It’s not a public inquiry, says deputy mayor Waye Mason. It’s better than that.
“A public inquiry would be a moment in time. This is an ongoing commitment.”
In response to continuing outcry about the discrimination faced by HRM employees, Halifax Regional Council approved a motion Tuesday requiring CAO Jacques Dubé to provide quarterly public progress reports on racism, sexism and harassment within the municipality’s workforce.
The updates will contain details on any open or completed discrimination complaints involving bullying, sexual harassment or racism that are reported through human resource channels or HRM’s new confidential employee complaint hotline. Personal information will be redacted before the report comes to council.
The deputy mayor’s motion also directs the CAO to include any findings from an ongoing human resources review of HRM, along with progress reports on implementing the recommendations from both that external review and the 2016 Employee Systems Review.
In the past, says Mason, all of that information would have been presented behind closed doors.
“It wouldn’t have even touched the council floor,” he says. “Now we’re in a position where not only are we going to get that, it’s not going to be in-camera. It’s going to be public. We’re going to talk about these issues every time.”
The approved motion is a direct response to last month’s Human Rights board of inquiry decision that exposed decades of brutal racism and bullying faced by Black and Indigenous employees at Halifax Transit’s Burnside garage.
Mason told his colleagues on Tuesday that upon reading the details contained in that decision he was sick to his stomach.
“I’ve never been more upset in my time on council.”
Dubé publicly apologized for the discrimination inside Halifax Transit once the Human Rights decision was made public. The CAO has said that since the complaint was initially filed in 2006, Halifax has implemented a number of workplace policy reforms to increase diversity and help reduce harassment across its workforce of 4,000 employees.
But a copy of the ESR report leaked to the press two years ago still describes an overwhelming culture of discrimination for Black employees inside HRM’s public works and operations department.
“I still get calls from folks in regards to these issues,” councillor Lindell Smith said Tuesday.
“When I think of my family—my immediate family—almost 100-plus years of experience in the city. And I’m not making that number up. I have aunts, uncles and my mother and father who all worked for the city. Over 100-plus years of experience working for HRM. You can imagine the stories I’ve heard through them.”
The fallout from the Human Rights complaint and ESR protests have included repeated calls for a public inquiry from citizens’ group Equity Watch, former HRM councillors and the family of Randy Symonds—the man most victimized by the racism inside Halifax Transit.
Dubé has previously told The Coast he doesn’t believe a public inquiry is needed given the reforms already in place. Mason says this new motion goes one better.
“I’m not sure what a public inquiry would get us that’s different from having constant public reporting that you’ll be able to comment on every quarter,” he says.
The deputy mayor tells The Coast it was very frustrating and demoralizing learning about the situation inside Halifax Transit. It's of the utmost importance, he stresses, that the municipality's employees are treated with the dignity they deserve.
“Nothing we do is more important than this because everything is tainted by this,” says Mason. “Building a great city, making a better library or having a better transit system or having really beautiful Public Gardens, none of that matters if the employees are being bullied at work or harassed, racially discriminated against.”
The quarterly progress reports will start arriving at council no later than September.