B.C. Human Rights Tribunal rules that African workers suffered racial taunts

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A group of 55 tree planters and tree brushers of African descent have each been awarded $10,000 for injury to their dignity during work they performed in 2010 near Golden, B.C.

In a 115-page decisionB.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Norman Trerise ruled that Khaira Enterprises Ltd., Khalid Mahmood Bajway, and Hardilpreet Singh Sidhu discriminated against them on the basis of race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, and sex, contrary to section 13 of the B.C. Human Rights Code.

It came after complainants alleged "slave-like working conditions", "consistent exposure to racial taunting and harassment", "deplorable living conditions", and "scant food", as well as violent behaviour by Sidhu.

"In all of the circumstances, I find that racial taunts were a part of the working environment at Khaira in 2010," Trerise wrote. "I find that the word 'nigger' was spoken by Sunny [Sidhu], although not perhaps to the extent that is asserted by some. I find that the epithets 'lazy dog' and 'lazy dogs' were spoken."

With the exception of one, all the complainants came from Central African countries, the decision stated, such as Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, and Guinea.

Trerise acknowledged in the ruling that most of the witnesses who had been employees "at some point exaggerated their evidence in order to assist their position in the complaint process".

"Some of the witnesses did so to the point where their evidence could not be relied upon in any respect," he wrote.

Trerise went on to explain the factors he relied on to assess credibility, including whether a witness had a motive not to tell the truth and how the evidence fit into the general picture.

"Throughout this hearing, the Respondents have defended the allegations of discrimination on the basis that the facts, contended by the Complainants to constitute discrimination, did not occur," Trerise wrote in his ruling. "No attempt has been made to justify any of the facts which I have found to have occurred and which I have found to constitute discrimination. The respondents fail to establish a bona fide occupational requirement for their conduct."

In addition, those who worked before June 17, 2010 will receive $1,000 for each 30 days or portion of 30 days that they worked beyond a single month.

In 2011, the Employment Standards Branch ordered Khaira to pay $245,204.77 to workers. Sidhu was also ordered at the time to pay $217,698.19 to the claimants.

In 2012, the branch added another $18,898.53 in payments to five others who filed late claims.

According to Trerise's ruling, the branch was only able to distribute $127,102.04 because Khaira was out of business and the directors had no assets.

Regarding food, Trerise concluded that there were adequate servings, but it "may not have been particularly appetizing nor was it varied".

He also ruled that the accommodation was "passable" and certainly better than "deplorable". However, he stated in his decision that bathing and toilet facilities "fell short of meeting regulated standards".

There were also allegations of sexual harassment, but Trerise wrote that "concrete evidence" of this "is not strong". However, he also stated in the ruling that Singh had a "sexual interest" in one of the female workers and that his comments and actions were unwelcome and traumatized her.

Trerise did not issue an order that the respondents issue a "rights document" to employees in their mother tongue before beginning any new silviculture contracts.

Nor would the tribunal order the company to "first inform organizations of their intention" to bid on silviculture contracts and notify organizations two months in advance of the location of all of its base camps.

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