The Quebec Human Rights Commission ruled this September that 15 Chinese workers should receive $164,000 in damages from their employer, Calego International, for racial discrimination in the workplace. It is the heaviest fine to be levied by the Commission in a human rights case to date.
The Commission asked that $10,000 be paid in moral and punitive damages to each worker and $5,000 paid to two workers who were forcibly thrown off the company’s premises in plain view of co-workers.
The incident took place in July 2006, when a group of 40 employees were called into a meeting with Calego International’s president, Stephen Rapps. The workers testified to the Commission that Rapps yelled at them, saying, “You Chinese eat like pigs!”
He Yong Han, a former employee and Chinese immigrant now residing in Montreal, reported to The Daily that Rapps told the workers to wash themselves daily, and that they were no longer in China.
He said that Rapps chastised the workers for unsanitary work conditions, warning them not to get urine on the floor when using the toilet.
Of all the employees at Calego International, the Chinese workers were the only ones who were called to the meeting.
He reported further that workers walked out immediately after, returning the next day to demand a written apology from Rapps, a cleaner work environment (workers say that at the time, there were no janitorial staff working), and compensation for what they saw as discriminatory actions. The demands were turned down, leading many of the workers to quit their jobs.
The workers then filed a complaint through the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR).
Calego International is a Montreal-based children’s backpack and accessories manufacturer. Rapps, a supervisor, and Agence Vincent, the placement agency through which the Chinese workers were hired, will share the payment of damages.
Julius Grey, the lawyer who represents Calego International, has denied that the incident took place.
Despite the fact that the fine is the largest sum that the Quebec Human Rights Commission has recommended in a racism case, Fo Niemi of CRARR, who helped these workers file their complaint, stated that the amount is less significant when the amount of damages awarded to each individual worker is considered.
“This may be why discrimination still goes on, because if we had the kind of damages awarded as in the United States, where we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, many people would think twice before committing racial discrimination,” Niemi said.
The former Calego employees have received support from the Montreal Chinese community, in the form of encouragement, assistance, and monetary aid. The Montreal Chinese Cultural Centre helped the workers find lawyers and gather information for their case.
Niemi notes that very few complaints are filed from people of Asian backgrounds, although Asian workers are a large number of the immigrant workers who are often forced to work in substandard conditions.