An Afro-Indigenous children’s services worker has launched an Ontario Human Rights case against the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, claiming systemic racism on the job.

Sylvia Delgado, 40, who works with children in foster care and group homes, claims she was questioned and undermined over several years by a supervisor at the Toronto society who told her “anti-racism and anti-oppression isn’t my thing.”

When she tried to bring her concerns of systemic racism in the workplace to senior management, Delgado claims she was disciplined, according to her application before the Human Rights Tribunal.

“People like me get targeted because I speak out against racism. I speak out against the injustices that happen in the workplace,” she told reporters at a news conference outside the Toronto society Tuesday. “As someone who grew up in the communities we serve, that is what I do.”

Delgado’s lawyer Saron Gebresellassi said the case is about “systemic racism against workers and the destructive impact on minors and on families who are disproportionately First Nations and African Canadian.”

She wants the tribunal to order an independent “equity audit” that will “put the society under the microscope” and recommend changes.

“The tribunal needs to send a strong message that this is no longer tolerable … and award punitive damages against this agency,” she added.

In its written response to Delgado’s complaint, the Children’s Aid Society said it “categorically denies any and all allegations of discrimination based on race.”

The case is scheduled for a hearing before the Human Rights Tribunal on Feb. 8.

The case comes in the wake of the provincially-funded One Vision One Voice (OVOV) initiative to address the overrepresentation of Black children in the care of children’s aid societies, a problem highlighted in a 2014 Star investigation and most recently by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

OVOV held a two-day provincial symposium for 300 Black children’s aid workers last week to discuss the sector’s efforts to fight anti-Black racism in the workplace and in dealings with families.

According to the latest statistics released by the Toronto society, 32 per cent of children admitted into care in 2017-18 were Black while they represent just 13.6 per cent of city residents under age 18.

The Human Rights Commission’s report last spring found Black children were overrepresented in 30 per cent of children’s aid societies, an admission rate 2.2 times higher than their proportion in the child population.

The commission called on societies to improve data collection and increase efforts to address racism in their internal policies and structures.

During Tuesday’s news conference, Gebresellassi said workers have told her when they speak out in the interest of children, they are stigmatized, face discipline and are denied promotions. As a result, Delgado, who has worked at the Toronto society for 10 years and is on an education leave until January, is the only worker willing to go public, she said.

“It’s a culture of fear … a toxic environment,” Gebresellassi said. “But it’s the children that ultimately pay the price for an agency that is incapable of eradicating systemic racism.”

Kike Ojo, who works for the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) and led last week’s symposium for Black workers in the system, was unaware of Delgado’s human rights case and unable to comment. Although her role has been to help Black staff make change from within, workers need to take whatever action they feel is necessary, she said.

“It’s unfortunate when this happens,” she said about the case. “But let this be encouragement for the sector to continue to get better.”

Nicole Bonnie, director of equity for the Toronto society, said the agency has had an anti-oppression, anti-racism policy for 11 years and in 2015 created her position to ensure the policy is implemented.

It is a high priority for both the society’s board of directors and senior management and more than just “words on paper,” added Bonnie, who has just been appointed head of the OACAS, the sector’s first Black chief executive officer.

“We certainly have not arrived, but we have gotten a lot of feedback from staff that shows we have incrementally made change over time,” she said.

Originally posted on by  Laurie Monsebraaten On November 20, 2018