Jason Proctor (CBC News) – Canada’s attorney general is trying to stop the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal from hearing a long-serving aboriginal B.C. Mountie’s complaints of discrimination within the RCMP.
Attorney General Rob Nicholson has applied to Federal Court for a judicial review of a decision to refer Cpl. Greg Morrison Blain’s complaint to the tribunal. Blain left the RCMP in January after nearly two decades on the force.
“I have suffered grave harm to my dignity and self-respect as a result of the RCMP’s callous treatment of me since I became a member,” he writes in the complaint.
“I am proud of my aboriginal identity and I feel that the RCMP has devalued this identity. The RCMP’s demeaning conduct is particularly hurtful to me as I have grown up with the burden of hundreds of years of oppression and discrimination by Canadian police forces.”
Blain currently serves as chief of the Ashcroft Indian Band in B.C.’s Interior. He approached the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2008, and an investigator was assigned to determine if the complaint merited a tribunal.
The commissioner wrote to the RCMP at the end of March to say the evidence indicates the force may have discriminated against Blain.
The attorney general, however, now claims that decision was made in error.
Both the complaint and the RCMP’s response are contained in Federal Court documents.
Blain alleges supervisors discriminated against him both on the basis of his ancestry and a psychological condition he developed after a posting with the Canadian Civilian Policing Contingent in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
His first job was in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, in 1992. He says he was asked to take a full-time aboriginal officer posting even though he wasn’t interested in the position and couldn’t speak Coast Salish, the local native language.
But a superior ultimately ordered him into the position, saying “staffing at Depot had informed him that they had ‘found him an Indian.’”
Blain claims supervisors in Nanaimo and his next posting in Bella Bella treated him differently because of what he felt were “underlying racist attitudes.” He was posted to New Aiyansh, in northern B.C., in 1999.
“New Aiyansh is a remote community and the RCMP provided housing for the five members stationed there. However, myself and the other aboriginal member were told we had to live in cramped 800-square-foot trailers on the reserve, though we each had families of four,” he writes.
“The non-aboriginal members lived in [two-storey] houses off the reserve.”
A large portion of Blain’s complaint and the commission’s investigation concerns the Afghanistan posting and his subsequent return to Canada. Blain was a member of one of two groups of four police officers in Kandahar.
One consisted of three white RCMP officers and a Métis member of the Medicine Hat, Alta., police force. The “second group” included Blain, a Métis, an Inuit and a black officer.
Blain says the “second group” members were given inferior living quarters, heavier weapons and menial tasks.
“The complainant states that the ’second group’ did the vast majority of the training of Afghan police cadets. Training took place in temperatures of up to 50 C in a tent with no air-conditioning,” the investigator writes.
“During the training, the complainant states that to his knowledge, the ‘first group’ members were working in air-conditioned offices or out on missions. However if camera crews or dignitaries were attending training on a particular day, the ‘first group’ would announce that they were conducting training that day.”
On his return to Canada after the posting in 2007, Blain went on sick leave. He claims his doctor and clinical psychologist said he was not fit for duty, but supervisors ordered him to attend a medical assessment regardless. He refused and claims the RCMP then brought a barrage of Code of Conduct charges against him concerning the dispute over his medical condition and his role as the chief of the Ashcroft band, to which he says supervisors had given prior approval.
The commission’s investigator recommends a tribunal limit itself only to the complaints that begin with Blain’s posting to Afghanistan, because the prior complaints of racism involved different people and don’t span all the parts of his career.
But the investigator’s report concludes evidence exists to suggest the RCMP may have discriminated against Blain and the other members of the “second group” of officers. The investigator also suggests the tribunal try to “determine whether the respondent’s apparent frustration with the complainant’s being on sick leave was a factor in its decision to pursue any or all Code of Conduct allegations against him.”
The RCMP responded to the commission’s investigation by saying Blain failed to make use of internal grievance mechanisms. The force says his “troubles in Afghanistan resulted primarily from interpersonal conflicts and his resistance to operational requirements, not his aboriginal ancestry.”
The RCMP also says the commission isn’t equipped to evaluate its internal disciplinary mechanisms. The force takes issue with the report’s findings that Blain may have been treated differently from other employees.
“No evidence is provided on which this conclusion is based, nor are the ‘employees’ referred to identified. It is not adequate to compare the complainant to an undefined and large group of employees,” counsel for the RCMP writes. “The complainant must specify the comparator group against whom he is evaluating his treatment.”
Blain is also pursuing a separate civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court that covers many of the same allegations.
His lawyer, Marjorie Brown, says the human rights tribunal is the proper place to hear his allegations of discrimination, especially in light of RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson’s recent decision to request an investigation into allegations of systemic sexual harassment.
“Allegations of sexual harassment and allegations of racial harassment both tend to demonstrate that the business as usual, the manner of operating within the RCMP — at least for these members that have made the allegations — just isn’t adequate to protect against that kind of behaviour,” Brown says.
“A full hearing into Cpl. Blain’s allegations would provide exactly the sort of mechanism for accountability that we understand the RCMP is claiming it is seeking to institute. So, the RCMP says that it now wishes to hold those accountable that have committed harassment or discrimination. This is how you do that.”
The RCMP would not comment on the Federal Court case.