Nova Scotia

'Horrific' racism at Metro Transit stirred up again for family of former worker

A Nova Scotia human rights decision involving Halifax's transit system has revealed "horrific" details of racism suffered by a black worker, many of which his family is learning for the first time.

Nova Scotia human rights decision last week revealed more details of racism faced by Randy Symonds

Carole and Marie Symonds say they were unprepared for Randy Symonds's case to be brought into the spotlight, and in graphic detail. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Carole Symonds is 18 years old and she's angry.

It was only last week that she read the full story of the racism her father, who died in a car accident in 2007, faced on the job while working for Halifax's transit system.

Randy Symonds, who is black, began working as a clerk in the parts department at the Metro Transit garage in 2000. His ordeal is included in a scathing report issued last week by a Nova Scotia human rights inquiry that looked into the discrimination faced by a co-worker in a "poisoned work environment."

"I was angry, very angry that that happened to my dad," said Carole Symonds, who lives in Dartmouth, N.S.

Her father, a former member of the navy, was someone who rallied against discrimination in peaceful marches. "My dad was a really good person. That threw me for a loop."

She broke down in tears at a local library when she learned in graphic detail about how her father was called racial slurs six to seven times a week, and even told to "suck me, boy" by his supervisor, Arthur Maddox.

The discrimination escalated when Maddox jumped over a counter and physically threatened Randy Symonds, leaving him curled up in a fetal position, according to the human rights decision.

In 2003, Randy Symonds did media interviews about the racism he experienced. He died in a car accident in 2007. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Symonds's misery is revealed in a decision by a human rights board of inquiry that examined the discrimination faced by a co-worker at Metro Transit, which is now known as Halifax Transit.

The central complainant, a white man known as Y.Z. in the decision who is married to a black woman, is seeking more than a million dollars in compensation and damages for harassment by Maddox going back to 2000.

The board's decision has prompted an apology from the city's top administrator, Jacques Dubé, and an admission that "clearly we have lots more work to do."

On the day Maddox was fired in 2001, he was heard saying "racism, racism, should be a law that you can shoot somebody and get away with it," according to the decision.

Maddox got his job back the next year after Randy Symonds refused to participate in Maddox's arbitration to uphold the dismissal.

While last week's human rights decision found several instances where Y.Z. had faced discrimination and retaliation, the pillar of his case was based on Symonds's experiences.

The board of inquiry found a pattern of disrespectful, aggressive, racist behaviour by the "tormentor," and Y.Z.'s association with Symonds resulted in "payback" from Maddox.

Randy Symonds served in the navy, and later worked at the Department of National Defence in a position similar to the job he was hired to do at Metro Transit, now Halifax Transit. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Symonds had told his family about the harassment, such as seeing the N-word scrawled on the bathroom wall, but he spared them many details.

In 2003, he went public in media interviews about being a victim of racism at work.

He filed a human rights complaint against the city, and in 2006 he received a financial settlement. The amount is protected by a gag order.

Symonds died a year later. He was 44.

His widow, Marie Symonds, a mother of three, said she now understands the bullying, belittling and taunting was "horrific."

She said the racism her husband endured was extreme, with some co-workers turning a blind eye while others participated. It reminded her of white supremacists — save for "the white hoods being brought out."

"Otherwise, it's very blatant," she said.

Randy Symonds worked in the parts garage for Metro Transit. (Robert Short/CBC)

In Y.Z.'s Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission complaint, he filed an affidavit that incorrectly stated Symonds died by suicide. Symonds's family is upset they were not contacted and say he died in a car crash.

Marie Symonds said she cannot disclose the financial compensation her husband received through his human rights settlement but said it is "nowhere near" the million-dollar settlement Y.Z. is seeking.

She now wants a personal apology from the municipality and a request for forgiveness.

A satisfactory response also includes a commitment to hold others accountable for not taking action to stop racism and "do what they were supposed to do," she said. "That's a real apology."

Marie Symonds and her daughter Carole say they want justice for Randy. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Marie Symonds also supports a call for an independent inquiry to examine racism at the municipality, one her husband made 15 years ago. But she would like an inquiry to dig deeper by also looking at individual departments, including the fire service.

She said it was well-known in the black community that there was racism at Metro Transit, but her husband took the job anyway in part because the pay was good.

She also wonders whether Maddox will try to get his job back once again.

Carole Symonds said now that Y.Z.'s case has thrust her father's case back out in the open, she's ready to take up his cause.

"I'm not finished with Metro Transit or with HRM, especially now that I'm of age," she said. "I'm planning to fight and get my father the justice that my father deserves so that he can rest peacefully." 

The city was unable to respond to requests for comment for this story before deadline. 

Calls last week to the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Halifax Transit workers, have not been returned.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7, 7:30 in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.