Burns Lake area First Nation to pay $30,000 for discrimination

Former Nee Tahi Buhn councillor had filed complaint

The Nee Tahi Buhn First Nation must pay a former band councillor $30,000 after its one-time long-standing chief councillor described her as a “white bastard” in several emails.

The award to Hayley Nielsen was ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal following a complaint made to the Canadian Human Rights Commission regarding the conduct of Raymond Morris.

From evidence gathered over two days of hearings in Burns Lake in Nov. 2019, the tribunal found that Nielsen, whose mother is a member of the First Nation and whose father is Caucasian, was discriminated against because of her racial origin.

Morris used the term “white bastard” in two 2016 emails with one stating “I resign f—-en white bastards run it.”

“Ms. Nielsen felt directly targeted by these vulgar words, which refer directly to her Caucasian origins,” wrote tribunal member Gabriel Gaudreault in a multi-page decision posted to the tribunal’s website last month.

Nielsen was elected as a first-time band councillor in 2014 and Morris was returned as chief councillor in that same election. He was defeated in a 2018 election.

Gaudreault also found Nielsen was discriminated against because she did not wish to follow a long-standing council practice of praying at the beginning of council meetings or band assemblies as she expressed she did not practise a religion.

Based on the evidence presented, Nielsen’s position of not practising a religion appears to have been the start of a deteriorating relationship with Morris.

At one 2016 band assembly, “Mr. Morris, in front of everyone and including the other councillors, loudly proclaimed that since Ms. Nielsen does not practise religion, she should not serve as councillor,” Gaudreault wrote.

Nielsen remained in her post as band councillor, but citing a developing toxic environment, resigned in 2017.

“When relying on the grounds of religion, Mr. Raymond Morris attempted to suppress Ms. Nielsen’s right to equal opportunities, by stating publicly that since she does not practice a religion, she should not have the opportunity to hold the position of councillor,” Gaudreault wrote.

“Similarly, Mr. Raymond Morris’s vulgar comments, specifically the terms “white bastard” are outrageous. These comments are directly based on Ms. Nielsen’s mixed origins. She felt that because of her origins, she was treated differently ….”

Gaudreault also found Nielsen to be the subject of sustained harassment by Morris, writing that evidence presented “shows that not only does the element of repetition exist, but the severity of the incidents is high enough to constitute harassment.”

The tribunal member also noted the minimal participation of the Nee Tahi Buhn First Nation, finding that despite multiple opportunities, it did not enter any evidence nor offer a defence.

A First Nation representative, Frank Morris, did attend portions of the two-day Nov. 2019 hearing but did not offer any documents.

“I made sure that Mr. Frank Morris understood the gravity of the situation and the consequences that would ensue if the respondent did not provide a defence,” Gaudreault wrote.

Further evidence presented also indicated another councillor, Charity Morris, also resigned because of harassment from Morris and that Nielsen’s son, Cody Reid, left his post as deputy chief.

The $30,000 awarded to Nielsen was divided into two parts — $5,000 for pain and suffering caused by the discriminatory comments and $25,000 in lost councillor wages from the time of her resignation in 2017 to the election date the following year. She was also awarded interest of $500.

Nielsen had also asked for a letter of apology to be published on the First Nation’s Facebook page and in the Lakes District News, but Gaudreault found that this was not within the tribunal’s authority to order.

But he did order the First Nation to “cease the discriminatory practices and to take measures to prevent such practices from happening again in the future.”

That’s to be done by developing human rights and anti-harassment policies in consultation with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and to hire an expert to train employees, councillors and the chief councillor. The First Nation has 18 months to do this.

First Nations are subject to the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

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