Violation of Employees’ Right to a Safe and Welcoming Workplace at Dawson College
Christopher Boa & Sophie Anabelle Somé
Science and Environment Editor & Staff Writer
Image via Pexels, by Bruno Feitosa.
According to section 1.01 of Dawson College’s Policy to Stem Violence, Discrimination, Harassment and the Abuse of Power, “all its employees and students are entitled to a respectful and harmonious work and/or study environment [...] where respect of the individual’s dignity, physical and psychological integrity are safeguarded.” The College acknowledges that it is “[...] impossible to guarantee the absence of [...] discrimination, harassment or the abuse of power in any environment.” Nevertheless, it also intends to “provide a means of addressing these types of incidents should they occur.” Regardless of what the College claims on paper, discrimination permeates through the small cracks and loopholes of the very system that aims to protect its own employees.
In the March issue, we explored how racism (discrete or blatant) is deeply ingrained in the Dawson STEM student body. Upon further investigation, we have discovered that teachers may be in a more precarious situation in this respect, as they must plead their case from the bottom of a convoluted, bureaucratic pyramid that – more often than not – erases any acknowledgement of bullying or harmful treatment to save face.
Regarding this issue, we consulted Parviz Haggi, a Mathematics lecturer who has been teaching at Dawson College for over a decade with a PhD in Theoretical Physics. He is known by many of our readers for his outstanding teaching abilities. Born in Iran, he spent his entire youth in Sweden, which he left for Canada, only to discover that the beautiful, multicultural mosaic on which Canada’s image so heavily depends is actually a façade for a more sinister, veiled, and systemic form of discrimination. He has been the target of intense bullying for virtually his entire tenure at Dawson.
We decided to interview him on this matter and have provided his replies below:
Can you tell us about your experiences of racism at Dawson?
One month after I was hired, I was asked to sign a document at HR[Human Resources]. Later I was told that upon my arrival, someone [there] had made this comment: “what was that murderer doing here?”
I joined the DTU executive[s] when we switched federations. One morning, a former head of the DTU asked if I was a Muslim (I am an atheist), but my response seemed irrelevant: I just want to tell you that “we Quebecers hate Muslims here.” [Later, while] speaking about the city elections, [he said,] “we would not even vote for a Québécois who marries a Muslim woman.” Why was I informed of this?
At many executive meetings, they spoke to each other in my presence [about me] in [the] third-person singular: “He can do this, he should do that…” It was as if I was an object. Once, when taking the minutes at a DTU council meeting, I happened to misunderstand an absentee’s name. “Oh, you mean X,” I asked? She stared at me angrily and said: “mange d’la marde.” There was so much hatred in her voice. No one else reacted.
I was asked by the Science Program Committee to head a subcommittee on Cheating and Plagiarism. I discovered and opposed a case of plagiarism by a member of the committee. Two years later, at a general assembly, while addressing the vulnerability of faculty members to bullying by the DTU [...], the very same person raised her voice and accused me of being dangerous: “I am sitting here, and I am scared of you!” I was naive enough to believe that the DTU could be everyone’s union. I used my right to run for a DTU executive position and at the general assembly before the elections, one faculty member screamed “scumbag!” at my face, again in front of everyone. No one reacted.
Making negative comments about me in public became very common. At some point, I filed a complaint against two members of my own department. The two individuals immediately joined the DTU [...]. Based on claims of me being dangerous, the DTU installed cameras outside its office. The [once] open door was now locked. The message to me was clear: Do not come here.
The former [director general] ended up hiring a mediator who, after many meetings, told me that both the administration and the DTU viewed me as “the other.” I find this extremely dehumanizing. Why can’t I have the same rights as others? Why do I have to be wrong by definition? The mediator was fired, and [...] the DG admitted that he agreed that I was being bullied, but that he wanted me to drop the case: “Not this time, but if it happens again, I will do something.” Why will you do something later when you are not following [the College’s own] polic[ies] now? He said he did not want to oppose the DTU: “cows can be white or black in the dark,” he said, whatever it means. I insisted, but was told to go fuck myself.
Even at the general assembly, – where I tried to [expose] the problems hidden within the structure of the DTU and federation, and how little defence a member has if/when exposed to bullying (or racism) by any member of the DTU [...] –, I was spoken about in [the] third-person. No one seemed to care.
What happened when you tried to exercise your right as a faculty member at Dawson to report harassment and racism in the workplace?
The rule is that members must be defended by the DTU [Dawson Teachers’ Union] against the administration. But who defends the members against the DTU executives? No one. So again, I had to go to the very same people I was accusing of bullying and ask for an impartial investigation. This cannot be right.
When you realized that the resources provided by the College were useless to your case, to whom did you turn?
I managed to make an appointment with the federation representative, together with a former head of the DTU (the one who told me about hating Muslims). He put his hands on his desk, leaned close to my face, and screamed at me while making eye contact with her: “The federation does not give a shit about you. All we care about is the DTU [...].” This is nothing but issuing a carte blanche to the DTU executives to expose individuals to anything they please.
To make it difficult for me, both the DTU/College often engaged in “stone-walling,” i.e. silence. What is the outcome of your investigation? What did you do? Whom did you talk to? What am I supposed to do? No answer. Members can take the DTU to the “Labour Relations Committee” ONLY to get the right to take them to court. I did this but was told to drop it as “99% of the cases never go to court.” The DTU was provided with an aggressive lawyer, for free, while I had to pay out of my own pocket just to be humiliated with questions about my sex life, where I slept, and with whom. The goal was to divert the discussion from my actual harassment complaint. Now, I had the College, the DTU, and the federation lawyers against me. A majority of conversations were in French. I do not speak French.
What was the outcome of your psychological evaluations?
I was subjected to two evaluations, but why? The first time, some Dr. “Blueberry” told me, shockingly, that I was a Muslim and that my dad had several wives. My parents have passed away. Later, they said: “he just wanted to provoke a reaction.” My second evaluation ([which lasted] six hours) came after a new series of Kafkaesque accusations depicting me as a violent/aggressive murderer, etc. Simultaneously, a message was conveyed by two secretaries that “if you don’t give up, ‘they’ will make sure to take your child from you.” The evaluations ended up clearing me from every possible issue. In fact, the last report said that the problems were administrative, not psychological. Do you think anything changed after that? Think again!
Is this systemic racism?
I have described the two seemingly opposing sides of a system which seem to have one thing (racism) in common. Racism is a complex issue. It uses markers (ethnicity, skin colour, religion, etc.) but in my opinion, its root cause is the distribution of power. Some American scholars suggest that the wide-spread racism against Black Americans is linked to the fear of the possibility of Black people being smarter. The White establishment can’t afford this. Racism also operates on the fear of the other. The categorization of me as “the dangerous other” speaks for itself. Racism is often hidden within structures created by the dominant groups to guarantee their power monopoly. I would be blind not to see this here.
After everything that has happened to you, what would your only request to the people who have wronged you be?
A dialogue. But a dialogue is not possible if one part is not treated as an equal. I have proposed this several times, but no one has ever wanted to even sit down for an informal discussion.