Railway names investigator to probe workplace racism claims
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This article was published 02/02/2022 (362 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Hudson Bay Railway has appointed an independent investigator to probe accusations of workplace racism reported this week by the Free Press.
“We want to ensure a healthy and safe workplace as we rebuild the railway to serve the Indigenous and all the communities of northern Manitoba,” Arctic Gateway Group CEO Sheldon Affleck wrote in a Wednesday-morning press release.
The railway connects remote communities to southern rail lines, and gained national attention in 2017 as a result of spring-melt track washouts that left Churchill without an overland land link to for 18 months.
In 2018, the Trudeau government bought the railway from Omnitrax and transferred it to Arctic Gateway Group, a consortium owned by Indigenous communities and towns that rely on the rail line.
On Monday evening, the Free Press reported on allegations from former and current workers at the company’s headquarters in The Pas, where they contend management has turned a blind eye to racial slurs and other verbal abuse directed at Cree staff along with allegations those employees are prevented from advancing to better-paid roles in the workplace.
Affleck has appointed former Opaskwayak Cree Nation Chief Christian Sinclair to probe those claims.
Sinclair was on the consortium board until his term as chief ended last year. He told the Free Press he was alarmed to hear claims of racism issues persisting after the company tried to rectify the issue in mid-2021, when staff reported colleagues singing a white-nationalist anthem in the mechanic shop.
More than five current and former employees have said verbal abuse that includes racial slurs has persisted, leading Cree workers to eat lunch in separate areas from non-Indigenous colleagues. One employee reported damage to his vehicle in the parking lot.
Many of those allegations were made by Cree members of the Opaskwayak band.
“I am pleased to accept this role and ensure that we get to the bottom of these allegations, so we can move forward to rebuild the HBR to serve our people for generations to come,” Sinclair wrote in the press release.
Northern chiefs welcomed the probe.
“I commend the employees who are speaking up on this issue. It is not easy to come forward with these kinds of experiences,” Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak wrote in a statement.
He said he was “relieved” to hear Sinclair was leading the review, and that First Nations people face racism in far too many sectors.
“While institutions have begun developing anti-racism strategies, it would be encouraging to see a concerted effort to address racism at a systemic level,” he wrote.
Arctic Gateway says about 70 per cent of its 130 employees are Indigenous.
Ottawa has pledged $157 million for the railway, including a funding top-up after corporate partners left the consortium in March 2021.