Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Written before Christmas

"Here is what happened today when I visited the provincial liquor store in Ottawa, Canada: When I had finished my shopping I decided to rearrange my purchases and take a minute to button up my winter coat etc. before venturing out onto the street, I spied a chair way over by the exit so I headed for it. Beside it was an attractively dressed thirty-something blonde, who appeared to be cowering by the chair. I figured her husband had volunteered to plunge into the seething mass and left her to wait. I then noticed one of the plastic "cauldrons " the Salvation Army sets up at Christmas, but could see no attendant. I flung in a coin and -- behold -- the lady thanked me! So I asked "where is your bell"? She replied that so many people hated it that they had decided not to use one this year! I walked on to my next destination -- a large department store with a pedestrian mall running through it There were carol singers, shoppers etc and a large older lady in red vigorously swinging her bell beside the "cauldron". I find this puzzling. I know that alcohol is forbidden to Muslims so that cannot be why the Sallies restrained in a liquor store. But Muslims do patronize the department store -- I see women in headscarves there from time to time -- so what part of the population is offended by the bell?"

"I heard a funny remark by a local council worker the other day about a maintenance manager of Arab origin and his grasp of the English language (i.e. none that could be deciphered). The workers address him as "Tail light". When I asked why, the reply was: "Because he is not bright enough to be a headlight". Ha! There seems to be an epidemic of illiterate or incompetent behaviour among appointments to government bureaucracies and it is also starting to show in large corporations. If council workers can identify the idiots, why can't the management? Or are they tail lights too? Funny if the consequences were not so terrifying."


The Supreme Court of Canada is being asked to hear arguments on whether the word "kemosabe" is racist to native people. The request comes from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, which is dealing with a grievance dating back to 1999. Dorothy Kateri Moore, a Mi'kmaq woman working at a sports store in Sydney, N.S., had complained that her boss, Trevor Miller, referred to her and other workers as "kemosabe" - the term used by the 1950s TV character Tonto, the Lone Ranger's sidekick, to describe the masked cowboy. Moore said Miller told her the word meant "friend." But she claimed it was a racial slur and that its repeated use led to a poisoned work environment.

Last February, a human rights board of inquiry ruled Moore was not discriminated against because she hadn't shown she was offended by the word, nor did she ask her boss to stop using it. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal upheld that ruling in October, saying Moore had not shown the term was "notoriously offensive." For the first time in its 37-year history, the commission has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to appeal a decision of the province's Court of Appeal. Commission lawyers say they will argue employees were afraid to speak up to their employer and they want the Supreme Court to draw the line on what language is acceptable in the workplace. "The idea that there are some words that are notoriously offensive and some that aren't, and the burden on the employee shifts depending on that, really creates a lot of confusion in the workplace," said commission lawyer Michael Wood. "We think it's time to clarify that and have some ground rules so people know what's permissible and what isn't." During the inquiry hearings, several members of the Mi'kmaq community testified that "kemosabe" was a racial slur, although others said they were not offended by it.

The board of inquiry spent one day looking at old Lone Ranger shows, eventually concluding that the term was never used in a derogatory way and that Tonto and the Lone Ranger treated each other with respect.


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