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     May 2013        

Released on May 01, 2013, 1:00 AM EST
Tag #: 655
Institutional Policy: Advocates for greater equality and democracy

City's water plant supervisors not perform cleaning duties -Tribunal
Employees unfairly treated
Human Rights battle continue

Benkovich: "Controversial Practices"  MacDonald: "Irresponsible Reporting"

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 [7]). 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 [14]). 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 instructive:

(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 [1]).

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 consent.

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.   

Related Documents:

Double crisis in City's Water and Wastewater Division
City Spent $ 86,142.00 tax dollars  in Human Rights legal proceedings from 2009 to 2012


Released on May 01, 2013 at 1:00 AM EST

The 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 Media

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.

Yet 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.

To 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.

There 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.

It 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’’.

Refusing 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.

This 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 actors’’.  Similarly 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’’.

This 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 citizen).

This 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).

Readers 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.

Some 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’’.

By 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.

Kelly, D. M. (2011). The Public Policy Pedagogy of Corporate and Alternative News Media, Studies in Philosophy and Education, 30, (2), 185-198        

WikiLeaks Sudbury
May 01, 2013





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