TORONTO, May 5, 2005 - A new research report has found evidence that racialized nurses in the Toronto area are subject to reprisals, including job losses, if they complain of racial harassment or discrimination, although the Ontario Human Rights Code forbids such reprisals.
Implementing Accountability for Equity: Ending Racial Backlash in Nursing, which was funded by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) through its contract research program, finds that there is a systemic lack of accountability procedures in hospitals and other agencies employing nurses.
With the exception of two hospitals, which have trained diversity professionals to counsel those who experience racial and other forms of discrimination in the workplace, no one takes responsibility for guarding against backlash for complaining of racism.
Unions have also disclosed that in a four-year period following the repeal of the Ontario Employment Equity Act, $7 million were spent on settling discrimination grievances by nurses in the GTA. The cases had gag orders so there is no transparency about how many health care dollars are being spent to defend everyday racism in the health care system. Moreover, similar settlements are ongoing through the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) or other dispute resolution activities to which racialized nurses must resort.
The seven-person research team led by Dr. Rebecca Hagey, associate professor in community nursing at the University of Toronto also draws on a previously unpublished pilot study by Dr. Tania Das Gupta, a sociologist at York University who surveyed 62 nurses of various racial backgrounds. The vast majority of racialized nurses (56 of the 62) reported that they felt put down, insulted or degraded because of race, colour or ethnicity. Of the 56, says the report, 33 took some action from which 16 had no satisfactory results, 13 had positive results and four were proceeding with their complaint.
"The situation is such that racialized nurses are reluctant to complain about discrimination for fear of being set up for job transfers or job loss," observed Dr. Hagey. "If they complain, they get targeted as "problem nurses" so that terminating them during so-called restructuring is seen as a rational move.
The research also found, that even when white nurses are found culpable in situations of racial discrimination, they do not receive the kind of career-ending discipline received by the racialized nurses who complain.
"This is the kind of research the Foundation has to support, and continue to do, to demonstrate the depth of systemic racial discrimination that exists, particularly in our public institutions," said Dr. Karen Mock, executive director of the CRRF. "We believe that governments have a responsibility to demand that institutions like these demonstrate conclusively that they have non-discriminatory employment practices, including protecting the complainants, because they operate on public funds."
The Centre for Equity in Health and Society (CEHS), a coalition of health researchers and advocates, which emerged during this participatory action research and to which Dr. Hagey is an advisor, is recommending that the forthcoming race policy from the Ontario Human Rights Commission will impose fines for resistance to anti-racism procedures.
"There is a need for a very vigorous examination of the conditions under which racialized nurses work," adds Dr. Hagey. "When they experience racial discrimination, they need to know that when they file a complaint, they are protected from reprisals, as mandated by the Ontario Human Rights Code."
Among its many recommendations the report calls on the OHRC to initiate an investigation of systemic discrimination against racialized nurses in the health care system in Ontario and to monitor workplace complaints proceedings for reprisals. It also calls on the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term care to integrate anti-racism, anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, employment equity assurance and language and culture-care agendas in the nursing and other relevant secretariats, and for the health care sector to institute a number of measures voluntarily to monitor the working conditions of racialized nurses.
The research highlights of the report is published in the CRRF journal, DIRECTIONS, and may be acquired by contacting: