“IS THIS A PRACTICAL JOKE?” - ENGLISH-SPEAKING BLACK WOMAN REACTS TO HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION'S DECISION
Montreal, April 20, 2016 — An English-speaking Black woman is questioning the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission's handling of complaints from women of color who are exposed to discrimination and violence in public transit.
Sandy is in her late 40s and holds an administrative position in a local English-speaking institution. On a cold day, February 8, 2013, after waiting in windy -28 C degree weather for her first bus at Atwater and Dr. Penfield for more than 40 minutes, she took the 165 bus to the Guy Metro and then to Atwater Metro to take Bus #144. After 20 more minutes of waiting in the cold, she finally boarded bus #144. She was literally frozen and barely had feelings in both hands and feet. When the driver announced that the bus was being rerouted, she voiced her discontent at the lack of notification in the form of signs about bus rerouting.
Before she was able to finish, the bus driver stood up, pointed his finger in her face, shouted at her, and pushed her in the chest and shoulder.
Sandy filed a complaint about the driver's actions with the STM shortly after arriving at her job that morning. On Feb. 11, she spoke with an STM Chief of Operations in charge of complaints who said he would speak with the bus driver the following day. On Feb. 12, she contacted the Montreal Police to file a complaint of assault. On Feb. 14, she reached the Operations Chief who said that he spoke with the driver the day earlier (i.e. Feb. 13) and that the latter was sorry. She informed the Operations Chief that she had filed a complaint with the police and requested the video recording of the incident; he was surprised, and gave her a file number but not the video, claiming it was “for the police only.”
On Feb. 16, she formally filed a complaint of assault with the police. On Feb. 19, a female police officer contacted Sandy to tell her that the STM had erased the video after 7 days of the incident. Furthermore, the file number given by the Operations Chief did not exist. On March 15, Sandy was told by a police detective that the latter had spoken with the bus driver, who said that he did not push her but that he only “touched” her to “invite” her to sit down.
Believing that she had been mistreated due to her being an English-speaking Black woman, and that the STM had deliberately destroyed evidence, she sought CRARR's help to file a complaint of discrimination based on race, gender and language. After two years, the Human Rights Commission produced an investigation report, which contains many problems:
• The dimension of the driver's violation of Sandy's physical integrity and personal security was completely ignored by the Commission;
• The Operations Chief stated to the Commission that the driver has had previous complaints from bus riders but that there was no discrimination involved. The Commission never looked into the nature and sources of these complaints to see, for instance, whether the driver had shown similar behavior towards women riders;
• Key witnesses, including the police officers handling her case, were never contacted, nor were police reports obtained by the Commission's investigator, despite CRARR's urging;
• The Commission did not look further into the findings of the investigation and the accounts of Sandy and the Operations Chief, which all indicated that her complaint was considered “high priority” involving physical assault. Yet the STM closed the file within 3 days of the incident (Feb. 11). When Sandy spoke to the Operations Chief on Feb. 14 (day 7 after the incident) about filing a police complaint and getting video evidence, he said nothing about the file being closed or the video being erased. He even gave her a file number;
• The Commission's investigator never obtained or examined official written STM procedures for the handling of riders' complaints (especially in cases of physical assault) and safeguarding video evidence in cases of violence, but relied solely on the STM lawyer's written version and employees' telephone responses. Yet the Commission concluded that there was no “systemic discrimination.”
In the end, the Commission concluded that the adverse treatment Sandy received from the bus driver and the STM was an issue of quality of service rather than discrimination. Furthermore, the Commission ruled that there was no evidence that the handling of her complaint was done in a discriminatory manner.
“Despite the fact that my complaint was treated by the STM as a high priority case of physical violence, I was shocked at the STM erasing evidence when it knew I would go to the police. Now I am more shocked at the fact that the Commission relied solely on the STM's words without even interviewing the police officers handling my case and getting the police reports”, said Sandy.
“The Commission never examined the STM's procedures on handling riders' complaints and video conservation, independent of its employees' explanation, but yet it concluded that my complaint was handled in accordance with STM procedures!” noted Sandy. “Is this a practical joke? Obviously, a Black woman's physical safety and integrity matters little to some.”
“We are of course concerned that key questions were not asked and witnesses not interviewed by the Commission, and that the Commission took the STM representatives’ version at face value too easily,” said CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi.