Released on May 01, 2013, 1:00 AM EST
Tag #: 655
Policy: Advocates for greater equality and democracy
City's water plant supervisors not
perform cleaning duties -Tribunal
Employees unfairly treated
Human Rights battle continue
"Controversial Practices" MacDonald: "Irresponsible
A former City employee filed a Human Rights complaint against Nick
Benkovich (Director of Water and Wastewater Services), Gary Comin (Water
Plant Supervisor III), Drew Peloquin (Water Plant Supervisor II) and Kevin
Fowke (Director, Human Resources).
At a recent human rights
hearing, the Tribunal noted that the City did not employ janitors to clean
washrooms in water plants (2013 HRTO 558 Para ). At present, Water
operators, Instrument Technicians, Mechanics, Electricians, Supervisors,
and Administrative staff use toilets daily. In addition to that, regular
meetings are held at the water plant and public tours are also conducted.
This results in the use of these washrooms by 15 to 60 individuals
routinely; given that the Wanapitei water plant is in operation 24/7.
The City of Greater
Sudbury is a 500 million dollars (approximate annual budget) corporation
that fails to provide basic human needs like sanitary environments for its
own employees at the Wanapitei water treatment plant. It seems to us that
Benkovich, purposely declined these services for employees and used this
as a mechanism to punish and harass anyone who questioned him.
This workplace practice,
and other problematic behaviours including discrimination, resulted in
over 300 grievances against Benkovich, and 5 other human rights
complaints. Regardless of success of the Human Rights cases based on code grounds,
a growing number of human rights complaints and the number of grievances
filed against him provide clear evidence of serious issues in governance
at the Water and Wastewater Division.
We have also found that $
61,959.00 was spent on human rights proceedings from January to August
2012. Employees at Wanapitei water plant proposed a $24.00 solution: hire
a custodian/janitor to clean washrooms twice a week. With the amount of
tax dollars already being spent for human rights proceedings, Benkovich
could have provided cleaning service for the Wanapitei water plant for the
next 50 years.
At the Tribunal hearing,
it was noted that it was common practice for water operators to clean up
after themselves when they used the toilet. Interestingly, the
City’s water plant supervisors claimed that they ought not to perform
cleaning duties themselves. In spite of the series of serious issues
raised in the workplace, Benkovich himself hired a janitorial contractor
to clean toilets in his personal offices at the Frobisher depot.
On April 04, 2013, the
Vice chair of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal issued his decision. It
states “ …., I
am mindful that the Tribunal does not have the jurisdiction to deal with
allegations of unfairness. It is limited to dealing with alleged
discrimination on the grounds set out in the Code”
(2013 HRTO 558 Para ). The Tribunal also noted that discrimination
based on the grounds cited by the applicant can be subtle and hard to
detect (2013 HRTO 558 Para 16).
In this scenario, the
guiding principles established in Radek v. Henderson Development (Canada) Ltd. (No. 3) (2005), 52 C.H.R.R. D/430 at para. 482, and by the British
Columbia Human Rights Tribunal in determining racial discrimination are
(a) The prohibited ground or grounds of
discrimination need not be the sole or the major factor leading to the
discriminatory conduct; it is sufficient if they are a factor;
(b) There is no need to establish an intention or motivation to
discriminate; the focus of the enquiry is on the effect of the
respondent's actions on the complainant;
(c) The prohibited ground or grounds need not be the cause of the
respondent's discriminatory conduct; it is sufficient if they are a factor
or operative element;
(d) There need be no direct evidence of discrimination; discrimination
will more often be proven by circumstantial evidence and inference; and
(e) Racial stereotyping will
usually be the result of subtle unconscious beliefs, biases and prejudices .
However, the details of
this analysis, or any like it, do not seem to be cited in the decision.
Finally, the Ontario Human
Rights Tribunal stated that it had limited power in dealing with alleged
discrimination under code grounds
in this situation, so the application was dismissed. However, allegations
of unfair treatment were not dismissed, and the matter remains open to
discussion in other jurisdiction. The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal
already began legal proceedings to find the remaining issues such as
termination of employment, to see if there were any violations of the code grounds.
MacDonald: Irresponsible reporting
Human Rights complaints
are serious issues, and the local and national media took attention to
this case. Darren MacDonald, the ‘‘city hall’’ reporter for
Northernlife News provided inaccurate and false information. In his report
he highlighted one of the issues discussed at the hearing: the caste/class
system. He stated that the caste system is a religious system stemming
from Hinduism; but the caste system, especially in Sri Lanka, is a form of
socio-political organization. He also stated that the applicant is East
Indian, but the applicant is a Sri Lankan born Canadian citizen, as is
clearly cited in the tribunal decision (2013 HRTO 558 Para ).
One of the arguments
further discussed at the hearing dealt with “cultural sensitivity”.
During the hearing the applicant explained that in his culture, groups of
people called "untouchables" and "coolies" are shunned
and they are often relegated to cleaning toilets to make a living. The
applicant claims that the supervisors (Gary Comin and Drew Peloquin)
ordered him to clean washrooms to humiliate him and punish him, in
culturally insensitive ways, due to ongoing dispute with management.
Darren MacDonald misinterpreted this argument, misquoted the applicant,
and insinuated that he was in fact an “untouchable and a
coolie”—with little respect for his culture.
The cleaning of urinals
and toilet bowls had never been part of the “duties” of water
operator. Once these incidents occurred, Benkovich immediately issued a
warning letter stating that “cleaning” includes toilet bowls and
urinals. Then Comin implemented a work order/work plan to the rest of the
operators, stating that the cleaning of urinals and toilet bowls was part
of their duties in order to cover up the harassment. This led to 36
grievances from the other operators, and resulted in the CUPE Local 4705
alleging that Comin was attempting to alter job descriptions without their
The facts as they appeared in the newspaper
article written by Darren MacDonald are inaccurate, and his irresponsible
reporting seriously damaged the credibility of Northernlife and shows a
very weak ethical backbone to his journalism.
Released on May 01, 2013 at 1:00 AM EST
original article initially published on Studies in Philosophy and Education, 30, (2), 185-198.
Excerpts from the article as follows.
The Public Policy Pedagogy of Corporate and Alternative News
journalism remains the primary, if imperfect, source of information for
most people about the public sphere and spotlights issues for political
debate and action. Further, many journalists still describe their work as
central to democracy; for example, they see themselves as watchdogs
against abuses of power and helping to air unorthodox viewpoints.
the current state of concentrated and corporate ownership of media raises
concerns about diversity of opinions and analyses about matters of public
concern—diversity that is central to a healthy democracy. Additional
concerns arise given the influence of media on the public’s sense of
self and other, particularly for social groups who do not participate
equally in the production and dissemination of dominant culture and are
rarely seen as legitimate sources for news stories, even when those
stories are about them.
foreground journalism’s role in informing the public (conceived as
multiple audiences) and supporting democracy, Author propose to frame
in-depth news coverage of issues and events as public policy pedagogy. The
texts and images represented in (and absent from) news media teach
powerful lessons about what societal conditions get transformed into
‘‘problems,’’ how certain ‘‘problems’’ get framed within
policy proposals, who becomes seen as a legitimate policy actor, and what
range of solutions get brought forward for consideration.
are a number of competing models of democracy, each one carrying certain
normative implications for news journalism. Author draw on Nancy
Fraser’s (1997, 2008) democratic theory, which attends to social
differences and does not assume that unity is a starting point or an end
goal of public dialogue. Multiple publics exist, albeit with unequally
valued cultural styles and unequal access to the material means of
disseminating their ideas. Members ‘‘of subordinated social
groups—women, workers, peoples of color, and gays and lesbians—have
repeatedly found it advantageous to constitute alternative publics’’.
Alongside the formation of alternative publics, alternative media outlets
sometimes develop. There, members debate their interests and strategize
about how to be heard in wider, mass-mediated public arenas.
is important to recognize that Fraser’s theorizing draws from both
agonistic and discourse ethics models of democracy and that the latter
model is itself a variant within the deliberative or communicative
democracy tradition. In its more agonistic register, Fraser’s approach
emphasizes contestation, ‘‘cultivating responsiveness to emergent
exclusions’’. In its more discourse ethical register, Fraser’s
approach ‘‘also valorizes the moment of closure, which enables
political argument, collective decision making, and public action—all of
which it deems indispensable for remedying injustice’’.
to see agonistic and discourse ethical approaches as antithetical, she
argues for ‘‘a grammar of justice that incorporates an orientation to
closure, needed for political argument, but that treats every closure as
provisional—subject to question, possible suspension, and thus to
reopening’’. What are the normative implications of this non-unitary,
multiple-publics model of democracy for news journalism? As in other
models, it is essential that media provide forums for political
discussions and honor ‘‘the importance of factually correct
information and of news journalism providing some basic information about
how society and the political processes work’’. In addition, news
journalism should frame politics as issues subject to debate, present
societal problems as open to human intervention and possible solution, and
‘‘mobilize the citizens’ interest, engagement, and participation in
public discussions’’ and decision making An
underlying assumption is that resources, institutional support, and
investigative initiative exist to support quality journalism—or at least
that alternative news media (as opposed to media owned and controlled only
by corporations or government) exist.
model of democracy is consonant with a critical policy studies approach.
Thus, policy can be seen as a process that is always subject to politics,
each step struggled over by groups with competing interests who are
unequally empowered to see their values legitimized. Government issued or
legally authorized policy texts, while important as official policy, are
provisional compromises or temporary settlements. Equally important is the
moment ‘‘when the formulated charter, temporarily reified as text, is
circulated across the various institutional contexts, where it may be
applied, interpreted, and/or contested by a multiplicity of local
important is the period when conditions get transformed into
‘‘problems’’ that can be ‘‘solved’’ or addressed through
particular policy proposals. Here, critical policy analysts have attended
closely to discursive framing and ‘‘how the frames will affect what
can be thought about and how this affects possibilities for action’’.
model of critical policy analysis—in combination with the non-unitary,
multiplepublics model of democracy—provide me with an ‘‘alternative
framework of reference’’ as I interpret the news as public policy
pedagogy. This pedagogy writ large carries the potential for enhancing
democracy but more often, in today’s media landscape, engenders
exclusion. The structural bias in corporate news media toward the dominant
in society can be traced to the production of news (e.g., the business
model, the use of elite and official sources), its circulation (e.g., the
largest online portals for news remain corporate), and consumption (e.g.,
the motivation to deliver audiences to advertisers encourages an image of
the reader as a self-interested consumer rather than a public-minded
structural bias, along with reporting norms and conventions and widely
accepted textual practices, all work to announce the dominant frame of a
news story. Of course, meaning is never fixed; any given news story is
open to multiple interpretations, depending on a reader’s social
location, emotional investments, and values. Nevertheless, one can speak
of what called the ‘‘preferred’’ or ‘‘dominant’’ reading
because of the way the media text has been encoded at various stages
(production, circulation, consumption).
may share part of the dominant ideologies encoded in a news story yet
resist and modify the text’s codes in other parts. Still
others may recognize the preferred reading but, based on an alternative
perspective such as the critical policy and radical democracy framework
reject the dominant code in favor of an ‘‘oppositional’’ reading.
current conventions in mainstream news journalism (notably, seeking
‘‘balance’’ defined as giving ‘‘both sides of the story’’)
can restrict public debate and discussion and impoverish the public policy
pedagogy on offer. Within any one side in a debate, there is often
diversity of opinion (e.g., over the meaning of social justice) that does
not get aired, let alone explored, in the dichotomous rhetorical framework
commonly fostered through mass media reporting. This framework also
obscures possible commonalities; for example, in the case examined here,
gay activists and conservative advocacy groups alike charged that the
government’s consultation process was elitist and overly managed.
Perhaps most important, the guiding concern for what I will call
‘‘superficial balance’’ reinforces a model of democracy based on
tallying different groups’ policy preferences rather than fostering an
exploration of the reasons for those preferences and a rich exchange of
views. ‘‘By including multiple perspectives, and not simply two that
might be in direct contention over an issue, we take a giant step toward
enlarging thought…the fact that both must be accountable to differently
situated others further removed from those relations can motivate each to
reflect on fairness to all’’.
contrast, media serving subaltern counter-publics have a vested interest
in more sustained and in-depth reporting of issues pertaining to their
members. While reporting from within subaltern counter-publics is
sometimes represented by the mainstream as ‘‘biased,’’ that this
alternative publicity is crucial to nourishing journalism’s democratic
mission. Such alternative, ‘‘niche’’ media play an important role
in increasing the diversity of political debate and can encourage and
enhance the participation of people who in various ways have been
subordinated in the wider, stratified society. Practices such as moving
beyond the ‘‘view from nowhere,’’ while retaining conventional
journalistic methods for establishing credibility, have the potential to
help democratize the public policy pedagogy on offer.
D. M. (2011). The Public Policy Pedagogy of Corporate and
Alternative News Media, Studies in Philosophy and Education, 30, (2), 185-198
May 01, 2013