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Canada’s Longest-running Human Rights Case Settled After 23 Years

23 years after launching a human rights complaint into systemic workplace discrimination, corrections officer Michael McKinnon receives damages, and the province of Ontario launches a three-year initiative to combat racism in prisons.
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The 23-year-long human-rights case of a former Ontario corrections officer has been settled not only with damages for the plaintiff but also a three-year initiative launched by the province to rid the prison system of racism.

The case, the longest-running human rights case in Canadian history, involved aboriginal corrections officer Michael McKinnon, who filed a complaint against the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services in 1988 alleging discrimination in the workplace. He and his wife, corrections officer Vickie Shaw McKinnon, held that during the 1970s they were called names such as "Crazy Horse," "Wagon Burner" and "FBI (F— Big Indian)" by colleagues at the Toronto prison where they worked, according to Postmedia News. Colleagues also uttered Indian war cries when they entered a room, Postmedia News said.

Moreover, they got punished for complaining, they said, even accusing the prison of a cover-up. They won their initial case in 1998, Postmedia News reported, but the antagonism of their fellow workers continued, and they were passed up for promotions.

The measures announced on August 17 are based on the unprecented decision by the Human Rights Tribunal earlier in 2011 that found that Jay Hope, deputy minister of correctional services, breached Tribunal orders and withheld vital information, the online newsletter wrote.

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“This was the first time in its history that the Tribunal requested the Divisional Court consider whether the Deputy Minister was in contempt of its orders,” said.

In addition to the unspecified monetary damages that McKinnon will receive, new measures being implemented by the Ministry of Correctional Service and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal include administering mandatory sensitivity training to prevent discrimination and harassment of aboriginals who work at or are incarcerated in prisons, the Ontario Human Rights Commission said in its statement.

"Mr. McKinnon's fight against discrimination was a fight for all employees and not just himself to have a workplace free from harassment and discrimination" said McKinnon’s attorney, Kate Hughes, adding that he has carried on this struggle for over two decades, and we sincerely hope that this settlement will bring well deserved closure for the McKinnons and long-term positive change in the corrections culture. This is a good news story of the government and the Ontario Human Rights Commission willing to work together and take responsibility.”

After all this time, McKinnon felt the measures didn’t go far enough.

"I'm disappointed that it's taken this long for them to try to sell this as change," McKinnon, now 55 and living on Prince Edward Island, told Postmedia News. "I feel that I failed, I really do. I did the best I can do but the [prison] culture is poisoned."