Skip to content

McGill School of Social Work to enter into mediation with course lecturer

Human Rights Commission’s approach to systemic racism called into question

Woo Jin Edward Lee, a course lecturer and doctoral student at the McGill School of Social Work, will enter into a mediation process with the University following his complaint to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission. The complaint was filed last summer based on claims that the School of Social Work perpetuates systemic racism in their hiring practices.

Lee received a letter, sent by the Commission on March 5, informing him of the University’s decision to enter into mediation. Lee will receive the aid of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) during the mediation process. “This is a positive development because mediation can still lead to mutually satisfactory outcomes at the early stage of what could be a case of prolonged, complex, and costly litigation due to the elements of systemic racism involved,” said Lee in an interview with The Daily.

Lee had solicited CRARR’s aid due to problems he encountered “in the way the Commission addressed the elements of systemic racism,” he said. CRARR had already released a public statement of support for his case on February 18.

According to the public statement released by CRARR, Lee had requested the Commission to disclose a copy of its policy on systemic racism. “We are not sure the Human Rights Commission has a comprehensive policy on systemic racism, particularly in employment. Systemic racism is a very complex form of discrimination that requires a thorough review of the entire employment system of a company or an institution,” said Fo Niemi, Executive Director of CRARR.

Lee filed his complaint after the School failed to shortlist him for one of two part-time faculty lecturer positions. According to Lee, the director of the School, Wendy Thomson, informed him that he was not shortlisted because he lacked clinical experience, a requirement that was not listed on the job posting.

The complaint was received and processed by the Commission on July 4, 2013. In his complaint, Lee claimed that the Employment Equity Guidelines of the School of Social Work, and more broadly across the university, perpetuate hiring practices that discriminate against racialized persons for faculty positions. Shortly after Lee’s case was made public, Wendy Thomson published a letter in The Daily stating that the University “contests the allegations of racial discrimination in the hiring process.”

If the University did not agree to enter into mediation with Lee, the Commission would have been compelled to enter into an investigation of the School. CRARR published a public statement claiming that the University originally rejected mediation; however, McGill’s Director of Internal Relations Doug Sweet says the University never refused mediation. “It wanted to first submit its version of the facts, which it did,” he added in an email to The Daily.

“There are very few tenure track professors of colour, in particular black and Indigenous professors,” said Emily Yee Clare, former Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Equity Commissioner and VP University Affairs. “That in itself is a limitation on how supported many racialized students can feel.”

“In most institutions, what we see—particularly in the French sector—[is that] racial diversity among professionals in mainstream institutions is very underrepresented,” said Niemi, adding that “a great number of what they call social work clientele are economically disadvantaged – poor – and many of them are racialized.”

CRARR is in the process of producing a statement and organizing a forum calling for a public official policy on systemic racism from the Commission and discussing other action against systemic racism in different fields, such as employment, public services, and education. The forum is being planned for April.

With files from Nicolas Quiazua