A Selkirk school bus driver was fired after attending a rally opposing COVID-19 protocols and badmouthing his employer’s subsequent decision to discipline him on social media.
A recent labour board ruling sheds light on the events that led to the Lord Selkirk School Division terminating an employee on May 6, 2021, roughly two weeks after several hundred people descended on The Forks to protest third-wave public-health orders in Manitoba.
The decision, published exactly one year after Ian Kathwaroon’s dismissal, also rejects the bus driver’s claim he was “not properly represented” by his union, Unifor Local 191, in challenging the action.
“The applicant was terminated by the employer for reasons that included engaging in off-duty conduct that violated a public-health order during a pandemic. He posted about his participation in that activity and the employer’s decision to ‘suspend’ him on social media,” wrote Colin Robinson, chairperson of the Manitoba Labour Board, in the 16-page document.
“When questioned about his actions, he failed to take responsibility and expressed the (erroneous) view that what he did on his own time was his own business.”
Kathwaroon, who began his employment in the division in late 2015, denies any wrongdoing and has appealed the ruling.
The labour board’s account states Kathwaroon, who is referred to as “T.S.” in the decision, attended a large outdoor rally on April 25, 2021 — at which point provincial orders prohibited individuals from gathering outside in a group of more than 10 people.
The bus driver uploaded photos while posing unmasked and with other people at the rally from whom he was not socially distanced, wrote Robinson, while noting the individual’s social media profile declared his employment with Lord Selkirk.
The division reported receiving complaints from parents of students in connection to the posts and as a result, a manager interviewed the bus driver about the situation after his regular bus route on April 26. The employer determined he was “unapologetic” and placed the employee on administrative leave pending an investigation, per the ruling.
“So, this morning, I was suspended by the Lord Selkirk School Division… Did I commit a crime? No. Did I beat a child? No. Did I claim to represent them? No. No. I attended a protest. On my own time. As a political representative,” Kathwaroon wrote on Facebook, in a post that made the rounds on social media in the spring of 2021 and has since been removed.
The division soon terminated the individual’s employment, citing his conduct on April 25 and 26.
During a phone call Friday, Kathwaroon said he was “illegally terminated” and suggested his firing was related to alleged ongoing harassment he has endured at work since 2019 due to his political views.
The Selkirk resident ran for office under the People’s Party of Canada banner in the last two federal elections.
“I had never been called into the office and reprimanded (before this). I showed up to work every day. The kids loved me. The parents loved me. That’s kind of the base of my employment. I had an excellent record at work,” he said.
Kathwaroon added there is “zero proof” he was in attendance at the April 25 rally, although he acknowledged he has posed for a photo with “Chris Sky,” the public persona of Chris Saccoccia — a leading Canadian anti-mask activist and conspiracy theorist who rose to online prominence during the pandemic.
Saccoccia attended the April 25 Winnipeg event as part of a cross-country tour to protest COVID-19 restrictions.
The director of human resources services at Winnipeg’s Legacy Bowes Group said case law repeatedly finds that employees cannot simply do whatever they please when they are off the clock and expect no consequences.
“If there can be a connection made back to your employer, then you are always an ambassador of your employer and you need to uphold your employer’s reputation,” said Tory McNally.
McNally’s general advice to workers is never post anything online that they would not want their grandmother to see.
The labour board ultimately dismissed Kathwaroon’s claims his union was not on his side in countering his dismissal, did nothing to help him and pandered to the division.
The ruling states the union filed a grievance seeking remedies, including a reinstatement, on the employee’s behalf, communicated with him and made submissions before agreeing to a settlement that it deemed fair.
Unifor Manitoba director Paul McKie declined to comment on the matter, citing case confidentiality.
Lord Selkirk School Division superintendent Jerret Long did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press