Toronto jail guard seeks workplace racism investigation

A guard at the Toronto Jail has asked Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal for an investigation into racist graffiti and hate mail targeting black officers. The complaint suggests the racism originates with other staff at the jail.

In his affidavit Leroy Cox, who has worked since July 2004 at the facility also known as the Don Jail, has identified six pieces of racist hate mail sent to the jail, some of them targeting him. Cox says the racist letters first started appearing seven years ago and may be coming from other guards working in the jail.

"I am nervous all the time, I am paranoid many-a-times," he told CBC News. "It's really hard. I'd just like to return to work in a clean environment, right? And the culprits found and dealt with in the proper manner."

Lawyers for the Ministry of Correctional Services asked that the tribunal dismiss Cox’s application for a hearing, saying the matter should go back to a grievance settlement board that dealt with the issue in December, 2010.

But Julian Falconer, Cox's lawyer, says that board has been ineffective in dealing with the problem.

"There is a public interest in rooting white supremacists out of a jail," Falconer said. "Keep in mind that in addition to being in a position to harass their fellow racialized officers, these white supremacist officers are in charge of inmates, often inmates that are black."

The issue of racism at the jail has been percolating for years. In 2006, a group of guards called for an inquiry into racist threats, and in 2008 guards staged a walkout, claiming nothing had been done about the racist letters.

Falconer says the ministry should have asked the hate crimes unit of the Toronto force to do a criminal investigation seven years ago when the letters first appeared, instead of treating it as an internal labour matter.

In 2010, Falconer wrote to Toronto police Deputy Chief Tony Warr, alleging that racist hate mail sent to the jail advocated "for the killing of black correctional officers," prompting the Toronto Police Service to open a hate crimes investigation. The probe remains open.

One of the letters Cox cites, received April 1, 2010, reads: "Some of these a--hole n---a's will be killed.. Cox... Segregation today segregation tomorrow Segregation forever."

In November 2010 another letter filled with racist language and expletives threatening black officers arrived. The letters KKK were written at the top and bottom of the page.

In March 2011, Cox noticed a graffiti swastika on a wall in the jail with "snake and rat" written below it. He says those words were often used in hate mail to describe black correctional officers.

Cox had just returned to work in January 2011 after being on extended leave because of the harassment. In July 2011, he went on leave again after jail supervisors revealed more hate mail targeting him.

"Why did you return Coxey. The workplace is so peaceful without you f---ing n---as why don't you all stay the f--k out," one letter says. "Cox only a matter of time f---er."

Cox remained off the job until January 2012.

Prison officials and the ministry have not yet identified who is sending the letters. In spite of memos to staff underling a zero tolerance policy for racism, new security cameras, a protocol that required suspicious letters be flagged, and a new committee to address racism, the letters haven’t stopped.

In December 2010, a grievance settlement board that deals with public employees ordered the ministry to compensate Cox and other guards after considering 39 racist letters sent to the jail between 2005 and 2009.

The board determined the employer should have acted sooner in denouncing the racist letters and that it was negligent because it didn't offer enough support to the victims in the months after the hate letters began.

The grievance board also ordered some of the alleged perpetrators to be compensated because they complained they were falsely accused of being racist.

Falconer suggests the Ontario Public Service Employees Union was in a conflict of interest because the union steward represented both the victims of the racist mail and the alleged perpetrators.

In a statement filed with Cox's affidavit, former local OPSEU president Chris Cosier says he was asked by a ministry investigator to help track the possible sources of the racist hate letters.

Cosier says a senior staff member at OPSEU thwarted his attempts to get involved. "I was informed…that I could not assist in any way with the investigation."

OPSEU declined to comment to CBC News.

Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Brent Ross told CBC News that it would be "inappropriate to comment on proceedings before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal."

"However, I can assure you that the ministry continuously strives to maintain and improve a positive working environment for all its employees."

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