Lawyer wins racial discrimination case

A prominent Toronto lawyer has won a discrimination case against the Peel Law Association after he and two black colleagues were singled out in a room full of lawyers and asked for identification.

Lawyer Selwyn Pieters, who filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario after the 2008 incident, called the decision “groundbreaking.”

Pieters said this is “one of the first and few” decisions that deal directly with the unequal treatment he and other black lawyers often experience within their profession.

“You hear the stories, but most people don’t want to be seen as whiners and complainers within the profession and they just stay silent and let it go,” Pieters said Monday.

Peel Law Association president Frances Wood said the decision came as a surprise to the group’s members.

“The Peel Law Association does not accept some of the findings that were made and we will be considering some of the legal remedies when we next meet,” she said.  Wood said the association’s membership and board are made up of “members from every race, every colour, every religion.”

The incident happened on May 16, 2008, in a lawyers’ lounge at the Brampton courthouse.  Ironically, Pieters and his colleagues — lawyer Brian Noble and law student Paul Waldron — were there to deal with a case of racial profiling before the tribunal.

The men were waiting in the lounge when Melissa Firth, a librarian and administrator with the Peel Law Association, approached and “demanded” identification to determine if they were paralegals, who are not allowed in the lawyers’ lounge.  No one else in the lounge at the time was questioned.

Adjudicator Eric Whist found that Firth treated the three men in an “aggressive and demanding manner” and that her decision to question them was “tainted by considerations of their race and colour.” “It was very humiliating,” Pieters said.

Pieters has been fighting racial discrimination for years, both as a complainant and lawyer.

The Peel Law Association has been ordered to pay Pieters and Noble, who both filed the complaint, $2,000 each in compensation. Pieters said he will donate his share to the Black Law Students’ Association of Canada.

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