Fair practices tribunal hears racism beef
Kugluktuk man alleges discriminatory treatment
A Kugluktuk man who alleges that Nunavut government officials pushed him into quitting his government job for complaining about racial issues took his complaint to a fair practices tribunal in Iqaluit this week.
Robert Ayalik, who once worked as a “Nunavut workforce specialist” in the department of health and social services, filed a racial discrimination complaint with Bill Riddell, the Nunavut government’s fair practices officer, in July 2001.
Soon after, Ayalik faxed copies of his complaint and other related documents to newspapers and to CBC North, in an effort to publicize the matter. His case was featured in a CBC Northbeat documentary on the GN’s Inuit employment numbers, aired on CBC television last year.
His main targets are Keith Best, an assistant deputy minister in the health department, Andrew Johnson, who was deputy minister in 2001, the year Ayalik quit his health department job, and Tom Thompson, who was assistant deputy minister of human resources at the time.
Ayalik alleges they subjected him to a “constructive dismissal” after he complained about a health department conference on primary health care in Rankin Inlet from Aug. 22 to Aug. 24, 2001, saying no Inuit, including himself, had been invited to it.
“Constructive dismissal” is jargon used when an employer changes the nature of an employee’s job to force the employee to quit.
Ayalik says that’s exactly what the GN did in July 2001, in handing him a letter transferring his job from Kugluktuk to Iqaluit, soon after he registered his complaints about the health conference.
But Doug Garson, a Nunavut government lawyer, said in his opening statement that GN officials did not discriminate against Ayalik or subject him to adverse treatment because of his Inuit origin.
And Garson said the GN did everything it could to help Ayalik grow in his job.
“The evidence will show that the GN made considerable attempts to accommodate Mr. Ayalik and to help him build a career,” Garson said.
Garson said government officials pleaded with Ayalik not to quit his job, and said the Kugluktuk-Iqaluit job transfer was for only one year.
To hear the complaint during this week’s public hearing in Iqaluit, the government hired Sara Kay, a Yellowknife lawyer.
As of Nunatsiaq News’ press-time this past Wednesday, Kay had made no decision on Ayalik’s allegations, and was just beginning to hear evidence from GN witnesses.
Ayalik represented himself at the hearing, making an opening statement and questioning his own witnesses.
Dressed in striped dress shirt, black pants and a pair of Kitikmeot-style caribou kamiks, he sat in the witness box and gave his evidence in the form of a 25-minute statement to the hearing.
He portrayed himself as a strong advocate for Inuit rights, and told the hearing that he has complained about GN staffing practices on other occasions.
“This is not the first time that I have been at odds with the government,” Ayalik said.
Ayalik told the hearing that his dispute with the GN began in July 2001, when he complained to Keith Best about being dropped from a list of people invited to a primary health care conference to be held in August of that year in Rankin Inlet.
He accused Best, Johnson, and other GN officials of holding an “Inuit-free” conference, and demanded that his name be put back on the list of invitees.
Ayalik said this violated Article 32 of the Nunavut land claims agreement, which requires that governments consult Inuit when designing social programs that affect Inuit.
Ayalik said Best and other GN officials did not respond to those complaints, and the Rankin conference went on without Ayalik’s participation.
It turned out that several Inuit did attend the conference. A list of conference participants prepared by health department employee Rachel Munday contains the names of elder Ollie Ittinuar, who was a guest speaker, as well as Theresa Aklunark, Mora Kablalik, and Nowyah Williams.
The GN’s fair practices office is in charge of administering the GN’s Fair Practices Act, an old law inherited from the Northwest Territories that’s designed to cover human rights complaints in the workplace, including allegations of racial discrimination.
Nunavut’s new human rights law, when it’s implemented, will replace the Fair Practices Act.
This week’s hearing is expected to carry into Thursday, past Nunatsiaq News’ press-time this week.