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Indigenous CBC employee’s discrimination claims to be heard by human-rights tribunal

OTTAWA — An Indigenous employee with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. is taking up the fight against what he describes as systemic racism by his employer.

Richard Agecoutay, 61, has been granted a human-rights hearing over claims of discrimination at the public broadcaster, where he’s worked since 2001.

It’s an effort to knock down barriers for others, he said in an interview.

“You don’t have to suffer systemic racism or racism in the workplace. You have avenues to pursue it.”

Agecoutay, a videographer for CBC in Regina, alleges he has repeatedly been denied work due to his race, and that the broadcaster offered a settlement, but he would have had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. 

Documents filed with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal detail several instances in which Agecoutay said he was denied work.

The key allegation stems from 2012, when his complaint says a less-experienced white employee was chosen over him for a senior position at Hockey Night in Canada.

He says he was given “racially charged” reasons why — such as that he was a “lone wolf” who did not “mix well” with others.

“As an Indigenous person, I stick out no matter what,” Agecoutay said in the interview.

“But I do all I can to mix well. I’ve spent my whole life trying to mix well.”

CBC filed a response with the tribunal denying the allegations, saying all videographers assigned to Hockey Night in Canada were given less work that year due to a shortened season.

The response does not dispute that the “lone wolf” comment was uttered, but said the manager in question did not see the comments as related to race and later apologized.

Agecoutay, a member of Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, said he was often the only Indigenous person in the room at CBC.

He said human-resources staff at the broadcaster and with his union, the Canadian Media Guild, did not take his concerns seriously. 

The union, which also represents Canadian Press employees, did not respond to a request for comment.

“The experience was psychologically and emotionally devastating because the company had basically shut down my claims of discrimination, and that’s why I went to the Canadian Human Rights Commission,” said Agecoutay. 

He alleged that through one of the commission’s mediators, CBC offered him a settlement of $100,000 to drop the claim and asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. He said he declined.

Asked to respond to a detailed list of allegations from Agecoutay, CBC said it would not discuss human resource matters that are in litigation.

“Completely separate from the human rights tribunal case, in keeping with our workplace policy to address allegations of discrimination, CBC conducted a thorough investigation pertaining to Mr. Agecoutay’s assertions using a third-party investigator,” spokesman Chuck Thompson said in a statement. 

“There were no findings of any wrongdoing.”

Legal filings show the commission referred Agecoutay’s case to the tribunal in 2021. 

A hearing date has not yet been set.

His complaint outlines lost income he believes he would have received for assignments and personal consequences attributed to the alleged mistreatment, including depression and alcohol abuse. 

To help him get through it, Agecoutay said turned to Indigenous ceremonies and sought the help of an elder, who encouraged him to pursue justice for himself and others.

“He said to me, ‘Don’t you dare quit.’ He said, ‘If you quit, they win.'”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2024. 

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press


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