Durham College student association executives allege racism prompted firing

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The newly-elected president and vice-presidents of Durham College Students Inc. say they're taking legal action against the organization after they were terminated from their roles in June. Jasmine Pazzano reports.

Durham College’s student association has fired its newly-elected president and vice-presidents, but they say they’re now taking legal action against the organization, as they believe racism had a factor in this decision.

One of the lawyers representing Jaylan Hayles, the now-former president of Durham College Students Inc., as well as Toosaa Bush and Geoffrey Olara, the terminated internal and external vice-presidents, respectively, says they will be submitting an “immediate” complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario against the association.

All three men are African-Canadian, and Hayles says he believes their termination in June was “an act of discrimination.”

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“There’s no reason for us to be dismissed,” said Hayles. “Myself and the two other executives… we were the only people in the election with the same skin colour, and we were the only people being targeted.”

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Hayles claims they were discriminated against, including being addressed as a group unnecessarily, before and after they were elected in March for their 2018-2019 school year positions. “When Geoffrey, Toosaa [and I] were going for three separate positions,” Hayles said, “any time they would send any of us emails, it had to be one email. Always.”

“I haven’t really done anything for me to deserve to get terminated,” said Bush.

Another complaint they have is being referred to as “persistent bastards” in a meeting with their now-former manager, according to Hayles’s affidavit. All three of their statements mention that, to date, they have not received any written complaints citing violations of by-laws or operational agreements.

“We didn’t receive training,” said Hayles, who added that he was never given a reason as to why they were fired. “Once we started asking more questions and started to get more intelligent about what was going on, they just kicked us out.”

Bush said, “I just wanted, you know, the answers for why.”

“There are merits to the case,” said Jonathan Shulman, a co-counsel representing all three men. “I can advise that they are quite disturbing.”

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Shulman says they plan to file a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the organization within the next couple of months.

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DCSI sent a statement in response to Global’s request for comment, saying, “We value diversity and want to be explicitly clear that DCSI is committed to maintaining a safe and inclusive workplace. One of our core promises is helping to ensure the campus is a safe, welcoming and inclusive space for all students, regardless of race, citizenship, background, or any other factor, and we remain committed to upholding this promise and continuing to serve our student community.

“The decision to terminate their employment was only made after careful consideration by DCSI’s student selected Board of Directors,” it continues, “in the best interest of the association and the students we serve.”

Their termination means that the organization will not have a president or vice-presidents heading into the upcoming fall semester. The DSCI’s statement also mentions it is currently in the process of determining how they will go about replacing the three fired executives.