Sunday, March 11, 2012

I have never seen an African-Canadian firefighter in Canada !: Impediments to equality in recruitment

After reading about the recent U.S. District Court ruling finding the New York City Fire Department liable for discriminating against African-American and Latino-American job applicants, it forced me to reflect on the situation in Toronto. Toronto is often touted as one of the most diverse cities in the world. Policy makers are always quick to suggest that Toronto is a model for the world in that everyone gets along so well here. This is far from the reality of life for the vast majority of African-Canadian and other non-whites in the Toronto area.

My observations lead me to conclude that our policy makers are seriously out of touch with the problem of rampant discrimination and inequality in public employment such as the police service, fire department, para-medic service, school board and the WSIB. I - for one - have never seen an African-Canadian firefighter in Toronto. This in my mind suggests a serious and fundamental flaw in their recruiting practices. I lived in Berkely, California for a period of time and during this time the Chief of their fire department was a 47 year old African-American woman. At the same time the Police Chief in San Francisco was an Asian-American woman - who incidentally had replaced an African-American man. Policy makers in Toronto can say what they wish but it is clear that the bulk of the jobs in the areas delineated above are somehow reserved for the following groups in this city: British, Scottish, Irish, German and Italian.

Policy makers who are serious about addressing this very serious problem in the Metropolitan Toronto area need to stop talking and need to start taking decisive and positive steps to eradicate the causes of this discriminaiton and inequality. They need to move away from their defensive posture of "We are not racist". The debate over intentional and adverse-impact discrimination was put to rest in the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Griggs v. Duke Power Co. 401 U.S. 424 (USSC) and this principle was accepted by all Canadian courts and tribunals . Although the issue is no longer about establishing the perpetrator's motive for their acts and omissions in establishing discriminatory practices - especially in hiring - you would never know that from listening to policy-makers. "We are not racist" and "They are not applying" are two common explanations for the problem.

As a lawyer representing victims of discrimination in Toronto, it is clear to me that all job applicants are not equal in the employer's eyes. "Outsiders" or those who do not have an inside connection to the place of employment do not get the same level of attention as those with a parent, relative or friend who can attest to their status as a "good guy or gal". Up until very recently this was the main recruitment tool for City of Toronto employment. If a father was a police officer his son or daughter was almost guranteed a job in the police force or elsewhere in the City. While the recruitment pool of candidates has been increased today this "insider" "outsider" factor continues to impeade the goal of equality in the recruitment process. A drink at the pub with the "insider" traditionally sealed the deal and there is nothing that the "outsider" could do to trump this. If there was an exam the "insider" would get full particulars on the exam and what to say. The "outsider" without this "knowledge" would always fail. Of course the bargaining agents would be a part of this "insider" culture so grievances on this issue do not go anywhere.

There are a number of other impediments to equality in public sector recruitment. I will make an effort to address them in anoter post !

NOTE: This piece is written for the sole purpose of drawing attention and discussion to an issue of public importance - the exclusion of the majority of the Metropolitan Toronto area's population base from well-paying public sector jobs.

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