Fondé en 1983 --Unis pour la diversité et l'égalité raciale


Montreal, February 18, 2014 --- A local English-speaking university lecturer and anti-oppression advocate has asked the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission to disclose a copy of its detailed policy on systemic racism after his complaint was assessed by Commission staff and recommended for rejection.

His request for the policy may put to test the Commission’s record on systemic racism altogether.

Mr. Woo Jin Edward Lee, Asian doctoral student at McGill University’s School of Social Work and an active researcher and community organizer on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) refugees and immigrants, filed a complaint of systemic racism in employment last summer against the University after failing to be short-listed for an interview for two positions available as part-time faculty lecturers at the School. All short-listed candidates were white women, a demographic group already over-represented at the School. Racialized full-time or part-time members of the faculty as well as lecturers are repeatedly under-represented at the School.

Mr. Lee identified systemic factors at work in the short-listing process, including the unofficial emphasis on or preference for clinical social work experience, which he believes to have an adverse impact on racialized people in Montreal, as it is public knowledge that there are very few members of this group hired in that area.

When the Commission’s intake staff informed him in November 2013 that the University refused mediation, Mr. Lee expected that his case be immediately sent to investigation, which is the standard procedure. By the end of January 2014, he learned that Commission staff would recommend that his case be closed because of the University’s version of facts, which was not disclosed to him. Furthermore, he detected that the staff person evaluating his case did not understand the systemic racism dimension of his complaint and made an error in the evaluation.

This led Mr. Lee to ask about the Commission’s policy of systemic racism and tools to evaluate and investigate complaints like his.

Systemic discrimination (as opposed to intentional or direct discrimination) has increasingly been acknowledged in Canadian public policy and law since the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, headed by then Ontario Judge Rosalie Abella, put the concept at the forefront of Canada’s human rights agenda with its groundbreaking report in 1984. In its detailed Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination, released in 2005, the Ontario Human Rights Commission provides a more detailed definition of systemic racism as follows:

  • Racial discrimination can result from individual behaviour as well as because of the unintended and often unconscious consequences of a discriminatory system. This is known as systemic discrimination. Systemic discrimination can be described as patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate disadvantage for racialized persons
  • The Ontario Commission has established specific guidelines to examine systemic racism within an organization, where data collection and analysis; assessment of practices, procedures and decision-making processes, and the organizational culture are concerned.

    “I couldn’t find on the Quebec Commission’s web site any specific policy guidelines on systemic racism in particular, and it’s ironic that I have to turn to Ontario for those,” noted Mr. Lee.

    “Without a clear policy and policy guidelines, can its staff effectively handle complaints of systemic racism like mine? I’m worried,” he added.

    “Year after year, we have pushed for a policy not on general systemic discrimination, but specifically on systemic racism, and we have not had any result,” added CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi. “It's all about political will and developing proper competencies to tackle one of the most serious discrimination problems affecting racialized and First Nations peoples.”

    There has not been one single case of systemic racism in employment brought by the Commission before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal in years.

    Mr. Lee is contacting different community organizations to obtain support about this issue.