A human rights battle cost this jail guard his home and health. After 8 years, it’s still not over

Former correctional officer Levan Francis has spent the past eight years fighting for justice after he was targeted on the job for being Black.

He says his battle for human rights, which has been plagued by procedural delays, has left him broke — and broken.

Francis, 50, said he enjoyed working for B.C. Corrections while he was stationed in Vancouver. But in 2006 he was transferred to North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, where he said he faced racial slurs and even physical attacks. 

Francis recalls how one co-worker “tapped his skin” and said “we don’t like your kind here.” Another time, a supervisor rammed a forearm into Francis’ chest to drive home an order.

Key B.C. Corrections staff named in the initial complaint have since been promoted.

“I was devastated. It really hit the core of my soul. I just can’t believe how they handled it,” Francis said.

He filed a complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in 2012 and left his job soon after.

It took seven years for Francis to win validation, after the Human Rights Tribunal issued a 106-page decision on July 4, 2019, that found his complaint was justified and his workplace “poisonous.”

Half of the time after the complaint was filed — 3½ years — was taken up with delays after new lawyers took over on both sides and a tribunal member retired.

Francis described the tribunal’s verdict as bittersweet, because by then, the drawn-out fight had cost him his career, his family home and his mental health.

“[The province] is actually looking to defend racism. To me, it’s mind-blowing,” said the father of two, who is now renting in Delta, B.C., after losing his home in an attempt to finance his legal fight.

Francis represented himself during the delay-plagued hearings, which took 13 days over a span of five years between 2014 and 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Now, Francis faces an even longer wait for justice, after a request by his lawyer to expedite the compensation part of the tribunal process was denied on Aug. 13.

The parties will head back to the tribunal to determine remedies on Dec. 1. Francis is claiming personal injury, loss of income, plus legal costs.

Experienced PTSD, anxiety, depression

The Barbados-born Francis moved to Richmond, B.C., in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he was on the B.C. Lions practice roster, and coached junior football for years. He started work with B.C. Corrections in 2000.

“I was good at my job. I treated inmates like human beings. But things just kept coming at me and it comes to the point when I’d had enough,” said Francis.

He said things only got worse at work after he filed his complaint, and was forced to quit.

“I’ve been harassed, humiliated, slandered. It’s unbelievable. I just used the platform [a human rights complaint] that’s there for anyone in government to use and I’m being abused for it,” he said.

He represented himself during the delay-plagued hearings, which took just 13 days over a span of five years between 2014 and 2019 and heard testimony from 21 staffers in defence of B.C. Corrections.

Lawyer Larry Smeets took on Francis’ case in 2019. He said health issues — including PTSD, anxiety and depression — have left his client unable to work.

An aerial view of the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, B.C. (Government of BC)

Smeets has logged more than 400 hours and estimates total legal costs could top $100,000.

Lawyer Peter Gall — a partner in a firm that employs former B.C. attorney general Geoff Plant — is acting for the province. Officials said they can’t confirm how much of the $769,108 paid by the province to his firm in 2018-19 relate to the Francis complaint.

Both the attorney general and the minister of public safety declined to comment on the ongoing case, citing privacy concerns.

Barrage of slurs

In her decision last July, Human Rights Tribunal Chair Diana Juricevic said Francis had been labelled a troublemaker at the 330-bed pretrial facility in Port Coquitlam for advocating to be treated equally on the job as a Black person.

Juricevic said that B.C. corrections had failed to provide a respectful work environment free of discrimination.

During the hearings, the tribunal heard how Francis had been subject to a barrage of slurs, including the N-word and “Toby.”

“The slur ‘Toby’ is a reference to a rebellious slave who was eventually caught by his slave master who maimed his foot so that he would be easier to control,” Juricevic explained in her ruling.

Francis said the retribution he faced on the job after he filed the complaint underlines systemic racism. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The public safety ministry, which is headed by Mike Farnworth, said there is “no place for racism within the provincial public service … we recognize our duty to set an example and we know there is significant work to do to address broader issues of systemic racism.”

Francis said seeing racism on the job was “sickening.” He said the retribution he faced on the job after he filed the complaint just underlines the systemic issues.

“I’m living proof of it. And at the end of the day, I haven’t done anything wrong to be treated this way,” he said.

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