Morris Wolfe - Essays, New & Selected

EQUITY AT OCA (continued)

White, at some personal cost, was instrumental in drawing up a sexual-harassment policy, which passed easily because a particularly egregious incident of sexual harassment involving an instructor was facing the college at the time. There was a real possibility of criminal charges. But the existence of a sexual-harassment policy doesn’t, of course, mean that sexual harassment has been eliminated at OCA any more than it has been on other campuses or that it’s easy to document. Most students continue to be afraid to attach their names to charges for fear of reprisal.

What neither the preliminary task force report nor subsequent reports described was how hiring was conducted at OCA. I, for example, was hired in 1971 as a part-time instructor on the basis of at most a five-minute conversation with Roy Ascott. We talked about Utopian novels. And that was it. So far as I know neither my credentials nor my references were checked. My appointment was never formally reviewed in the years that followed. And I was not an exception. That’s how most of the hiring at OCA was done until 1987, when formal appointment procedures were established.

Once departments had been re-established after Ascott’s dismissal, the chairs — only one was a woman — became responsible for hiring. Jobs were rarely advertised. For the most part, department heads tapped friends or former students on the shoulder. Most of those who were tapped were men. People, after all, tend to hire their own kind. This practice is called systemic discrimination. It’s not surprising, then, that the department with the highest percentage of women faculty members — environmental design, with forty-two per cent — for a long time was the only department that was chaired by a woman.

It had been obvious for some time, then, that something needed to be done at OCA about systemic discrimination. In 1977, the Canadian Human Rights Act gave recognition to employment equity. Three years later the department of employment and immigration spelled out what employment equity was: a comprehensive programme designed to prevent the effects of intentional and systemic discrimination by ensuring the equitable representation in the workplace of women, visible minorities, native people, and those with disabilities. The objectives of an equity plan, the department said, had to be quantitative and attainable within a specified and reasonable period of time.

In 1981, Section 13(1) of the Ontario Human Rights Code stated that the right to equal treatment for every individual as guaranteed by the code “is not [my emphasis] infringed by the implementation of a special program designed to relieve hardship or economic disadvantage or to assist disadvantaged persons or groups to achieve or attempt to achieve equal opportunity or that is likely to contribute to the elimination of the infringement of rights.” In other words, in some circumstances, two wrongs can make a right.

A few companies, London Life, for example, began employment-equity programmes almost immediately out of a sense that the world was changing and that employment equity could actually be good for business. Most employers, however, did nothing. Consider Canadian National.

In 1981, Action Travail des Femmes, a women’s rights group at CN, lodged a formal complaint against the railway with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. CN, the group said, was guilty of systemic discrimination against women. Only 6.11 per cent of CN’s workforce was female as opposed to 40.7 per cent of the total Canadian workforce. More important, while women made up thirteen per cent of blue-collar workers nationally, only 0.7 per cent of blue-collar workers at CN were women. The jobs women were being denied — as brakemen, yardmen, and so on — were relatively high-paying.

The hearing extended over a year and a half. In 1984 a human rights tribunal ordered CN to hire one woman for every four new men for blue-collar jobs until the number of women working in non-traditional jobs in Quebec had increased to thirteen per cent. CN appealed. The Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the Human Rights Commission didn’t have the power to impose a quota; it could only make recommendations. Human Rights then appealed to the Supreme Court. In June, 1987, in a landmark 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Equity at OCA, continued > 

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