HARASSED BLACK POINTE-CLAIRE WORKER FINALLY WON INJURY BENEFITS
Montreal, July 20, 2016 — After three years of efforts, a Black blue-collar worker with the City of Pointe-Claire finally obtained his worker injury benefits last week.
Mr. Alrick Bowen, a native Montrealer, worked with the Parks department and then the Public Works departments of the City of Pointe-Claire since December 2001. Since his transfer to Public Works, he was repeatedly exposed to racial slurs, threats, marginalization and physical intimidation from white co-workers. Despite his reports to management, these racially discriminatory acts continued. There was no tangible action on the part of the City to prevent and eliminate racism at work.
In 2008, he went on sick leave and the City made representations to Service Canada to deny him his employment insurance. A employment insurance Board of Referees eventually ruled in 2008 in his favor, recognizing that according to medical evidence, he had a valid motive to leave his work as the only reasonable solution to the situation of the “inertia and the recklessness (“insouciance”) on the part of the employer in… preventing all forms of discrimination and harassment as defined by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.”
In 2013, he had to go on sick leave again due to ongoing harassment. In March 2013, he went on extended sick leave and received health and safety benefits granted by the CSST for a back injury. However, he could not obtain benefits for his claim of the harassment-related injury, mainly depression caused by racism at the workplace. The City challenged his CSST benefits application.
A total of 6 days of hearings before the Administrative Labor Tribunal was scheduled for this summer. A total of 25 witnesses received a subpoena to testify, including the former and the present Mayors of Pointe-Claire. However, after the first day of hearing in June, the parties reached a settlement that will enable Mr. Bowen to obtain his benefits.
“While Mr. Bowen is pleased that his worker injury benefits are now made eligible to him, the issue of systemic racism at the City still remains unresolved,” noted CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi. “The City’s accountability under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, and duty to create and maintain a racism-free workplace are issues to be addressed in the near future.”
CRARR has supported Mr. Bowen since 2013, during which he was exposed to acts of unfair treatment by the City even while on sick leave for his back injury.
Now that the benefits issue is settled, CRARR and Mr. Bowen will turn their attention to the role played by his union, the Syndicat des cols bleus regroupés de Montréal, local 301, FTQ, during the years of his endurance of racism at work. It should be noted that the collective agreement signed by the City and the union contains no anti-discrimination clause.
“Has the City of Pointe-Claire, which, like other cities in Quebec, has specific legal obligations under the Quebec Charter and the provincial mandatory employment equity law, failed to achieve a racism-free workplace?” noted Mr. Niemi. “Where are the concrete policies, programs and actions to combat racism and promote racial inclusion within the City? Who should be held ultimately accountable?”
Visible minorities make up almost 18% of the 30,790 residents of West-Island municipality. The top three racialized groups are Chinese, South Asians and Blacks.