B.C. tribunal rules for corrections officer targeted for being Black

B.C.’s human rights tribunal has ordered the province to pay $964,197 in compensation to former corrections officer Levan Francis, who faced repeated racial slurs and physical attacks while working at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam. (CBC/Ben Nelms)

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has ordered the province to pay a former corrections officer nearly $1 million in compensation for physical attacks and racial slurs he was subjected to on the job–for being Black.

Levan Francis, who ended a 15-year career with B.C. Corrections in 2013, filed a complaint about his treatment at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam in 2012 and has been fighting the case ever since.

in a ruling delivered last Thursday, he was vindicated and compensated for his long-running battle that cost him $250,000 and placed severe strain on his mental health.

Francis, who is now 51, suffers from severe depression and PTSD, much of it attributed to his treatment at work.

The North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, B.C. where Levan Francis worked is pictured on July 10, 2008. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

“I was good at my job. I treated inmates like human beings. But things just kept coming at me and it comes to the point when I’d had enough,” Francis told the CBC’s Yvette Brend in an interview last summer. 

In final submissions before the Human Rights Tribune, his lawyer, Larry Smeets, said that Francis was labelled a “rat” and had a “target on his back” once he complained.

Prior to last week’s ruling, Smeets told Brend that even if Francis won his case before the tribunal he could be “left vindicated, but broke,” after losing his 15-year career, his family home–and his mental health.

Following the ruling, Smeets called the decision “precedent setting.”

“I think it’s a commentary on the justice system in British Columbia,” Sheets told CBC News. 

After filing his human rights complaint in October 2012, Francis suffered severe depression and PTSD. (CBC/Ben Nelms)

Despite the tribunal’s ruling, Francis said he was disappointed the people who he believes were responsible have not been held to account, and that he feels let down that the province fought his case for so long.

“This is just a huge, disturbing mess,” Francis told Brend.

“I am so disappointed in Canada. I’m not a lawyer, but I do have a brain. I’ve done nothing wrong.

“The B.C. government needs to make me whole,” he said. “They’ve tried so hard to derail this.”

In last week’s ruling, the tribunal’s chair, Diana Juricevic, ordered the province to pay Francis $264,060 for past loss of earnings, $431,601 for future loss of earnings and $65,881 for pension loss. 

She also ordered more than $26,000 in expenses and disbursements, as well as the unprecedented $176,000 in compensation for injury to his dignity, feelings and self-respect.

Francis said the retribution he faced on the job after he filed the complaint speaks to systemic racism. (CBC/Ben Nelms)

Francis’s lawyers had asked for about $1.2 million while the province had offered about $370,000 for lost income and other expenses, including $20-$35,000 for injury to dignity, feelings and self respect.

In her decision, Juricevic said Francis faced attacks and retaliation after he filed his complaint and was labelled with stereotypes such as “lazy Black man,” despite an excellent work record.

“I accept Francis’s evidence that his mental illness has been prolonged and worsened by the events that occurred after he left the workplace,” she said. 

After filing his human rights complaint in October 2012, Francis suffered severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The $250,000 he spent fighting the case is not compensable under the B.C. Human Rights Code, but Brend reports that Smeets is exploring “whether there is any potential civil remedy based on a failure in B.C. laws.”

On July 4, 2019, the tribunal issued a 106-page decision deeming his former workplace “poisonous” and his complaint justified.

In an email to CBC News, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said it is reviewing the decision.

“Racism has no place in our province–or within the B.C. Public Service, which includes B.C. Corrections. All people deserve to feel safe and respected in their workplace, and government encourages employees who experience or witness discrimination to speak up. As a government we recognize our duty to set an example and we know there is significant work to do to address broader issues of systemic racism,” the email read.

With files from CBC News (Yvette Brend), The Canadian Press

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