Premier’s office played role in disputed firing
“I don’t know the name. I’ve never heard of him.”
Premier Paul Okalik’s staff had direct contact with the bureaucrats who used unfounded rumours to fire a government worker in Panniqtuuq, newly-released GN documents reveal.
The government of Nunavut is currently embroiled in a labour dispute with Harbir Boparai, a casual employee, who was fired this summer, over what he alleges are racist reasons.
“It is not a reflection of the people of the town, it is not a reflection of the people of Nunavut. But it is a reflection of the leadership. It’s pathetic,” Boparai said.
Senior GN bureaucrats dismissed Boparai, a 22-year-old Canadian of South Asian descent, three weeks after he started a four-month job in the Department of Economic Development and Transportation this past summer.
Newly released GN documents show other GN workers started circulating rumours claiming that Boparai got his job through his house-mate, who worked in the same department and who they believed was his brother-in-law. Boparai’s house-mate at the time was another man of South Asian descent.
The two men are not related, and had never met before Boparai moved to Panniqtuuq this summer.
The documents also show that Boparai was fired some time after Premier Paul Okalik visited Panniqtuuq, his home community.
Okalik denies any knowledge of Boparai, or his firing.
“I don’t know the name,” Okalik said with a shrug during an interview in Rankin Inlet earlier this month. “I’ve never heard of him. I don’t know anything about it.”
But an e-mail dated July 20, from Peter Ma, Okalik’s principal secretary, to Kathy Okpik, the deputy minister of human resources, reports that somebody complained to Okalik about Boparai’s hiring.
“When the Premier was in Pang, there was a concern raised that Mr. Ganesan [Boparai’s roommate] was using the ‘casual’ hire policy to bring his brother-in-law into Pang,” Ma wrote.
Other documents show the complaint was made by James Cummings, who is in a relationship with a woman who worked as a casual in Boparai’s unit. The premier is known to visit with the couple when he is in Panniqtuuq.
The issue seems to originate with an e-mail that Cummings, a regional supervisor for the Department of Education, and husband of Okalik’s friend, sent to Murray Horn, a director of corporate services with the Department of Education.
In his e-mail, dated July 16, Cummings wrote that the Department of Economic Development and Transportation had hired someone under “very suspicious circumstances.”
“He is non-Inuit, nor his [sic] he a Nunavut resident, but he is the bother-in-law [sic] of an ED&T employee who he lives with,” Cummings wrote.
“There are a lot of people in the community who are upset…,” he added. “It has really given the GN in Pang a black eye.”
Horn replied that Cummings was right to tell people to complain to MLA Peter Kilabuk.
“No, you have not crossed any lines,” Horn wrote. “Our communities are to [sic] small to let this type of thing just slide.”
Documents recently obtained through access to information requests show that high-level bureaucrats were only part of the chain of command involved in the controversial firing.
Peter Ma, a political appointee who works with the premier every day, continued to monitor the situation after his initial e-mail to Okpik.
In their follow-up exchanges, Ma and Okpik continue to refer to Boparai as the brother-in-law of his roommate, even after other bureaucrats established that the two men are not related.
“Just because two men are brown doesn’t mean they are related,” Boparai said. “If they wanted to know, all they had to do is ask.”
Ten days after the premier’s staff got involved, Boparai was out of a job.
“How are they doing their job as a government if they’re involved in… rumours?” Boparai said in a recent interview. “Are they working for the benefit of Inuit? Or are they working for the benefit of their friends in government?”
Boparai’s firing came even after his supervisor defended the hiring, explaining that Boparai was not related to his roommate, who worked in another office. His boss, Reuben Murphy, suggested Boparai was the only person in the community who was qualified for the job, which involved researching the creation of a bank or credit union for Nunavut.
The assistant deputy minister of economic development, Rosemary Keenainak pushed ahead with the firing, anyway, saying Inuit had not been given a chance to apply for Boparai’s position.
Boparai was one of three casual employees hired in his office this summer. He believes he was the only one with a university degree. The other two were Inuit.
Boparai has since moved back to Ontario, where he is filing a complaint against the GN through the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The Nunavut Employees Union will be entering into arbitration with the government over the dismissal.