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Friday, October 13, 2006

OPSEU Union just as culpable as Government, says lawyer

A former correctional offcier-turned-lawyer is questioning the decision of the Ontario Public service Employees Union(OPSEU) to call a press conference to address the systematic racism that Vlack and other visible minority guards face in their workplace.

Selwyn Pieters, who worked at the Don Jail for about 15 months, and was subjected to racial harrassment, said he's not convinced the union is acting in the best interests of Black and other visible minority guards, adding that the union is just as culpable as the provincial government.

"I do not think that OPSEU is serious about dealing with or addressing the issues of systematic racism," said Pieters. "Leah Casselman(OPSEU President) was there when I and other guards came forward to voice our concerns and the union has done nothing even though they have a particular stake in the workplace, which is a unionized environment."

"Many guards have had an uphill fight with the union... It's particularly troubling that they are prepared to play political football with people's lives."

"I had to come forward to represent [Jason Williams] at great financial sacrifice to my law practice and to defend his human rights and right to work with dignity in a safe and respectful work environment due to the complex issues in the hearing and OPSEU's lack of support. Numerous requests for OPSEU, through its president and general counsel to assist Mr.Williams with his legal fees, including a request on the eve of the press conference, fell on deaf ears and were rejected."

Dave Mitchell, a Depty Superintendent with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, one of two senior African-Canadian prison officers in Canada, appeared with another guard, Charlene Tardiel, at a press conference earlier in the year, to express their concerns and displeasure with which their employers have handled the systematic racism they and other Black employees have faced.

Mitchell tearfully recalled the racist mail he received and said at the time that no less than 11 racist letters threatening in excess of 20 Black and other visible minority officers were sent to the Metro East Detention Centre where he's assigned and the Don Jail, where an African-Canadian officer was allegedly poisoned after leaving his meal unattended for a few moments.

Mitchell has said no progress has been made in the investigationsand re-iterated the need for public inquiry.

OPSEU, representing approximately 4,800 correctional officers province-wide, called for a public inquiry into the death threats officers face and the poisoned work environment, claiming the Ontaio gov't is fueling the racism by ignoring the recent avalanche of death threats against at least eight officers.

Black and visible minorities have been complaining for a long time about the rampant and systematic racism in some of the province's prisons. In 2000, Anthony Weekes, Mark Garrick and Anthony Simon related their horrific workplace experiences; in 1998, correctional officer Mike McKinnon, who won a racial discrimination case against four supervisors, predicted that the problem of systematic racism in Ontario jails will not go away.

"If they (White guards) are treating their Black colleagues in this manner," said Dave Mitchell, "imagine what they are doing to the Black inmates."

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