POLITICS

Woman denied fishing captain licence because of her gender:Human Rights Tribunal

05/06/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 05/05/2016 05:59 EDT
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that a Nova Scotia aboriginal community discriminated against a female member by denying her work in the local fishing industry because of her gender.

The tribunal decision found that Stacey Marshall Tabor encountered discriminatory behaviour on the Millbrook First Nation for several years due to the fact that she was a woman.

The decision found that Tabor was frequently passed over for fishing boat positions in favour of male candidates, some of whom were less qualified than she was.

The tribunal also said Tabor was subjected to derogatory remarks, citing an instance when a senior band member said "the only place for women's breasts on a boat was on the bow as a figurehead."

The tribunal says the First Nation provided inconsistent and unreliable evidence to refute Tabor's claims and ultimately ruled that her complaints were substantiated.

Thomas Kayter, the lawyer representing Millbrook, said he could not comment at this time. Neither Tabor nor her lawyers responded to interview requests.

The April 29 tribunal ruling lays out a long and fraught history between Tabor and the Millbrook First Nation dating back to the late 1990s.

The ruling said Tabor, who had long cherished a dream of becoming a fishing boat captain and who had completed a Master Limited captain's training course, began working for the Millbrook First Nation in 2000 by serving as a deckhand on a lobster boat.

According to testimony accepted by the tribunal, Tabor then expressed an interest in taking on more demanding fishing jobs, but was told she lacked qualifications. Months later, the decision says, that same work was offered to Tabor's husband despite the fact that his only fishery experience was "preparing gear and painting buoys."

Tabor did eventually secure fishing jobs, but the tribunal ruling said her work history was interrupted by pregnancy and injury.

She then went through a three-year period during which her applications for fishing work were denied.

Both Tabor and Millbrook officials told the tribunal that the community had no formal application process in place for such work and that jobs were handed out to those who came and asked for them.

According to the ruling, Tabor made several attempts between 2004 and 2006 to get a fishing job, but despite her Master Limited certificate and fishing experience, she was unable to gain employment.

Things took another turn in 2008 when Tabor, who had gained some experience after being employed on a boat skippered by her husband, expressed an interest in securing a captain's licence of her own.

Millbrook told the tribunal that Tabor had never formally applied for a licence, but also said it considered her application alongside two other candidates. The First Nation said it chose a man who had better qualifications and enlisted an expert to prepare a report to support their decision.

The tribunal, however, said Millbrook had misrepresented Tabor's qualifications to the expert. It concluded that Tabor was never truly considered for the captain's licence on account of her gender, citing the move as part of a broader pattern of excluding women from leadership positions in the local fishery.

As evidence of the systemic discrimination, the decision references remarks from band administrator Alex Cope. The decision says that Cope told Tabor on two separate occasions that "the only place for women's breasts on a boat was on the bow as a figurehead."

Cope originally denied making the comments, but later told the tribunal that he may have made them as part of an "ongoing joke."

"Mr. Cope's comments may indicate Millbrook's attitude towards employing women in the fishery," the tribunal said.

Tabor is not the first member of her family to be embroiled in fights against discrimination.

Her uncle, the late Donald Marshall Jr., is widely celebrated among First Nations communities for successfully defending treaty fishing rights that allow his Mi'kmaq band to catch fish and sell them for sustenance.

Marshall also served 11 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit.

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