Discrimination in Quebec's labour relations is mainly covered by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Both protect an employee from being wronged by his employer based on race or ethnical differences. They offer employees a broad scope of protection namely with regards to hiring, dismissal, apprenticeship and conditions of employment.
As the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal recently reminded, "race discrimination" is subtle and can take various forms. In the light of the foregoing:
"(...) it should be kept in mind that discrimination is not usually practiced overtly or even intentionally. Consequently, direct evidence of discrimination or proof of intent is not required to establish discriminatory practice (...).1"
A timely issue in the context of immigration and global movements of refugees
In the current context of immigration and global movements of refugees, discrimination based on racial origin is a burning issue for employers. This is especially true given the possibility of lawsuits being brought against employers for such issues and the consequential damages that can be incurred to their company, such as bad reputation and significant expenses.
The Quebec Human Rights Commission can decide to stand on behalf of the employees that are victims of acts of racial discrimination2 before the tribunal. Furthermore, these services are free. They help employees introduce the appropriate recourses against their supposedly wrongful employers and, by the same token, could increase the risk for employers to be confronted with such lawsuits.Unionized employees can rely on the grievance procedure set forth in the collective bargaining agreement.
Recently, the Quebec Human Rights Commission filed a lawsuit against a company and its director, in order to compensate Ms. Baldassarre, a woman with Italian origins who was wrongfully dismissed by her employer. The Human Rights Tribunal condemned the discriminatory dismissal of Ms. Baldassarre. After making many negative statements about Ms. Baldassarre, based on her Italian origins, the company's director finally dismissed her. The Company and its Director were forced to pay Ms. Baldassarre an amount of 5000 $ in moral damages and an additional 2000 $ indemnity in punitive damages3.
In addition, in 2013, the Court of appeal4 rendered a judgement andcondemned Calego International inc., an important luggage distributor in North America, as well as its chairman, for having expressed racist comments about their Chinese employees, which had recently arrived in Canada. The Court considered that they were defenseless since they had very few resources and they did not speak the English language. The originating facts of this case occurred when, after being informed that bathrooms and kitchens were dirty, the president called for a meeting with only the company's Chinese employees, assuming and accusing them of being responsible for such issues. During said meeting, the president used insulting language and hinged on cultural prejudice and stereotypes. After analysis of these facts at matter, the judge condemned the Company and its Chairman to pay moral damages to the victims of the act of racial discrimination. The judge ordered the defendants to pay the total amount of 105000 $ to the 15 victims (7000 $ per employee).
Notwithstanding the above-mentioned cases, employers should bear in mind that discriminatory practices do not imply intention to discriminate, could be subtle and take various forms.
**The author wishes to thank Maude Larochelle-Samson, articling student at Norton Rose Fulbright, for her help in preparing this article.
1 Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, C.Q.L.R., c. C-12, s. 80
2 Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse c. 9209-9829 Québec inc.,  T.D.P. 1.
3 Calego International inc. c. Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse,  C.A. 924.
4 First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada et al. v. Attorney General of Canada (for the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada),  C.H.R.T. 2.
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