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Queer aboriginal fired from Gerstein Centre

Says he lost job for saying immigrants more privileged than natives

A queer aboriginal man says he was fired from his job after being accused of racism.

Stanford Sinclair says he was fired from his part-time job at the Gerstein Centre — a Toronto mental health crisis centre — after an Oct 6 conversation with several fellow employees.

“There was a discussion,” says Sinclair. “We’re all social worker, activist types. I’m queer and First Nations. A call came in from a queer guy from Morocco.

“We got into this big discussion about immigration. The one thing I did say was immigrants had more privileges than First Nations.”

Sinclair says he had a subsequent conversation with one of the coworkers — an immigrant woman — in which she told him she thought his comments had been “really derogatory and kind of racist.”

Sinclair says he apologized to the woman.

“I said maybe work was not the right place for those comments, but she had to understand where I was coming from,” he says.

Sinclair says he then got a call from Paul Quinn, the Gerstein’s executive director, on Oct 20, asking to meet as soon as possible regarding a complaint. Both Sinclair and Quinn say that Sinclair called back to say he knew what the complaint was about, and they arranged a meeting for Oct 24.

Both agree that Sinclair did not make that meeting, and that when they did meet on the Monday, Quinn fired Sinclair.

“The boss called me in and I was fired just like that,” says Sinclair. “He did give me an opportunity to come in on the Friday [for the meeting] but my partner was sick, he’s a long-term survivor of AIDS.

“I went in on the Monday and I was fired. He said, ‘We have no time or space for [comments like] that.'”

Quinn says Sinclair never notified him that he couldn’t make the Friday meeting.

“He could have called to say he couldn’t make it,” he says. “He also said he was attending a workshop. He’s had a number of different stories. There’s been a history of those kinds of things, not showing up. You can’t be a good worker if you’re not here.”

Quinn says Sinclair has had other conflicts with staff, which he didn’t elaborate on.

“There have been a number of other incidents where I’ve had to intervene,” he says. “I had to send him home. They were more about his strong opinions and not being able to back down from them.”

Quinn says the most recent incident followed similar lines.

“There was a client calling who was an immigrant who needed help,” he says. “[Sinclair] went off instead of focusing on the client. His response was basically he’s right, they’re wrong.”

Sinclair says he has no reason to think his sexual orientation was an issue, but that as an aboriginal man who’s had psychiatric treatment himself he didn’t feel he fit in.

“They think they’re progressive and they’re very gay-positive,” he says, “but this is something political and spiteful directed at me. I’m the only aboriginal there, I’m a [psychiatric] survivor. I think they’re just not used to a native person in my position that they’re not helping.”

Sinclair says that after his dismissal he spoke to another woman who had been involved in the original conversation.

“I apologized for my words being taken out of context or offending her,” he says. “I didn’t apologize for saying immigrants have more privileges than aboriginals.”

Sinclair says he plans to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.