first 6 months someone is off the job.  Symonds’ bullies and assailants – including Maddox – earned their full pay, benefits and pension contributions—while Symonds was, in effect, punished financially.

In January 2007, Symonds died tragically in a highway traffic accident.

Since the accident, according to an interview with Symonds’ wife and daughter, not one not one person from city management, nor any councillor contacted the family.
The union, the ATU, remains mute.  In cases where the union bears some responsibility, the Human Rights Commission can name it as a co-party with management to the complaint, but the Commission seldom does so and did not in this case.

And, other than a recent online comment praising the YZ monetary award the wider labour movement has asked no questions.  How could this reign of terror go on for 14 plus years? How could a black man become unemployed and then die due to the stress of living with the anger and threats directed at him by racist co-workers?  How could a white man and his black wife receive such soul-destroying treatment for the mere crime of loving each other?

But when will anyone step up to explain what happened and how it won’t happen again?

Back to 1919, when 300,000 workers supported each other and their unions supported one another in the Winnipeg General Strike. At the time, workers in unions across the country also struck in sympathy. Today, workers who face contempt, ridicule and discrimination are on their own.

Equity Watch demands an independent forensic human resources audit of Halifax Regional Municipality. What we have here is a catastrophic system failure of supervision and of human resource management. Residents of HRM need to know not only what happened, but why it happened.  So far, Jacques Dubé CAO of Halifax Regional Municipality, merely says “we have to do better” and HRM is  “unwavering in our commitment to continually do better.”  Equity Watch says this is not good enough – where is the investigation, what are the steps HRM is taking to ensure nothing like this ever happens again?  The public needs to know.

 

 

What to Read, and What to Watch

I thought I knew about the Blitz in London during WWII, but I knew nothing til I read Pat Barker’s recent novel Noonday. noondayI really liked her Regeneration trilogy — three interconnected books about WWI, psychiatry and what we now call PTSD.  Noonday is excellent too.  Two middle aged artists– Paul and Elinor —  live and work in London. Paul is a somewhat famous war artist.  Though Elinor’s paintings hang at the Tate Gallery, as a woman, her work is considered lesser to his. Their lives unravel with the disappearance of a 12 year old boy from the London slums who was sent (for safety) to live in the countryside with Elinor’s mother and sister.  This was common in WWII — children were sent to the English countryside and even as far as Canada to escape the bombing of London.  For example the English author of the children’s series The Indian in the Cupboard and the book The L-Shaped Room, Lynn Reid Banks, spent some of her teenage years living in  Saskatoon!   When Elinor’s elderly mother dies —  the boy decides try to find his mother in London, and the lives of Paul and Elinor unravel.  This book is a rare and deep read.

Swedish crime writer Karin Alvtegen has written a mystery and thriller rolled into one in her book Missing.  Her social commentary about the homeless in today’s Stockholm, about social workers and about cops is skillfully woven thru the book.  On the book jacked is the comment that missingAlvtegen’s novels are “head and shoulders above the rest of the Scandi crew.”  I heartily agree.

I’m watching the 4th of 5 seasons of a series called Line of Duty. It’s a first rate  excellent policier which takes place in Birmingham, Belfast and Manchester UK (so far).  It’s about crooked cops, tunnel vision and adherence to almost blind authority. You won’t leave your couch. I’m watching it on Netflix — acting is great, believable and very gritty. line-of-duty

Former Halifax transit worker receives record $593K award in harassment case

Nova Scotia·Updated

Man said he suffered from trauma due to a hostile workplace

The City of Halifax has been ordered to pay nearly $600,000 in damages to a former bus mechanic who suffered harassment at work. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia human rights board of inquiry has handed down an award of nearly $600,000 to a former Metro Transit bus garage worker after finding he was the victim of racial harassment and discrimination by management and co-workers.

It’s the largest amount ever awarded by the commission.

The inquiry heard that Y.Z., a mechanic, was targeted with verbal racial slurs, graffiti in the washroom, vandalism of tools and assault between 2002 and 2007. A bus was used to terrorize him by brushing past him.

Y.Z., who is white, is married to a black woman. He told the inquiry his marriage made him the focus of racial taunting.

A psychologist told the inquiry that Y.Z. has been diagnosed as having somatic symptom disorder, major depressive disorder and PTSD.

‘Bad place physically and psychologically’

The psychologist, Myles Genest, said there are “no grounds to suggest [Y.Z.] would be experiencing his current disabling conditions were it not for his experience of negative work environment and threat to his safety in the workplace.”

[Y.Z.’s] in “such a bad place physically and psychologically that it almost has a life of its own now,” the psychologist told the inquiry.

In 2007, the former Metro Transit worker attempted suicide and since then has been “largely housebound” due to his fear of encountering employees from the bus garage.

An independent Nova Scotia human rights board of inquiry looked into the complaints of Y.Z. (Robert Short/CBC News)

The lawyer for Y.Z., Bruce Evans, told the inquiry that his client continues to suffer the psychological impact of discrimination to this day.

His wife regards him as “broken” and his son says he “died” 12 years ago when he tried to take his own life. Y.Z.’s wife suffered a nervous breakdown and was unable to work for two years.

Lawyer sought higher award

The $593,507 award provides $105,650 in general damages to Y.Z. and $433,077 for past and future lost income. There’s also an award of $21,675 for future care and $33,015 for pain and suffering for Y.Z.’s wife.

Evans was claiming $950,000 in compensation for his client. But the past and future loss of income award was halved because Y.Z. did not accept a transfer to another facility, said the finding. Y.Z. said “the people who were causing the problems were the ones who should be forced to leave and not him,” he told the inquiry.

Judy Haiven is a retired professor of management, and one of the founders of Equity Watch, a group that fights workplace discrimination. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

“It is my hope that my monetary award will send a clear message to HRM and its supervisors of what their legal obligations are under the Human Rights Act to investigate and address potential violations under the Act,” wrote Lynn Connors, board of inquiry chair.

The case unearthed new details about another case of racism and threats suffered by Randy Symonds, who was Y.Z.’s co-worker. He died in a car accident in 2007.

Connors also drew attention to recent racial tension at the bus garage. According to a 2015 workplace survey, 61 per cent of employees at the Ilsley Avenue facility reported dissatisfaction on being treated with respect and consideration, and “bullying, racism, [and] intimidation” were examples of disrespect they experienced.

“What troubles me the most is the finding of the Workplace Assessment completed in 2015. It still does not show a great picture of what that workplace is like,” said the ruling.

The Human Rights Commission confirmed this is the highest award to date.

Evans said there was no comment from him or his client at this time.

Another apology

The Halifax Regional Municipality’s chief administrative officer repeated his apology for the racism at the bus garage.

In a statement Wednesday, Jacques Dubé, said the municipality accepts the decision regarding damages. The municipality will pay the award and will not appeal the decision, according to a city spokesperson.

“We remain unwavering in our commitment to continually do better,” said Dubé. “As chief administrative officer, I am committed to advocating for a harassment-free workplace.”

‘A catastrophic failure’

Equity Watch, a group dedicated to fighting workplace discrimination, has been monitoring this case. Judy Haiven, a co-founder of the group and a retired management professor, said the racial harassment Y.Z., Symonds, and an Indigenous man experienced at the bus depot “is a catastrophic failure of management.”

Haiven said the record award to Y.Z. is appropriate because he lost his career due to the “reign of terror that happened in the transit yards.”

She said the municipality’s apology and pledge to improve the workplace culture is “too little, too late.”

The Amalgamated Transit Union has not responded to a request for comment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Chiu

Reporter

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7, 7:30 in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.

The murder of Tanya Brooks: 10 years later

 

By Judy Haiven  (first published today in NSAdvocate.org)

Ten years ago, this week, Tanya Brooks was brutally murdered, her body left in a window-well of St Patrick’s-Alexandra School, in north end Halifax.  The window well is grisly a two foot by 6 foot concrete coffer, four feet below the school pavement.  On Friday it was littered with cigarette stubs, shreds of paper, and pop cans. The now abandoned large school building is a site of broken windows, boarded up doors and overgrown grass and litter.brooks-sign

Brooks, aged 36, originally from Millbrook First Nation near Truro, was mother to 5 children; she was also a sister, a daughter and a friend. 

Last Friday, on the 10thanniversary of her death, about 75 people walked from the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centrethe two blocks to the now shuttered public school.  Vanessa Brooks, Tanya’s younger sister, led the march and the tribute.  She spoke eloquently about her sister and her family, and the fact that Tanya’s death was yet another tragic case of  MMIWG – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. brooks-sign2 

APTN (The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) has made a three season series called “Taken.”  It details about 30 cases (out of more than 1,000) of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Episode 13 of the 1stseries features the life and death of Tanya Brooks.

 

One might well ask what the Halifax police have been doing about this case. Somehow despite the police offering a $150,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer, no one has come forward to claim the reward.  The police maintain despite having no leads, the case is still “open”. 

One wonders how quickly the police would have moved to find the killer of – for example — my daughter-in-law.  Given recent reluctance by the Halifax police to end street checks and apologise for their racism, race likely played a role in their unforgivably slow investigation. Since the murder was a decade ago, the trail of the murderer must be cold by now.

Halifax’s incoming police chief, Dan Kinsella, has his work cut out for him. Not only should he declare a permanent halt to street checks, and apologise for the police force’s past racist behaviour – Kinsella also has to make a serious effort to solve the murder of Tanya Brooks. 

Photos by Judy Haiven

What to watch on Air Canada…

Here are a few final photos I took in Northern Italy:  Larry would have loved to have attended an opera at La Scala, but this photo has to do…  a final snack apples from near Trento,  and huge strawberries from southern region of Basilicata.   Phone booths — now empty — in the lobby of a high-class hotel in Stresa.

 

hateI watched this film and liked it.  It’s worth watching — less sentimental than most American films.

I also watched Brexit, which is a drama produced in the UK.  This is an excellent political thriller — all unfortunately true.  Actors portray Nigel Farage (remember him?), Dominic Cummings and all the luminaries — a lot of Tory hacks too — who figured out how to get 3 million previously unknown and undeclared voters to vote FOR Brexit. 

Monsters and Men is also worth watching.  A white NY city cop shoots a black man who is selling cigarettes on a street corner.  He’s selling them singly –one by one… this film shows how three black men respond to this horrifying event.  One man is a cop; one is a job-seeker; and one is an 18 yr old high school student.  The job-seeker had anonymously posted a video of the killing and the fall out is immediate.  The acting is excellent; the writing and story line are believable and thoughtful.  Couldn’t take my eyes off the screen… see a trailer here: https://youtu.be/tRP2yYJF_GI

 

 

Last days in Emilia Romagna–

fin-mapWe’re experienced at being here in perhaps the richest region in Italy —  Emilia Romagna as we spent about 5 months in Bologna — maybe 10 years ago — while on Sabbatical. A region is equivalent to a Can. province.Today I can barely remember having had a responsible job as a university professor fin-profI remember Omri having to go to high school, at the  Liceo Classico — even on Sat. mornings, which is the norm here. Well no more school for him– or for me. We went to what our tour guide Anna called a “typical town”, depressing in the rain — but the mascot of Felino  is  a pig. fin-pigThey call the region’s capital city, Bologna, La Grassa (the fat one).   Great food  predicated on prosciutto and the wonderful Parmigiano cheese. We toured a large, family owned prosciutto plant, and also a wonderful  cheese farm with 500 cows.  The owner of the cheese plant and farm was proud to say there were no unions since mechanization meant he needed only 20 loyal employees.  Have a look:

 

The huge rounds of  Parmigiano weigh at least 50 pounds each, it takes 600 litres of milk to make each one. Banks here accept these wheels of cheese as collateral! There are HUGE warehouses of this cheese that underwrite  loans for farmers!!

 

Fantastic scenery.  The upper left castle is the Castello di Torrechiara.  The field was just outside our hotel room in Parma!

 

A cappucino for me and a cafe doppio for Larry, and at this cafe we joined two Australians and a Canadian from Kingston, Ont. at the Sat. market in Parma. Parma was the home to the Farnese family, of course aristocrats — the castle is a wonderful brick building hundreds of years old which now houses the regional galleries and art treasures:

 

The statue of the Partisan fighter (WWII) has his back turned to the monarchy, so to speak. And that — said our guide– is controversial today, yet this statue signals the pro-socialist tendencies in Emilia-Romagna.  After all Bologna is called Red Bologna. …The two lions flank the main church in Parma. Here is a postcard of the church, and the octagonal baptistry in Parma: fin-parma

We’ve noticed few demonstrations, or posters for left wing demonstrations– which we used to see on lampposts and walls in this region.  In a way it’s upsetting.

What to read, what to watch…

I’m falling behind on both, reading and watching.  But I recommend the dystopian short story collection by Cory Doctorow called Radicalized.  My favourite is about an immigrant woman who works as a bookkeeper in New York City.  She organises “the poors”  in her 50 storey apartment building to effectively strike.  This is because all the appliances only work if the renter buys high end soap for the dishwasher or the washing machine — or bread from a certain multinational corporation.  Otherwise no appliance works.  This is a humorous yet somehow prescient group of stories. doctorow.jpg

I watched the 6 part series The Bodyguard — a British thriller — on Netflix.  It started out quite well and it both moved fast and was (in a policier way) political and OK.  A cabinet minister moves to the right (is that new), a cop who did years in Afghanistan becomes her personal bodyguard, and London’s never looked greyer or colder.  Good enough.  Unfortunately by the last episode it managed to be anti-Muslim, and yet also  pro-feminist. So I’m not sure what to make of that.  Sure makes you stay awake: bodyguard

This book by a 30 year old Black British woman, Reni Eddo-Lodge– is brilliant. Absolutely. It’s a must read if you really want to know about white privilege, pretence and racial prejudice in the UK today. She discusses why it took 20 years for the  murder of Stephen Lawrence, a, 18- yr old  black man killed while standing at a bus stop in south London to get “solved.”  Of course if you read the book you’ll see it was never solved and the reasons why not.  What really changed as a result of two men (out of 5 attackers) being sent to jail? race