Former B.C. correctional officer targeted for being Black seeking $1.2M after 8-year human rights fight

·3 min read
Former B.C. correctional officer targeted for being Black seeking $1.2M after 8-year human rights fight

After an eight-year human rights battle, a former correctional officer who was targeted for being Black at work will learn by Jan. 28 how much compensation he'll get.

Levan Francis loved his job before he was transferred to the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, where he faced repeated racial slurs and physical attacks.

In 2012, Francis filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

On Friday, Human Rights Tribunal arbitrator Diana Juricevic said she will deliver her decision about compensation by Jan. 28, after hearing final submissions from both sides.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The province of B.C. is offering up to $368,491.18 for lost income and other expenses.

Included in that total is $20-$35,000 for injury to dignity, feelings and self respect.

But the lawyer for Francis said legal costs, at close to $250,000 after such a long legal odyssey, would eat up most of that.

However, legal expenses are not compensable under the B.C. Human Rights Code.

$1.2M proposed as compensation

Larry Smeets says his client would be left vindicated, but broke, after losing his 15-year career, his family home — and his mental health.

In his final submission, Smeets put forward $1,236,465.05 as a fair total for compensation for all the income and personal costs to Francis during this protracted case.

The 51-year-old suffers from severe depression and PTSD, much of it attributed to his treatment at work.

"I was good at my job. I treated inmates like human beings. But things just kept coming at me and it comes to the point when I'd had enough," said Francis, in an interview last summer.

Two years ago — July 4, 2019 — the Human Rights Tribunal issued a 106-page decision deeming his former workplace "poisonous" and his complaint justified.

B.C. government
B.C. government

In final submissions, his lawyer said that Francis was labelled a "rat" and had a "target on his back" once he complained.

His case has been plagued with delays — and setbacks.

Smeets said it was a struggle for Francis, who was in financial turmoil, to find a lawyer who would agree to take the complex case against the province.

Lawyer Peter Gall represents B.C. in the Francis case.

He said the province agrees Francis must be "fairly and appropriately compensated by way of damages for the discriminatory incidents that occurred in his workplace. The government regrets that they occurred and agrees fully that he should be compensated for the damages as a result of the discriminatory incidents."

But Gall says Francis is seeking compensation for some incidents and conflicts that were not discriminatory.

Gall cited examples including trauma caused by the death of an inmate that Francis dealt with, the stresses of his disability claims being cut off after he refused to participate in investigations or attend psychiatric assessments needed to access benefits.

"We say really you are the author of your own misfortune here, by not following the advice of your doctor and your union," Gall said in his final submissions on Zoom.

But Smeets said his client became paranoid, believing his employer tried to delay his efforts to get disability benefits, labelling him "disgruntled" and suggesting his medical claim was "bogus."

In his submissions, Smeets said there was nothing to show anything had been done to improve the "poisonous" work environment at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

And he said more should have been done given the evidence brought by other employees about how Francis was stereotyped for no reason as "a slow, lazy Black man," after he filed a complaint.

Smeets said past attempts by the province to settle were less than generous and he urged his client to reject them. During the tribunal hearing, Francis raised 32 incidents of conflict at his workplace. Of those, nine were deemed discrimination, eight were not and 15 were too dated, having missed the legal deadline.

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.