1. Randy Symonds
The Human Rights Commission yesterday released a decision of its Board of Inquiry, which was looking at racism at the Halifax Transit garage in Burnside.
The complainant is referred to as Y.Z., a white man who began working in the garage in 1979. In May of 1982, Y.Z. married a Black woman; he says that’s when ongoing discrimination against him started.
But it wasn’t only Y.Z who was the victim of discrimination. Dave Buckle, an Inuit, and Randy Symonds, an African-Nova Scotian, were both hired in 2000. The only visible minorities in the Brake Shop, they became friends with Y.Z. and his wife; as such all three were subjected to repeated harassment, verbal and written assaults, “pranks,” damage to equipment, and in the case of Symonds, threats of violence.
Lynn Connors, the chair of the Board of Inquiry, found that Y.Z., Dave Buckle, and Randy Symonds were each the victim of discrimination, and that the garage was a “poisoned work environment.”
The decision names supervisor Arthur Maddox as the primary “tormentor” of all three men, but also says that there was general toxic workplace environment and management did not properly deal with complaints.
Even reading the Board’s decision is dispiriting. Living through the activity described in a day-to-day work environment must have been hell.
There are so many incidents described that it’s hard to know where to start. I can’t recount them all in this space.
But this morning I’m going to concentrate only on Randy Symonds. The incident that brought things to a head occurred in April 2001, when Symonds was working the parts counter at the garage. Symonds described the incident to a supervisor in an email that read:
…Arthur Maddox comes to the counter and we makes eye contact and immediately says to me “suck me boy, suck me boy” (twice). Rather calmly, I asked Arthur why is it whenever you come to the counter, why do you always have to have something ignorant to say to me and said to Arthur I wanted his to stop this. This seemed to irritate him greatly, and immediately replied that I had better not to to the foreman and say that he was being racist towards me… Arthur went away yelling fuck off, I assume this was for me apparently there wasn’t anyone esle around but me and Darrel Gerrald. In any event, Arthur comes back approximately a half hour later, I happen to be down back working and he yells down and before I even get half way up the isle he points and says over here. Arthur said if I went to the foreman and said that he was being racist towards me that there would be physical violence and I would be getting hurt…
[emphasis added by Connors]
Maddox’s own evidence showed the event was even worse than Symonds described it, wrote Connors:
Mr. Maddox testified that his relationship with Mr. Symonds was not the best and that he treated him the same as the other Stores Room counter personnel. Mr. Maddox admitted threatening Mr. Symonds with violence and he said that he had anger issues at the time. He stated he went over the counter at Mr. Symonds and Mr. Symonds crawled up into the fetal position in anticipation of the assault. He did not recall telling Mr. Symonds not to report him for being racist. Mr. Maddox stated that he could not recall stating “there should be a law that you can shoot someone and get away with it” [another witness’s testimony]. He later testified that he could not say for sure “if he said it or not.” It was Mr. Maddox’s evidence that Mr. Symonds fabricated portions of Mr. Symonds’ complaint in respect to this incident and including attributing to Mr. Maddox saying the workds “suck me boy.” Mr. Maddox stated as a result of questions asked by the Board Chair, in his evidence that he did not think calling a black person “boy” had any kind of racial connotation to it.”
Eventually, Maddox was fired over the incident. But in October 2001, “at a time when the union members were taking a vote to determine whether or not Arthur Maddox’s grievance filed as a result of his termination would go to arbitration,” writing appeared on a bathroom wall at the garage. It read:
All minorities are not welcome, show you care, burn a cross — a member of Baby Hitler.
In fact, Maddox got his job back and continues to work at Halifax Transit to this day.
Symonds didn’t fare so well. It’s beyond sad to read the part of the decision related to Symonds.
Symonds had taken a job at the parts counter previously held by Cathy Martin, who became a supervisor. Martin testified that she became concerned for Symonds:
He couldn’t believe that in the professional workplace that we were working in that he could be subjected to the type of environment of being treated with disrespect, bullied, and racist slurs sent against him right from the beginning of his time being there, and to the point of not accepting him to be there.
… right from the beginning I can remember — I’ll use Arthur Maddox for one of the persons that — when we were introducing Randy to different staff that would come — the different employees that would come to the counter to interact and get their parts or ask whatever, we would introduce, you know, “This is our new employee, Randy,” and one of the first things that Arthur said to him is, “How did you get the job here?” And in the line of, like — and also, “I suppose we’re all going to end up getting one of you working here.” That type of comment towards Randy. Like, didn’t welcome him or anything like that. He said, “How did you end getting the job here?” “How did you get this job?” … in the line of, like, “I suppose we all have to have one.” Meaning black race in the workforce.
It was Martin who filed the grievance on Symonds’ behalf, against Maddox and three mechanics — Steve Liddard, Danny Deal, and Carl Hood.
Stephanie Wright, another employee, testified that Symonds took the “boy” comments personally “because of his race.” Writes Connors of Wright’s testimony:
She also stated that Mr. Symonds was very paranoid about racial issues. She stated that his personality was not consistently stable. She described the way people were treated at Metro Transit as “normal everyday stuff.” Her evidence was that although it “wasn’t acceptable (she” didn’t feel it had to do with race.”
Says the white woman.
The “not consistently stable” comment jumps out at me. When a person comes to work day after day and is repeatedly subjected to racial slurs, derogatory comments, threats of violence… how exactly are they supposed to respond? How can they be “consistently stable”?
In any event, the union grieved Maddox’s firing, and as a result then-city solicitor Mary Ellen Donovan was brought in:
It was [Donovan’s] evidence that because of Mr. Symonds’ unwillingness to participate in the arbitration and because he was the key to the success of upholding HRM’s decision to terminate Arthur Maddox, she had no alternative but to proceed in mediation and settle the grievance.
I can’t say what was going through Symonds’ head, but I can certainly understand why he wouldn’t want to participate in arbitration with someone who had threatened violence against him.
Maddox came back to work in April 2002.
And, writes Connors, “Randy Symonds died on Monday, January 15, 2007, and on Wednesday, January 17, 2007, the Halifax Mail Star published a newspaper article regarding Randy Symonds.”
I cannot this morning find the Mail Star article, and Connors’ decision leaves Symonds’ death unexplained. Perhaps his death was entirely unrelated to his experience at Halifax Transit.
But I’m reminded of a recent New York Times article which looked at infant mortality and death during childbirth stats in the United States. Black women are much more likely to die during childbirth than are white women.
The researchers examined some of the reasons why. Racism in the healthcare system explains some of the disparity — Black women are simply not treated with the same dignity and respect as are white women, and therefore are not accorded the same level of care. But, said the researchers, racism in the healthcare system only explains a small part of the problem.
The researchers went through a series of other possible explanations for the disparity — poverty and education, for instance — but ruled them out. It turns out that a Black woman with PhD and making more than $100,000/year is more likely to die during childbirth than is a white woman who dropped out of high school.
In the end, the researchers decided that the main factor for the disparity was that the lived experience of day-to-day racism takes a physical toll on Black women, and that physical toll expresses itself when the body is stressed at childbirth.
Being the subject of continued racism is exhausting, and has its price, both physically and mentally. It’s not just a victimization of the moment, but a victimization of existence.
2. Abdoul Abdi
King’s Wharf (Wednesday, 7pm, Christ Church Hall, Dartmouth) — Fares & Co. wants to totally change the approved development agreement for King’s Wharf. See yesterday’s post.
Port Wallace PPC Meeting (Thursday, 6:30pm, HEMDCC Large Meeting Room 1, Alderney Gate) — no agenda posted.
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Auditor General Michael Pickup will be asked about his Spring report released yesterday.
No public events Thursday or Friday.
Spring Convocation, Morning Ceremony (Wednesday, 9am, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — ceremony for graduates in the Faculties of Engineering and Graduate Studies.
Spring Convocation, Early Afternoon Ceremony (Wednesday, 12:30pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — ceremony for graduates in the Faculties of Engineering and Graduate Studies.
Two Sequences Related to Bernoulli and Euler Numbers (Wednesday, 2pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Lin Jiu will speak.
Spring Convocation, Late Afternoon Ceremony (Wednesday, 4pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — ceremony for graduates in the Faculties of Engineering, Health, and Graduate Studies. Honorary Degree Recipient: Lynn Clark Irving (yep, one of those Irvings).
Spring Convocation, Morning Ceremony (Thursday, 9am, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — ceremony for graduates in the Faculties of Health and Graduate Studies.
Spring Convocation, Early Afternoon Ceremony (Thursday, 12:30pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — ceremony for graduates in the Faculties of Health and Graduate Studies.
Humanities and the Sciences (Wednesday, 2pm, Archibald Room, New Academic Building) — Evelyn Fox Keller and Ford Doolittle are speaking.
In the harbour
5:30am: Gravity Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Portbury, England
7am: Hebridean Sky, cruise ship with up to 120 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Saint John
11am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
11am: CSL Tarantau, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea
4pm: Gravity Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
We’ll be publishing Part 3 of Joan Baxter’s “Fool’s Gold” series at noon today.
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.