The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ordered the province to pay compensation of almost $1 million to a former corrections officer who was targeted on the job for being Black.
In a Jan. 28 decision, the tribunal ordered B.C. to pay Levan Francis a total of $964,197, plus interest. The amount includes a B.C. record $176,000 for injury to dignity.
Francis, 51, ended his 15-year career with B.C. Corrections in 2013 after facing repeated racial slurs and physical attacks at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam. He filed a complaint in 2012 and has been fighting his case ever since, a process that cost him his family home and his mental health.
Despite the compensation ruling, Francis says he is disappointed the people who he believes were responsible have not been held to account, and he feels let down that the province fought his case for so long.
"This is just a huge, disturbing mess," Francis said. "I am so disappointed in Canada. I'm not a lawyer, but I do have a brain. I've done nothing wrong.
"The B.C. government needs to make me whole," he said. "They've tried so hard to derail this."
His lawyer, Larry Smeets, described Tribunal Chair Diana Juricevic's decision as precedent setting.
"I think it's a commentary on the justice system in British Columbia," he said.
Excellent work record
Smeets had argued his client was due $1.2 million for lost wages, pension and expenses, as well as damage to his dignity. An earlier bid to also have legal costs compensated was not covered by current legislation.
The province had wanted to limit the award to close to $400,000. Juricevic rejected the province's argument that Francis had a pre-existing mental illness and had made his own situation worse.
In her decision, Juricevic said Francis faced attacks and retaliation after he filed his complaint and was labelled with stereotypes such as "lazy Black man," despite an excellent work record.
"I accept Francis's evidence that his mental illness has been prolonged and worsened by the events that occurred after he left the workplace," she said. After filing his human rights complaint in October 2012, Francis suffered severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In her conclusion, Juricevic ordered the province to pay Francis $264,060 for past loss of earnings, $431,601 for future loss of earnings and $65,881 for pension loss. She also ordered more than $26,000 in expenses and disbursements, as well as the unprecedented $176,000 in compensation for injury to his dignity, feelings and self-respect.
Injury-to-dignity awards have averaged about $10,000 over the past decade, according to a July 2020 review by the B.C. Human Rights Clinic.
But human rights advocates say compensation awards are not enough.
Francis denied compensation for about $250K in legal costs
Ontario lawyer David Baker says the Canadian human rights system leaves complainants without financial means vulnerable.
"That is the strategy of respondents in all human rights cases — drive them into the ground. People may start out with lawyers, but if the lawyer can't get a quick win through a settlement that they can skim the cream out of, the lawyers disappear and they are left on their own," Baker said.
"These are the harsh, harsh realities of human rights cases that governments should be facing up to.
"Many people win spectacular cases that demonstrate great injustices, but at the end of the day they are out of pocket," he said.
In the case of Francis, the estimated legal costs that he was denied compensation for are estimated to be close to $250,000. Smeets is exploring whether there is any potential civil remedy based on a failure in B.C. laws.
In an email, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said the decision by the Human Rights Tribunal is being reviewed.
"Racism has no place in our province — or within the B.C. Public Service, which includes B.C. Corrections. All people deserve to feel safe and respected in their workplace, and government encourages employees who experience or witness discrimination to speak up. As government we recognize our duty to set an example and we know there is significant work to do to address broader issues of systemic racism."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.