Shirley Christmas described it perfectly - "This is a witch hunt." (Cape Breton Post, March 25 "JAG postpones decision on ethics committee's SERL ruling," Tanya Collier; p.6). It was reported in this same article that I am resigning "because of the way SERL employees are being treated." This is only PART of the reason I quit. There is a much broader issue at stake here.
Prejudice and discrimination are ugly. Prejudice and discrimination hide behind many faces. Discrimination against any group of people is a form of poison and needs to be halted before it becomes uncontrollable. Prejudice and discrimination has infiltrated the Joint Action Group (JAG) for its 2-1/2 years of existence and has gone way too far, in my humble opinion.
One person has taken an entire group of people to the JAG Ethics committee and, worse yet their families as well, to have them banished from the JAG process.
Report of the Ethics committee decision was front-page news in the Cape Breton Post on March 12, 1999 in an article written by Steve MacInnis "Recommendation turfs SERL employees & families from JAG" that provided an excellent account of this decision. This decision stated they feel that Sydney Environmental Resources Limited (SERL) employees and their families should be banned from any decision-making process in the JAG organization because they are in conflict of interest. They are people who were born and raised in Cape Breton, earn their livings here, pay taxes and should share the same rights as anyone else involved in the JAG organization. These people are no more in conflict of interest than some others sitting at that table.
This decision has upset a number of Roundtable members who expected it to be discussed and resolved at the Roundtable meeting March 24. Discussion was forbidden and a motion was made to table discussion and voting until the April 28 Roundtable meeting. The reason this decision was tabled was so that members could read over the decision. An advisory letter from JAG's solicitor, Mr. Corsano, was rushed out to arrive in the hands of Roundtable members before the March 24th meeting. Why couldn't the ethics decision have been rushed out as well so that people could be prepared to discuss and resolve this issue? Another reason to table it was so that the SERL employees could appeal this decision if they so desired. The onus should not be on these people to have to justify their position as residents in a process that is supposed to be "open to the community."
The Chairperson permitted no discussion even though several people wanted to discuss it and bring a 2-1/2 year old witch-hunt to an end. The message I received loudly and clearly at the March 24 JAG meeting was that "process" must take priority over how human beings have been made to feel by discrimination tactics.
Under normal circumstances, this would be the proper procedure. Banning groups of people from an organization that states "everyone welcome" is not normal. Discussion should have taken place long ago by the Roundtable about the implications of banning groups of people from JAG for any reason, including because of where they work.
I have tried to be loyal to this organization since it began, however, I was brought up to despise prejudice of any kind and I am teaching my children not to discriminate as well. By remaining a member of this organization I would be condoning potential discrimination. It is my personal opinion that by postponing discussion of this issue - knowing fully that it states to ban a group - implies that Roundtable members are entertaining the concept of discriminating against a group of people because of where they work. To remain a part of the JAG organization would be teaching my children that they shouldn't discriminate but it's okay for me to be part of group that entertains discrimination.
JAG advertises in the Cape Breton Post that the process is open and transparent, and everyone is welcome!
After much thought on this subject, I have to wonder if this Ethics decision is passed, will there be certain criteria formalized for joining JAG. If this is passed, JAG's "membership applications" will have to be revised to read "Do you work for SERL or are you related to anyone who does?" And newspaper ads will have to be changed to read "Everyone welcomed except SERL employees and their families."
Is it so incomprehensible to certain individuals that just because these people work for SERL they are not sincerely concerned about a toxic site in the middle of their community, and want to participate in a process to get it cleaned up? Must they quit their jobs to prove their concern and sincerity?
The three SERL employees involved in JAG have been disrespected, insulted and humiliated and the Roundtable should have put a stop to this abuse of volunteers long ago, but certainly no later than March 24. Postponing resolution of this issue for yet another month serves to further disrespect, insult and humiliate these volunteers who have dedicated so much of their personal time from their families to this organization.
If this discrimination of residents in our community is permitted, JAG will be setting a very dangerous precedent and will be looked upon by the community as a group which is NOT inclusive, open and transparent, but a group which is exclusive, selective and closed.
And the question to be asked now is, "Who will be next?"