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Montréal, July 26, 2018 - A case involving the Laval Municipal Housing Office’s prohibition to Latin American and English-speaking staff from speaking in Spanish or English among themselves during office hours, even in private conversations, is heading to investigation by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission.

The complaint was filed by Walter Romeo Rivera Tamacas, then-Assistant Director in charge of Development and Special Projects at the Housing Office. The trilingual man has resigned in protest of this discriminatory ban after the failure of a mediation attempt.

Mediation was held last week at the Commission, but the parties failed to reach a settlement.

In 2016, with the arrival of a new director general at the Housing Office, staff members were told to stop talking to one another in Spanish or English even in private conversations. These English and Spanish-speaking staff members faced an outright ban from using these languages and heightened scrutiny from colleagues. In November 2016, management, including three directors, issued a verbal directive forbidding Latin American employees from using Spanish amongst themselves during work hours, including in private conversations; the only exception to this rule was during lunch break. The use of English was tolerated only in communications with suppliers.

In spite of his managerial position, Rivera Tamacas was not consulted before the ban was introduced. He resigned in May 2017 when the work climate worsened. He then wrote to the Housing Authority Chair, City Councillor Nicholas Borne, and Vice Chair, City Councillor Sandra Desmeules, about the reason for his departure, including “discriminatory repression” at work. He also deplored the absence of a Code of Ethics for managers and employees, similar to that for the City of Laval.

“We sincerely regret that the case could not be resolved through mediation,” CRARR's Executive Director Fo Niemi said.

“We look forward to a thorough and objective investigation by the Commission. Given the number witnesses who can testify to such a ban and its corrosive effect on the work climate, we hope that the case will quickly proceed to the Human Rights Tribunal. The courts need to send a clear message to employers that interfering in private conversations through the ban of languages other than French is a civil rights violation,” Niemi added.

According to the 2011 Census, anglophones make up 21% of the Laval population and immigrants 24.6%, half of which belong to visible minority groups.

CRARR is presently handling a similar case involving a public health agency that forbids its minority employees from talking in their native tongue in private conversations during work hours.