THUNDER BAY – A report that the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has found that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to have discriminated against an Aboriginal woman has lit controversy online. Here is what happened; Bonnie Couchie was terminated after the first of six sessions she was contracted to deliver on Aboriginal relations for staff from various Ontario government ministries. Evaluations from that first session included comments such as needing training “without all the whining about all the past historical injustices” as well as praise for Ms. Couchie being “good and interesting.” Her non-Aboriginal co-presenter also received mixed reviews, eliciting comments such as “was this the first time [he] saw the material?”
One week later Ms. Couchie’s contract was terminated at the direction of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Her co-presenter, however, was retained – with
the direction that he get some “refresher work.” Ms. Couchie has a Master’s Degree focused on Native Studies, decades of experience as an independent workshop facilitator and presenter, and has taught Native Studies at 6 different post-secondary institutions.
Witnesses at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing testified about that first day of training, one confirming that workshop participants “expressed hostility during the training.” Vice Chair Jennifer Scott of the Human Rights Tribunal concluded that Ms. Couchie was subject to “heightened scrutiny, disproportionate blame and over-reaction when compared to her co-presenter.” Vice-Chair Scott also found that the Ministry “was prepared to remediate the poor performance of the non-Aboriginal person, but was not prepared to remediate the performance of the Aboriginal person.” The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ordered the Ministry to pay Ms. Couchie $20,000 in general damages.
“As a First Nations person, every aspect of the discriminatory treatment shook me to my very core,” said Couchie. “The discriminatory termination also had the effect of thwarting improved relations with the Aboriginal peoples, the very thing they sought by organizing the training,” continued Couchie.
Amy Britton-Cox, Ms. Couchie’s lawyer from the Human Rights Legal Support Centre said, “The Tribunal’s decision underlines the nature of systemic discrimination, where unconscious beliefs drive hiring and firing decisions.
The online controversy has started over comments that Kathy Shaidle has made on her blog “Five feet of Fury”. Shaidle who is an outspoken online opponent of the Human Rights Tribunals. In 2008 Shaidle and journalist Pete Vere wrote and published The Tyranny of Nice, a critique of the Canadian human rights tribunals.
Her comments on this decision in an article titled, “So what’s her Indian name? ‘Twat So Cute’? ‘Dances with Bikini Wax’?” are certain to keep the battle over human rights tribunals afire.