A black Metrolinx employee who was fired for failing a background check filed a lawsuit in the Human Rights Court
When Thairu Taban and Josslyn Mounsey found a job as a dispatcher at Metrolinx in May 2019, they felt that everything was in place.
They grew up in a low-income community in Toronto, and they said that they all followed their mother’s advice: stay away from crime, work hard in school, and build a better life.
Taban, 25, said that when his mother was at work, when he was a boy, he would sit down to do his homework by himself every night, and it was this kind of spell that inspired him.
This is what prompted Mengxi, the single mother of three children, to graduate from Humber College with a diploma of legal assistant, complete the school’s emergency communications plan, and pursue a career as a dispatcher. Taban also obtained the same certificate.
Metrolinx’s hourly salary is $26.76, benefits and pensions, and life changes, they all told CBC News. They successfully completed a rigorous interview and screening process, passed recommendation letters, education and criminal record checks, and stood out from thousands of applicants.
Mengxi, 31, said in an interview on Monday: “I have lifted a huge weight on my shoulders and I am very proud.” “I have dreams and ambitions, and everything is moving in the right direction.”
Then, the day she started her new job, Muncie was suddenly fired. About a month and a half later, Taban was also fired for the same reason: none of them passed the background check of the Toronto police.
“It’s simply frustrating,” Taban told CBC News. “I had to tell my mother the news, she was just crying, crying hard.”
Mounsey and Taban said that neither had a criminal record, nor did they find out why they did not pass. They and their lawyer Glen Chochla repeatedly asked Metrolinx and Toronto police to provide more information.
They don’t know if it was because the alienated family members were convicted, or because the Ontario Human Rights Commission insisted that Toronto police had files on them Over-regulation in their community.
Last year, they filed a complaint with the Ontario Court of Human Rights against Metrolinx and the Toronto Police Department, accusing them of racial discrimination and systematic anti-black racism.
“We have heard the term’systemic racism’ in the media, but we rarely provide specific examples,” Mengxi said. “This is a perfect example of the potential problems with rules and regulations that may be made in good faith.
“Depending on where in the city you live, depending on the police presence near you, all of this will work. Even if these questions are raised, there is no due process to explain.”
They all demanded $80,000 in compensation, Metrolinx’s permanent job, wages, benefits and pensions they should have received after they were fired, and all documents about them be deleted from Toronto police files.
They also asked the Ontario Human Rights Commission to investigate Metrolinx’s recruitment practices and Toronto police background checks. All parties will mediate on Thursday to try to reach a settlement.
Metrolinx, Toronto police deny allegations
Metrolinx and the Toronto Police Service Commission filed a response to the Human Rights Tribunal last year, denying that they discriminated against Taban and Mounsey, and instead complied with the necessary security protocols.
Metrolinx dispatchers must pass a police background check to access the Canadian Police Information Center (CPIC) database, the Provincial Transportation Bureau said in its response. RCMP maintains CPIC, which contains information about people’s interactions with law enforcement.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police did not answer questions from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation regarding the database and security clearance.
Metrolinx spokesperson Matt Llewellyn said in an email: “Only the Toronto police will know why individuals’passed’ or’failed’ the enhanced background checks conducted by their services.”
Metrolinx was unable to comment on the employment of specific individuals, but said that even when it followed up with the police on the reasons for the failure of someone, it did not provide them with any other information.
Llewellyn said that shortly after Mounsey and Taban were fired, Metrolinx was transferred from Toronto police to Cobourg police for background checks. He said that the Coburg police provided more information, and Metrolinx can decide for itself whether this person should visit CPIC, except for pass or fail.
The Toronto Police Service Commission stated in its response to the arbitration tribunal that extensive background checks are necessary to check whether the applicant is “suitable” to obtain confidential information and consider more factors than criminal records.
The response stated that the Toronto police did not provide detailed information about the reasons for the passage or failure of the personnel because this may affect the investigation technique.
Police spokesperson Connie Osborne said in an email that the background check was reviewed by multiple staff to ensure that there was no prejudice.
University of Toronto professors pay close attention to the case
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, said the problem is that the database used by the police is based on institutional and systematic racism. He has been following the Taban and Mounsey cases closely, hoping that this will set a precedent for how to conduct and use background checks.
“We know that black people in Toronto are very likely to have contact with the police. Of course, many of them are innocent,” said Owusu-Bempah, the author of the book. Race, ethnicity, crime and justice.
He said these interactions would enter the police database.
“We know that, given the nature of police surveillance and criminal convictions, many blacks have connections with people with criminal records.”
The police have files of two applicants
According to his complaint to the court, Taban has never broken the law, but his brother has a criminal record.
According to Taban’s complaint, in June 2019, before he started working for Metrolinx but before his background check was completed, both Taban and his mother were called by a Toronto police officer and asked some questions about his brother.
They answered these questions as much as possible, and Taban explained that he had nothing to do with his brother, according to his complaint.
A few weeks later, Taban was told that he had failed a background check and was fired.
Mengxi’s father was murdered when she was four years old, and she grew up in a community where “crimes are not uncommon,” her complaint stated.
According to her complaint, in 2011, Mounsey signed a letter of guarantee for an ex-boyfriend accused of drug-related crimes. The father of her two children has a criminal record, but hasn’t gotten into trouble for more than a decade. They have not established a relationship since 2017.
In January 2019, Mounsey failed to pass a background check when applying for the position of communications operator with Toronto Police.
Her complaint stated that six months later, on the second day of her job as a dispatcher, China Unicom told Mounsey that she did not need to undergo a background check again. She was fired a few days later.
Their complaint stated that both Mengxi and Taban had requested freedom of information on all police reports and records containing their names held by the Toronto police.
According to her complaint, Mounsey’s is 116 pages long, covering the period from 2007 to 2018, without mentioning criminal convictions. A few pages identify her as black and are most relevant to domestic violence incidents in which she was the victim, an unproven by-law allegation, traffic incidents, and noise complaints filed by Mounsey.
His complaint stated that Taban received 41 pages of 2004. He was identified as black and Caribbean, and almost all documents were related to his brother. There is no indication that he has been charged or suspected for any type of criminal activity.
“My parents told me that no matter what you do, you have to work harder because there is a shame in you, which is not positive… how do they view black people,” Taban told CBC News. “So I have to Fight for this.”
He is now a dispatcher in a security company, and his most recent promotion has increased his salary from $16.50 an hour to $20, which is lower than his salary at Metrolinx and without a pension.
Mengxi earns $22 an hour in the hospital’s communications work, but she or her children have no retirement plans or benefits.
For more stories about the experience of black Canadians—from anti-black racism to success stories in the black community—check out Becoming Black in Canada, a CBC project that Canadian blacks can be proud of. You can read more stories here.