Thursday, March 2, 2017

An African-Canadian Lawyer's Viewpoint on Representing Clients on Human Rights in Ontario

   I never intended to practice human rights law.  Like many African-Canadian lawyers, family and friends advised me of the dangers of practicing in the area of human rights. You are an African-Canadian they would tell me.  You are not white.  Do not think for one minute that you as an African-Canadian lawyer will ever be treated in the same manner when you raise issues of human rights. You run the risk of being destroyed they would tell me.

   For the most part, I was a good student.  I tried very hard to stay away from human rights for fear that I would be destroyed for simply doing my job.  However, the needs of my community were too great to turn a blind eye to. Every now and again my counsel was sought on a human right case that my heart could not allow me to turn away.  A manager of the Ontario Human Rights Commission fired for allegedly discriminating against non-African-Canadians.  A police constable denied the opportunity to be a police officer in Ontario only on account of his race.  An obstetrical nurse denied the right to practice her profession in accordance with her faith.  An Anglican Minister entrapped by police in a gay sting operation.

   In 2013 my counsel was sought when a local justice of the peace was the subject of a Notice of Hearing issued by the Justices of the Peace Review Council alleging unwelcome, vexatious acts and comments which were alleged to create a poisoned work environment for court staff.  I reviewed the Notice of Hearing and what I understood to be the complaint and as a result of my passion for human rights and employment law, I saw what others who had been involved in the case did not see.

   The Notice of Hearing raised issues involving vexatious, unwelcome conduct in the workplace which created a poisoned work environment while the complaint itself did not assert this at all.  A majority of the items in the Notice of Hearing were not the subject of any complaint to the Review Council and as such were never investigated by a complaints committee as is required by the binding legal authority of Hryciuk  v. Ontario.

   My client was ultimately removed from office with the hearing panel finding that "he acted in a manner inconsistent with the Human Rights Code."  My client was denied compensation for the cost of his defence - leaving myself and my co-counsel, unpaid for all of the legal services that the two of us provided our client over the course of two years.

   I was referred to the Society for alleged incivility and allegedly bringing motions which had no merit.  Although my co-counsel was involved in every motion initiated on behalf of our client except for two, I alone was singled out and reported to the Society.   I now understand what my people have been trying to tell me.  The African-Canadian lawyer who practices human rights law stands outside looking into the construct known as the administration of justice still.  It is 2017 !

About the author:  Ernest J. Guiste is a Catholic, African-Canadian lawyer who reluctantly practices human rights in Ontario.  He does it out of duty and a sense of responsibility to the community.

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