Thursday, October 13, 2005

Phoney-baloney group hugs still accomplish nothing…

London's three-year old experiment with the phoney-baloney position of "human rights" specialist should no longer claim defense by any member of city council — in a city where municipal governance and management are almost beyond parody, the position has been one of the most astounding travesties. To date, the addition of this specialist position at city hall has yielded, in no particular order:

And now this, from the London Free Press:
[Retired Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Flinn] will review city hall's beleaguered human rights office, just as a new controversy is about to erupt.

Joyce Burpee, the city's second human rights specialist, has been on leave from her job since June and has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. [Emphasis not in original.]

[…] Burpee — whose recent absence from city hall sparked rumours and questions — has been on leave from her job since June, [city manager Jeff] Fielding said. "I can't comment any further," said Fielding, who declined to say if Burpee is still being paid. Fielding cited confidentiality issues for declining to comment about Burpee.

Sources were unable to confirm specifics about Burpee's complaint.

[…] Flinn will be paid $350 an hour. Fielding said it's not known how long the probe will last.
The human rights specialist position was created in response to city management's response to a 1999 case of sexual torture in which a municipal employee was tortured after a date with a city building inspector, Stephen Joksas. From the London Free Press:
[Joksas] was given a two-year leave while serving his jail term, but was later fired after a public uproar.

The uproar forced city administration to prepare a comprehensive plan to deal with harassment, with a key element the hiring of a manager to fight harassment. In 2002, councillors learned administration had ignored the plan. That scandal prompted the hiring of [a] human rights watchdog.
The sexual torture charge was dealt with as a criminal trial, altogether appropriately. The reaction of city management — giving leave to the criminal during his jail term — was negligent and contemptuous of both the victim and the city's taxpayers, as well as of sound managerial practices. The lack of good judgment — to say the least, or outright cronyism and pathological derision to speak of the most likely — by city managers would have been best dealt with by censure and dismissals.

And yet, city hall instead responded with a plan — an anti-harassment policy written by a lawyer, of which the Free Press has been unable to obtain a copy — and a human rights watchdog, as though the problem was an administrative glitch in procedure or a lack of sensitivity. It is typical of a city administration, accountable in council only to its own attempt to manufacture a lack of opprobrium — as far as that seems necessary in London — and in management to its own pecuniary and security interests, to try to solve the problems of bureaucracy by adding further layers of bureaucracy. In fact, city hall's response serves as an instance of the same problem it purports to prevent — protectionism of city employees by deflecting the issue from one of personal culpability to an appearance that there is either a shortage of procedure, the details of which are too minute to be appreciated by or even worth forwarding to the public, or a climate of insensitivity to human rights, of which the definition may remain equally vague. City management does not lack sensitivity training or procedure, it lacks accountability and judgment. So what is to be accomplished by obscuring this lack of accountability and judgment with procedures and doctrines?

It can be shown, as demonstrated above, that neither the anti-harassment policy nor the position of human rights specialist have advanced any possible conception of human rights at city hall in any measurable or even qualitative sense. It cannot be demonstrated in either sense because there can be no prooffered standard by which success can be determined — except for either the hope by city hall that it has effected a public perception damage control, at which it has utterly failed, or an increase in reported human rights complaints, which suggests failure in the endeavour but simultaneously strengthens apparent demand for the service. Procedural texts are substitutes for sound judgment when employment is either ephemeral or requires little aptitude — like McDonalds. When sound judgment cannot be expected to be exercised by city management, they should either be paid minimum wage and given their procedures, or they should be fired.

More misdirectional still is the suggestion that a lack of or insensitivity to human rights is the source of contention within city management and needs to be procured by a human rights specialist. Merely inapproprate behaviour is obviously counter-productive and should be dealt with by competent management. Even the case of sexual torture, cited as the antecedent of city human rights policy, was not an instance of city management violating human rights but of negligent and contemptuous practice by management in giving Joksas leave. The only violation of human rights that occurred was committed by Joksas when he tortured his co-worker and which was dealt with, appropriately, as a criminal case. In fact, criminal law has been fundamentally — before and aside from extraneous politically-motivated provisions such as drug laws — the device by which human rights have been protected. That is, it should be explained, human rights as they were once properly understood to be absolute, inalienable and non-rivalrous — to one's life, liberty and property, protected from murder, confinement, assault, theft and fraud — before the understanding of those rights became corrupted and transitory by postmodern relativism and pliability. By suggesting that human rights are procured, not by the common sense and decency of competent employees, but by the graces of a specialist whose understanding of those rights is, by definition, uncommon and specialized, egregious behaviour by city employees is excused by ignorance of that specialized education. That suggestion, of course, serves as a bureaucratic tool to protect bureaucrats in London. But, more importantly, the indefinability of modern platitudinous human rights — the relativism and pliability of the conception, the lack of objective standards by which the protection of those rights can be measured — is a tool by which bureaucrats and politicians can increase their authority, by placing the rendering of those rights in the hands of another official employee. Can anyone say what exactly these human rights are nowadays? Unlike our common understanding, they have been superceded by specialized postulates refereeing competing rights — for example, sparing hurt feelings, presumed at the discretion of the plaintiff, may trump the unprepossesed exercise of freedom of speech by the defendant. So now London not only has an additional highly-paid bureaucrat whose purpose and activities are not made clear to taxpayers, but also an official endorsement of a relative conception of human rights that may be adapted, from above, to suit the interests of those rights-competitors who may be favoured at any given moment by the referees. In no way are the interests of Londoners served — have you any more human rights now than you did before?

The London Free Press has a summary chronology of the human rights specialist fiasco at city hall, on which even simple expectations of city management may founder:
  • July 2002: Catherine Burr hired as London's first human rights specialist in response to a report on the 1999 sexual assault and torture of a female employee by city worker Stephen Joksas, later fired.
  • April 2003: Burr resigns, alleging interference by some senior managers.
  • January 2004: Joyce Burpee is hired as the city's human rights watchdog, amid allegations political pressure forced administration to abandon plans to hire a man for the job. Staff denied the allegation.
  • May 2004: Burpee files a complaint alleging the city hall chef poisoned her work environment by circulating racist hate literature and removing anti-racism posters from the cafeteria. Investigator later clears the chef of the allegations.
  • September 2004: A Toronto lawyer files a human rights complaint against the city, alleging he was overlooked for the human rights specialist's job due to gender.
  • June 2005: Burpee goes on leave from her job for unknown reasons.
And to think Jeff Fielding was suggesting getting another a human resources specialist… presumably to protect employees from the human rights specialist.

In other London news, well, who cares? Apparently we are sinking into a cesspool of human rights insensitivity after all. What do I know? From the London Free Press:
The chairperson of London's race relations committee has quit, fed up, he says, with politicians and staff who talk of diversity but don't promote it.

"They certainly talk about this stuff, but they don't do a lot," Carl Cadogan said.

[…]"London's the most difficult city I've lived in and it's not just because of the size," he said. "Generally, there's the feeling London is an old family, white men's club," Cadogan said.

He has has grown increasingly frustrated by politicians and administrators who seem to have little regard for committee initiatives.
Cadogan's representation of London as "an old family, white men's club" apparently stem, as far as were worth reporting that is, from these two instances:
  • Three years after the committee designed a webpage to be placed on the city's website, it still hasn't been done.
  • Fielding suggested having the committee play a role creating content for a course taken by city managers at the Ivey business school, but nothing happened because city and school officials have passed off responsibility to each other.
If the disregard of a committee webpage and the circumvention of a diversity workshop course are the crosses that London's visible minorities must bear, it's astonishing that anyone would bother with a race-relations committee, unless it's to try to write the rules of competition for human rights…


David MacLean said...

What the heck is going on in London? For a medium sized city the goings on there seem over the top. It seems as thought the big government types have really taken over there.

What gives? A human rights person for a city?

MapMaster said...

Living in London, vigilance is the price we pay. Incredulous readers are our reward.

Pietr said...

Take care, Mapmaster.
You are using the term 'Human Rights' altogether too freely.
There are Rights.
'Human Rights', as a phrase, suggests the existence of other types of 'right', such as fishes, or avian, or mice.
By such phraseological trickery the enemies of humanity attempt to establish 'humanity under the rule law.Their rule.Their jurisdiction and delineation of the extent of PERMISSIBLE endeavour.

MapMaster said...

Point taken, Sorehead, although I thought I was careful to use the term in a pejorative or negating sense. After reading again, maybe not…

Of course, littering the blog with the term 'human rights' is supposed to get us to the top of google searches!

Pietr said...

Good point, Mapmaster, but why not cripple the mind-cripplers and get to the top at the same time?
I mean you could put tons of 'humanrights' references in and accompany each by a sarcastic remark.