Posted on July 22, 2010

RCMP Discriminated Against Muslim Cadet, Court Rules

Kenyon Wallace, National Post (Toronto), July 21, 2010

The RCMP engaged in racial and religious discrimination when it expelled a Muslim man from its cadet academy, the Federal Court of Appeal has ruled, paving the way for the man’s return to training 11 years after his dismissal.

The decision upholds a finding by a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2008 that Ali Tahmourpour, 37, faced verbal abuse and hostility from instructors, ridicule over his wearing of religious jewellery, and poor performance evaluations while enrolled in the RCMP’s Regina cadet academy (known as the Depot).

“I finally have vindication,” Mr. Tahmourpour told the National Post from his Mississauga home, saying he intends to return to the academy to fulfill his dream of becoming a member of the RCMP. “My great-grandfather was a mounted police chief in the western mountains of Persia, so it runs in the family.”

Mr. Tahmourpour’s training contract was terminated in October 1999, about 14 weeks into the RCMP’s 22-week cadet course for what the force said were weaknesses in communication skills, group participation, and ability to handle stress, among other things. Because of these alleged problems, a recommendation was made that he not be permitted to re-enrol.

Ruling his termination was based “discriminatory assessments of Mr. Tahmourpour’s skills” and that the decision to prevent his return to the academy was “based in part on his race, religion and/or ethnic or national background,” the Tribunal ordered Mr. Tahmourpour’s reinstatement. But the Mounties challenged that decision last year in Federal Court, where a judge set aside the order and sent the complaint back to the Tribunal for a rehearing.

Mr. Tahmourpour appealed that judgment to the Court of Appeal, where Justice Karen Sharlow this week upheld the Tribunal’s 2008 ruling, stating the RCMP’s “discriminatory treatment of Mr. Tahmourpour denied him the opportunity to complete his training at the Depot and to make his living as an RCMP officer.”

She referred only one aspect of the Tribunal’s original ruling to be reconsidered, that of a part of the compensation awarded to Mr. Tahmourpour to make up for lost income.

A spokeswoman for the RCMP said she could not comment on the ruling as it is under review by the force.

The Iranian-born Mr. Tahmourpour says his troubles began on the first day of training when he was singled out by his instructors for asking to wear a religious pendant during physical education class. He testified that one officer, Corporal Dan Boyer, head instructor of the firearms unit, was particularly hostile and verbally abusive towards him, often screaming in his ears at the firing range that he was a “loser,” a “coward,” and “f–ing useless.”

On one occasion, Cpl. Boyer (now retired) watched Mr. Tahmourpour sign his name on an evaluation form in the “Persian” style of right to left and is alleged to have stated: “What kind of f–ing language is that, or is it something that you’ve made up?”

The Court of Appeal noted in its ruling this week that the RCMP did not challenge these claims, nor other findings of the Tribunal that racist jokes during sensitivity training were condoned by instructors and that Mr. Tahmourpour’s performance evaluations were fabricated and influenced by “discriminatory attitudes.”

Mr. Tahmourpour’s lawyer, Paul Champ, said the case shows the RCMP’s tendancy to try to protect its reputation at all costs.

“The most troubling aspect of the case is the way the RCMP fought it for so many years,” he said. “The test for an organization is how it responds to these kinds of incidents. The actions of those instructors definitely does not reflect the RCMP as a whole, but what does reflect the RCMP as a whole is how they respond. And they definitely failed on that front.”

When asked why he is so keen to return to an organization that spent the last 10 years trying to keep him out, Mr. Tahmourpour said he believes it would be unfair to judge the RCMP based on the behaviour of a few individuals.

“Can you paint an entire population with the same brush?” he said. “I’m hoping to put my experience to use while serving the RCMP.”

Despite Mr. Tahmourpour’s optimism, his battle with the organization to which he wishes to belong may not be over–the RCMP still has the option to take the Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.