We are living in a time when racism and racial discrimination are at the fore globally. The world is being awakened to an issue that is by no means new but has not necessarily received sufficient attention. There is now a global call for radical institutional and systemic changes which acknowledge the equality of racialized persons. While the focus is in many cases on the justice system, it is imperative that the systemic changes, if they are to be effective, must permeate to the core of every society at all levels, including the workplace.
Racism is on the rise as a result of the global pandemic. Concerns about its prevalence prompted Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner for the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), to issue a statement earlier this month condemning the practice. Landry noted that minority groups, and in particular people of Asian origin, have been the victims of taunts, threats and intimidation in public and online. She went on to make clear that no one should feel threatened or unwelcome because of the colour of their skin or where they some from.
Standards of appropriate workplace behaviour have rapidly changed over the last few years, and conduct that was once deemed acceptable is no longer tolerated in the workplace. But as the following arbitration decision demonstrates, one fundamental requirement still remains: the need to demonstrate a prima facie case of discrimination or harassment before the obligation to investigate a complaint is triggered.
In Ontario, harassment is defined in both the Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act as a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome. The term “course of conduct” gives the impression that harassment needs to be made up of multiple incidents. In fact, in some circumstances one serious incident can constitute harassment in the workplace.