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Montreal, September 23, 2009 --- Fifteen Chinese workers at a Montreal manufacturing company should receive $164,000 in damages for having been racially discriminated on the job, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission ruled in a decision issued last week.

In July 2006, approximately 40 Chinese workers at Calego International Inc., a Montreal-based manufacturer specializing in children's backpacks and accessories, received an order to gather and meet company president Stephen Rapps, who blamed them for unsanitary work conditions. The latter also said that they were no longer in China, that they must wash themselves and that they “eat like pigs.” Outraged by the comments, two workers objected and were physically assaulted by a supervisor.

Insulted by the comments, many Chinese workers immedialtely walked out and came back the day after with a list of conditions, including a written apology from the president, clean working conditions and compensation for violation of their dignity. When the company refused to comply with these demands, many workers immediately quit their jobs.

In a civil rights complaint filed with the human rights commission on behalf of the 15 workers, CRARR claimed that they had been singled out (as workers of other ethnic backgrounds were not) and exposed to race-based slurs. It asks $10,000 in moral and punitive damages for each worker, $5,000 for each of the two assaulted workers, and a written apology for all workers as welll as the Montreal Chinese community.

In a decision forwarded to the parties last week, the Commission ruled that these workers were indeed subject to racially discriminatory conditions in their work and recommends $10,000 for each of the 15 workers, an additional $7,000 of each of the two assaulted workers and workplace measures to respect employees' civil rights. In total, Calego International, its president, a supervisor and the latter's company, Agence Vincent, are ordered to pay $164,000.

It is the largest sum ever recommended by the Commission for a racism case in Quebec.

For Ms. Xiang Ma, one of the 15 workers, “It's a matter of pride and dignity for all Chinese workers and immigrant workers in Quebec as well as in the rest of Canada. Just because we are Chinese and new to this country does not mean we have no civil rights protections.”

Added Mr. Huo Yong, another worker, “This is actually a great victory for Chinese people everywhere. Governments and people around the world should not support any Canadian company that treats its Chinese workers like slaves, and that refuses to apolologize and compensate them for its racially discriminatory practices.”

According to CRARR's Executive Director Fo Niemi, “This decision sends a very powerful message to all employers in Quebec, especially those in the manufacturing sector: in the age of global trade, racism in employment can be costly at home and abroad.”

This decision is also important to Chinese Montrealers (at 83,000, according to the mini-Census of 2006) and those of other Asia-Pacific origins (at 73,000), who rarely take legal action against racial discrimination.

“We hope that with our actions, we have shown to all Chinese and other Asian people in Montreal that one should never be afraid to stand up for one's civil rights and file complaints to fight racism,” said Mr. Yong Shan He, one of the two assaulted workers.

All four respondents have until October 2 to comply with the Commission's recommendation, failing which the case will be brought before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal.