British Columbia

Lone Black employee in 300-person department claims discrimination against City of Vancouver

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has given the go-ahead for the lone Black employee in a department of 300 people to proceed with a discrimination complaint against the City of Vancouver.

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member says complaint against city and its employee can proceed

A statue of George Vancouver stands outside city hall. The lone Black employee in one of the city's departments has filed a human rights complaint against the city alleging discrimination. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has given the go-ahead for the lone Black employee in a department of 300 people to proceed with a racial discrimination complaint against the City of Vancouver.

In his complaint against the city and a co-worker, Christopher Clarke claims he has been subjected to "a number of discriminatory comments made to him over the years at his workplace."

"I am really out of words," the tribunal decision quotes Clarke as saying. 

"To try and comprehend any more about what a day in my life, in my colour is like at the City of Vancouver, is defeating."

'You people should be buried'

Tribunal member Emily Ohler didn't weigh in on the merits of the complaint itself, except to say that the City had not proven Clarke's complaint was bound to fail.

Clarke has worked for the city since 2011. The complaint concerns a series of incidents that allegedly occurred between June and November 2018.

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal says a discrimination complaint against the City of Vancouver filed by a Black employee can proceed. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

In one, Clarke claimed a co-worker said "You people should be buried" after revving his engine and then driving too close to Clarke and a colleague near a stop sign.

In another he claimed the same worker verbally harassed him for getting extra overtime. 

And in yet another Clarke claimed the same man yelled at him for failing to properly clean out a truck that had transported asphalt.

The co-worker claimed that he apologized for driving too close to Clarke. He also denied the other interactions and "yelling or whistling" at Clarke.

The City wanted Clarke's complaint dismissed on several grounds — including the fact that "not all unpleasant workplace behaviour constitutes harassment."

The city claimed Clarke's belief "that this incident related to his colour is not enough to establish discrimination."

The city said the complaint had to be viewed in context.

Ohler agreed — but not the way the city intended.

"The allegations must be viewed in the context of the whole," Ohler wrote.

"That whole, as Mr. Clarke alleges, is one where he is the only Black employee in a staff of some 300 and where co-workers have made various discriminatory comments to him or otherwise singled him out."

'Another incident in a broader pattern'

In 2018, the tribunal dismissed a similar complaint from Clarke because he filed it more than six months after the alleged actions.

In his first complaint, Clarke — who identifies himself as Caribbean Canadian — singled out five co-workers who he said had discriminated against him. 

He cited incidents in which co-workers allegedly uttered the N-word. He also said that management "turned a blind eye when I brought this to their attention."

Ohler rejected the city's contention Clarke was basically trying to re-litigate his first complaint.

The city also argued that the complaint should be dropped against the individual employee — who no longer works for the city — because it accepts full responsibility for his actions.

The city called the alleged disputes between the two "more representative of a friction between co-workers than egregious or virulent harassment."

Ohler said she did not agree.

She said that while the city and the employee may have felt that an apology for one of the incidents sufficed, "as the only Black employee among a large staff [Clarke] did not view it that way. It appears that for him, it was simply another incident in a broader pattern of singling him out."

The City of Vancouver said it could not comment on the complaint while it is before the human rights tribunal.

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.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.


Jason Proctor


Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.