07/14/2015 03:25 EDT | Updated 07/14/2016 05:59 EDT

'Caucasian' nurse sought for seniors care in online ad

An online ad to recruit home care workers for seniors in Burlington, Ont., has a catch — you have to be white.

The ad for Retire at Home services for seniors was posted on Craigslist last week, saying that a client is "looking for a Caucasian RN or RPN to work shifts that are between eight and 12 hours in length."

One Hamilton lawyer says an ad like this — if legitimate — could open the company up to a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, and a local anti-racism activist says it exposes a pervasive problem in the nursing and home care industry.

Here's the ad:

When reached by phone at Retire at Home's Burlington location, director of care Darren Pierce said he wasn't familiar with the ad in question. He said he couldn't confirm that the ad had been placed by the company.

That same ad was taken down around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, not long after a reporter called inquiring about it.

The company did not respond to requests for an interview with a person who could explain the ad and the company's advertising policies.

Retire at Home is a company that connects seniors with caregivers. Sometimes people with medical conditions like dementia can make requests for specific traits in a nurse, such as speaking a certain language, Pierce said.

He did not specify if race fell into that same category.

"Sometimes with medical conditions there are requirements," Pierce said. "It can be a request from the person looking for services."

'Blatant, overt racism'

Hamilton community legal clinic lawyer Rani Khan told CBC News that an employer can't advertise like this in Ontario.

"This is something that would likely be contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code," Khan said. "A person looking at this ad could bring an application to the human rights tribunal saying that this is discriminatory."

There is a grey area around advertising with a specific race in mind, however.

According to Section 24.1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code, an individual person can refuse to employ someone on the grounds of race, where "the primary duty of the employment is attending to the medical or personal needs of the person or of an ill child or an aged, infirm or ill spouse or other relative of the person."

That only applies to a specific person soliciting services, Khan said, not a company. Even though Retire at Home does connect seniors to nurses, it would be opening itself up to human rights complaints by advertising as a company, she said.

Hamilton anti-racism activist Halima Hatimy called the ad "blatant, overt racism."

"It's obviously racist and it excludes a number of people in the community," she said.

Hatimy, who works as a geriatric nurse, said that nurses who are minorities face this problem on a daily basis. She said non-white nurses are more frequently micro-managed, disciplined more harshly and often excluded from social activities.

Then there are the blatant racial slurs — something she has had to face all too often as well. "This is a huge problem. It's not an isolated incident," she said. "Racism is a massive problem for nursing staff."

According to the Retire at Home website, the company is a member of the Ontario Home Care Association. The association did not immediately respond to a request for an interview. | @AdamCarterCBC