Joy Asham knows far too well that racism and discrimination are significant and prevalent issues in this city.
Asham shared her story of discrimination during a question-and-answer period as the Ontario Human Rights Commission hosted its first of a two-day panel at the Italian Cultural Centre Monday. The session, co-hosted by The City of Thunder Bay, aims to provide Human Rights training, awareness and education to businesses, organizations and the community as a whole.
Asham, a retired Aboriginal woman who often uses a wheelchair for mobility, says she attended a local restaurant but was ignored by the server. She was eventually asked by that server if she had enough money to pay for her dinner.
The embarrassing event left Asham wondering if she had been treated that way because of her wheelchair, her age or her race.
“I was very upset. I don’t go places to panhandle for my supper,” she said.
“All I could think of was that, as we were fairly close to a senior’s home, it wasn’t because I was a senior. I don’t think it was because I was in the chair. But I think it was because I was Aboriginal.”
She added that the situation was remedied by another server who went to great lengths to ensure exceptional service, but that didn't stop Asham from having what she describes as an overall awful experience still.
Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said discrimination isn't limited to race. Hall added that the disabled and people with mental health issues also become victims of discrimination.
“I think there are a range of issues. Sadly, in Ontario we still have racism and we have discrimination based on stereotypes of various groups,” Hall said.
“There were some questions in relation to transgender people and that doesn’t surprise us, because that is a relatively new issue. The good news is that many institutions, police services, school boards, among others, are approaching us about wanting to learn about their obligations and to understand issues they may not have understood before because they have not been exposed to them.”
Hall said that Monday’s session is focused on the issue of competing human rights, while Tuesday is geared towards working with the city with work in regards to the coalition of municipalities against racism.
More than 50 organizations throughout the city chose to attend the sessions, which provided training information to better equip human resources staffs on dealing with rights issues.
Entities present at the session included charitable organizations such as the United Way, municipal services such as the city of Thunder Bay, the Thunder Bay Police Service, and business such as Tbaytel and Bombardier.
The commission was co-hosted by the city of Thunder Bay, and Coun. Rebecca Johnson said the panels are open to the public and have great value.
“To be able to come in and talk to a whole panel of experts is important to the organizations as well as individuals,” Johnson said.
“Anybody in the community that wants to know more about human rights can come to these sessions and be able to come in and say that I have an issue, what’s the right answer, is hugely important.”
Asham explained part of the reason she chose to attend the session was to become more familiar with human rights issues so she can help youth.
“I have been very interested in human rights issues for a very long time, not only as my professional past but as an interest of mine as I see different areas of life eroding around me,” she said. “I’m particularly concerned about making sure there is a level playing field for
Aboriginal youth so I try to arm myself with as much information to pass along as I can.”
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