By SUNIL RAO
A South Asian coalition to fight systemic racism has just been formed, in a bid to promote equity and fairness in the workplace.
Erase discrimination, the newly-formed coalition urges. Only, it spells erase ‘E-Race’.
The group calls itself ‘E-Race Discrimination Peel’, Ranjit Khatkur explained to SAF recently. The ‘e’ in E-Race stands for employment, she said.
“Our charter is to talk to and represent people in our community, as human rights activists and as advocates for people discriminated against in the public workspace,” she said.
The official launch has been scheduled for later this year.
Khatkur was, until recently, a vice-principal in the Peel District School Board. She had complained of workplace discrimination after being consistently overlooked, as she claimed, for promotion by her employer to the post of principal, and had taken her case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal where she had fought a protracted four-year battle.
The case went to preliminary hearing after a settlement proved elusive in the first mediation. Khatkur had her day in court, with the case eventually settled in a second mediation.
The two parties announced they had reached a settlement last November.
In a statement, PDSB Director of Education Tony Pontes had said at the time, “The board remains fully committed to equity and social justice in all its dealings with staff, students and members of the community.”
The board had added the settlement was its eighth in the past decade dealing with race-based complaints by students or staff.
Khatkur had stated: “I am encouraged with the direction the board is taking in relation to equity and inclusive education issues,” but had added that as per the terms of the settlement, she could not make any further comment.
Khatkur is looking forward to her retirement May 30, 2013. Asked about the case by SAF last week, she again refused to discuss it, but added she, along with a group of like-minded activists, proposed to challenge the systemic racism that continues to exist in Peel institutions.
Khatkur is one of three key individuals behind the coalition that currently numbers 40 “going on to 400”, as awareness about its existence spreads.
Interestingly, news about the formation of E-Race Discrimination Peel — which is understood to have been in the process of formation for several months now, and launches officially this fall — comes just after the announcement of a separate Diversity Charter in Peel, announced jointly by not-for-profit newcomer agencies Peel Newcomer Strategy Group and Regional Diversity Roundtable.
The Peel Charter seeks to promote inclusion and equity, as SAF and other media reported last month.
Also interestingly, Pontes of the Peel education board had in a statement this January announced the launch of its new hiring initiative, The Journey Ahead.
“The Journey Ahead will transform the work of the Peel District School Board in equitable hiring and promotion,” the statement had said. “The detailed action plan will help create a more diverse workforce at all levels of the organization.”
Critics have however dismissed such moves as mere eye-wash, with little changing actually on the ground, and that those who speak out against the status quo continue to face reprisals — or are bought off or otherwise silenced.
They have also charged individuals appointed to positions created by organizations ostensibly to promote equity and inclusion are generally toothless and, instead, serve only as handmaidens to their employers.
Khatkur declined to discuss any specifics but charged such entrenched pernicious personnel practices continue to endure in multicultural Peel — as they have across generations.
Pooh-poohing such official “photo-ops”, she claimed they’re just a strategy in Peel to appease its diverse community members, who assume some change will develop. “But E-Race members have observed it’s just a strategic plan to delay any change.”
She added that should Peel be serious about stopping systemic racism, there should be timelines, data, and “serious conversations with those who have been victims and have the strength to speak out, without fearing reprisal”.
But despite a lot of talk and furious flurries of action, it’s mostly been just smoke and mirrors, still a case of the same old, same old.
“Take the case of my family,” she said. “Both my daughters were born in England, and grew up in Canada. Both are well-educated (one is a lawyer, the other an optometrist), both speak very good English.
“I myself have been out of India and have been living in the West for more than 56 years. We are Canadians in thought, outlook, speech. We speak like all Canadians, dress like Canadians. But no matter how we speak or how we dress, come promotion time in the workplace, nothing changes.
“Once earlier I moved on from England, but today in Peel — guess what, I’m not leaving or moving on. I realized I need to stay here, to take a stand, to change things — so that at least my grandkids won’t have to face this kind of discrimination anymore.”
— With Torstar file inputs
Beyond finger-pointing, towards practical solutions
Rather than merely target entrenched practices today, Ranjit Khatkur and her fellow members at E-Race Discrimination Peel are seeking to go beyond the problem and actively suggest and implement solutions.
“We plan to assist and support institutions to prevent racialized systemic discrimination from continuing to remain a part of the Peel culture,” Khatkur said.
Towards this end, E-Race also proposes to become a resource centre that can help train staff and support institutions by helping them obtain the tools to make changes that will promote inclusion.
“It’s about the racialized systemic discrimination, as well as the strategies to remove the barriers,” she offered. Specifically E-Race intends to:
* Partner with parents, youth and community organizations to identify barriers to equity in publicly funded institutions;
* Develop an awareness of the barriers and issues regarding equity within communities; and
• Facilitate effective voice, advocacy and participation as stakeholders of publicly funded institutions.
So E-Race seeks to be about current challenges, as well as hope for the future through offering viable solutions.
But why is this coalition only for South Asians? The answer is two-fold and, Khatkur notes, was similar to the feedback she got from organizations working among other communities as well: “Others said they need to put their own houses in order first, to present a common front. And we also realized there are issues specific only to our communities as well.”
So E-Race plans to first fix these — but as for the future, there could well be a coalition of similar agencies working under a common, overarching umbrella.
While the fledgling organization is expectedly evoking widespread interest in hugely multicultural Peel, which has more than 60 per cent of its residents coming from a diverse background, Khatkur noted E-Race is also seeking to augment its membership with human rights activists and our youth, as well as organizations and business support.
Those interested can call email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 905-890-3971.
By SUNIL RAO