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NEWS RELEASE · 11th January 2011
BC First
BC First to support anti-HST canvasser Elwin Mowry against Elections BC Acting CEO Craig James for “Employment Discrimination” over involvement in Fight HST campaign

The BC First Party will act as an official “Intervenor” in a BC Human Rights Tribunal case of employment discrimination against a former Elections BC employee says party spokesman, Chris Delaney.

Delaney says that Elwin Mowry, a retired Bank Manager employed by Elections BC as a District Electoral Officer (DEO) during the last provincial election, was disqualified by Acting Chief Electoral Officer Craig James from being re-employed in the upcoming referendum on the HST and provincial election in 2013 for his involvement last year as a canvasser in the Fight HST Initiative petition.

"Mr. Mowry was contacted on December 20, 2010 by Elections BC with an offer to apply for re-employment for the upcoming HST Initiative Vote (referendum) and 2013 Provincial Election. They were clearly impressed with his past performance and abilities. Mr. Mowry accepted the offer, and filed his application. The next thing he knew, he was told he had been disqualifed,” said Delaney.

In an email statement sent to Mowry on December 29th in response to his request for an explanation on his disqualification, Manager of Human Resources for EBC, Adia Kapoor, said:

“Canvassing on behalf of the proponents for the initiative petition could be perceived as partisan – that the individual has a bias towards a political issue. This bias may be perceived as an imposition on their ability to effectively discharge their duties under the legislation. Therefore, individuals who actively participated in canvassing activities may be deemed unsuitable to work as a DEO or DDEO. Each individual is assessed on a case-by-case basis, and Elections BC makes a determination of the level of risk each applicant for DEO/DDEO positions poses. Should someone who was a registered canvasser apply for a position at Elections BC, their role as a canvasser, as well as their qualifications and past work performance, if applicable, are taken into consideration.”

When asked if the rules applied to “opponents” of the Fight HST petition, Ms. Kapoor was evasive, saying:

“As individual citizens, we all are entitled to our own personal political views and opinions. However, applicants for positions at EBC must disclose any political involvement, past or present, which may pose a real or perceived threat to Elections BC’s neutral role as the administrator of electoral legislation. Each person’s situation is unique, and are assessed on an individual basis so a determination can be made regarding employment.”

Delaney says CEO James’ decision is a clear violation of the Human Rights Code Section 13(1) which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of “political belief”, as well as being a violation of Mr. Mowry’s Constitutional Charter right to Freedom of Association.

“Mr. Mowry is an experienced election coordinator for Elections BC, having worked in the 2009 Provincial Election, as well as during federal and municipal elections and referendums. He has an impeccable track record of professionalism and impartiality in carrying out his duties for Elections BC,” explained Delaney.

Delaney says the decision to disqualify him was made by BC Premier Gordon Campbell appointee, Acting CEO Craig James. He says James tried to justify his decision on the basis that Mr. Mowry’s work on the non-partisan anti-HST petition showed “political bias”.

Delaney points out that there are a number of problems with the decision by James:
First - Fight HST is a non partisan group made up of people from all and no political persuasions.
Second - Mr. Mowry did not advocate for or against a political party.
Third - Mr. Mowry was canvassing to petition the government to vote in the legislature or to conduct a referendum vote on the HST. Some canvassers (and voters) supported the petition because they opposed the way in which the HST was brought in, not necessarily the government, or even the tax itself.
Fourth - Mr. Mowry was an anonymous canvasser without a public profile.
Fifth - The ruling by James has not been applied to opponents of the anti-HST petition or those who publicly advocated in favour of the tax.
Sixth - Mr. Mowry has an impeccable record with respect to the non-partisan nature of his work with Elections BC in the past.
Seventh - The ruling is against the Human Rights Code prohibitions on employment discrimination for political belief, and violates Mr. Mowry’s Charter freedoms under Section 2 (b) freedom of belief, and (d) freedom of association,” said Delaney.

Delaney says the Human Rights Code provisions against employment discrimination are as follows:
Discrimination in employment

13 (1) A person must not
(a) refuse to employ or refuse to continue to employ a person, or
(b) discriminate against a person regarding employment or any term or condition of employment because of the race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age of that person or because that person has been convicted of a criminal or summary conviction offence that is unrelated to the employment or to the intended employment of that person.
(2) An employment agency must not refuse to refer a person for employment for any reason mentioned in subsection (1).
(3) Subsection (1) does not apply
(a) as it relates to age, to a bona fide scheme based on seniority, or
(b) as it relates to marital status, physical or mental disability, sex or age, to the operation of a bona fide retirement, superannuation or pension plan or to a bona fide group or employee insurance plan, whether or not the plan is the subject of a contract of insurance between an insurer and an employer.
(4) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply with respect to a refusal, limitation, specification or preference based on a bona fide occupational requirement.

Delaney says complete political neutrality is neither possible, nor is it a bona fide occupational requirement of organizing elections or referendum voting.

“If that were the case then anyone who ever told someone how they voted in an election, wrote a letter to the editor, disagreed with a government employee, answered a political questionnaire, signed a petition, or in a discussion with one or more people ever advocated for or against a political issue or candidate, would not qualify to work during elections or referendums. That pretty well eliminates most of the population.”

Delaney says Elections BC intends to hire over 30,000 people to work in the election and on the referendum. “The question is not whether any of those people ever supported or opposed a political position in the past because if that were the case, very few people would qualify. The question can only be whether a person has acted in a partisan manner while carrying out the duties of their job during an election or a referendum.”

“Mr. Mowry has done nothing to suggest he has or will abuse his position or compromise his work with Elections BC. Craig James’ personal opinion about Mr. Mowry is neither relevant nor sufficient to reject him for re-employment. Mr. Mowry has been wrongly discriminated against by his former employer, Elections BC.”

“Mr. Mowry has filed an official complaint against Elections BC Acting CEO Craig James. BC First is supporting his efforts to seek restitution and damages from Elections BC for violating his human rights by wrongfully rejecting him for employment based on his political beliefs,” Delaney concluded.

Delaney is asking any other canvassers on the Fight HST petition who have experienced the same discrimination as Mr. Mowry to contact him to join with Mr. Mowry in filing a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal.