Filipino Canadian wins in anti-bias suit

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (Apr. 10) – The Charter violations are not considered insignificant matters and that the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal in Montreal, Canada cannot decide on the case without first hearing its merits.

This was the initial ruling of the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal as it rejected the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board’s motion to dismiss the case of the Filipino Canadian mother who filed a discrimination suit on her and on her son’s behalf against his school.

In a press statement issued by Leila Jawando, civil rights advocate of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, a human rights advocate in Montreal, it was disclosed that the Tribunal also denied the motion of the school to limit discriminatory remarks in the case to the one made by one educator.

Last December 2008, Ms. Maria Theresa Gallardo filed her lawsuit with the Tribunal against the school board and two officials for racial and ethnic discriminations she alleges was perpetrated against her and her son, Luc Cagadoc.

Ms. Gallardo, a native of Quezon City in the Philippines, said Luc was reprimanded at school, Ecole Lalande, for eating in the customary Filipino manner, with fork and spoon, during a lunch hour in 2006. Luc was born in Manila and came to Canada when he was eight months old.

On separate occasion, the educator, Ms. Martine Bertrand, made discriminatory remarks about Filipinos and hand washing.

Ms. Gallardo is seeking $24,000 in moral and punitive damages from the educator, the school principal, Normand Bergeron, and the school board.
Last January, 2009, the Respondents filed a procedural motion to dismiss the suit, claiming that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction over the case.The motion was heard at the end of February 2009, and in a decision handed down a month later, the Tribunal denied the School Board’s request.

The School Board had argued that the Quebec Human Rights Commission, where the suit was originally filed before elevating it to the Tribunal, had “only partially upheld the complaint,” and the Commission did not refer the remaining issues of the case to the Tribunal, citing public interest reasons.

The Respondents further used a well-known legal principle of proportionality to argue that the impugned comments, which were found to be discriminatory by the Commission, had minimal consequences and the Tribunal ought not to use its resources to hear ‘insignificant’ matters.
The School Board also argued that if the Tribunal decided to hear the matter, the inquiry should be limited to discriminatory remarks made by Ms. Bertrand.

In its decision dated March 31, 2009, the Tribunal ruled that allegations of Charter violations are not considered to be insignificant matters.
The principle of proportionality cannot be invoked when the QHRC has found there was enough proof to refer the matter to the Tribunal, particularly in a society founded on the rule of law and protection against discrimination.

As a result, the Tribunal ruled that it cannot dismiss the matter on a preliminary motion to dismiss, such as the motion brought by the School Board, and that it isrequired to hear the evidence before deciding the case on its merits.

The Tribunal also denied the School Board’s request to limit the matter to the educator’s remarks, as to do so would be an error in law. Accordingly, the Tribunal will hear the matter in its entirety.

“I am very pleased that the Human Rights Tribunal will hear the whole case. This is an important first step in our fight for the dignity of my son, and the entire Filipino community,” said Ms. Gallardo, who was supported by CRARR throughout her QHRC complaint and is currently represented by civil rights lawyer René Saint-Léger in her lawsuit.

For his part, CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi, said, “the road to equality is built with one stone at a time.”

The case arose in 2006, when Ms. Gallardo filed a case before the Quebec Human Rights Commission, alleging that her son, Luc Cagadoc, was exposed to discriminatory remarks and treatments for eating with a spoon and a fork in a west-end school of Montreal. At that time, Luc was in Grade 2. He is now 10 years old.

She denounced the educator, Ms. Bertrand, who asked Luc whether “in (his) country, Filipinos washed their hands before they eat.”
Ms. Gallardo also denounced comments allegedly made by the school principal, Mr. Bergeron, to the effect that Ms. Gallardo ought to teach her son to “eat the way Canadians eat”.

The QHRC upheld the complaint with respect to Ms. Betrand’s comments (although CRARR maintains that the QHRC did not fully investigate the school principal’s comment). It exercised its discretion not to represent Ms. Gallardo before the Tribunal. In Quebec, the QHRC receives and investigates complaints of civil rights violations and will take the case to the Human Rights Tribunal on the victim’s behalf if it finds sufficient evidence of discrimination.

When the QHRC upholds the civil rights complaint but exercises its discretion, in the public interest, not to refer the case to the Tribunal, a complainant can bring the case before the Tribunal at his or her own expense.

In this case, Ms. Gallardo was required to file the lawsuit at her own expense.

The Gallardo family and CRARR welcome donations from anyone in Canada and the US to defray the costs of the litigation.
CRARR is a Montreal-based independent, non-profit civil rights organization that was founded in 1983 with the mandate to promote racial harmony and equality in Canada.

It is considered as one of the leading non-profit race relations groups in Canada and has worked closely with different segments of the Montreal Filipino Community to promote and raise awareness regarding civil rights

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