Two former Metrolinx employees have launched a human rights complaint after they lost their jobs due to failing a Toronto police background check, even though neither of them have a criminal record.
Thairu Taban and Josslyn Mounsey were hired as Transit Safety Dispatchers in the spring of 2019 after passing a rigorous selection process.
The pair, who both graduated from Humber College’s Emergency Telecommunications program, say they were chosen alongside two other candidates out of more than a thousand applicants.
“The feeling for me was I could finally begin, and I finally did something my parents were proud of,” recalled Taban, who grew up in Flemingdon Park with a single mother. “I never even had a pension before,” he said with a laugh.
But, his excitement turned to disappointment a few months later, when he was suddenly called into his supervisor’s office and asked to hand in his ID and key cards.
“You could say blindsided, shocked,” Taban says of how he felt when he was told he could no longer work for the provincial agency. “Devastation, humiliation, embarrassment … because I had worked so hard; this wasn’t a handout.”
Taban was told he had failed a Toronto police criminal record check – a requirement for dispatchers who regularly access sensitive information. But no one could tell him why, since Toronto police only issue a pass or fail.
“I have no criminal record, no criminal charges,” the 24 year-old said. “I went to college, stayed off the streets. I’ve done everything right as an individual.”
Josslyn Mounsey had met the same fate just a few months earlier. The mother of three was only on the job for two days before she learned she had failed a criminal record check.
“I’ve never been convicted of anything, how are you coming to such a conclusion?” she had asked a woman at Toronto Police headquarters dealing with her file.
“She said, ‘I’m not able to go into detail, but I will tell you this: you’ll never be hired with Metrolinx, you will never be hired with TTC, you will never be hired with Toronto Community Housing or the University of Toronto, because we conduct the background checks for all of those organizations.’”
The 29 year-old said this was second time she had lost out on a job. Months before, she had made it to the final stages of the process to become a 9-1-1 dispatcher, but was removed from consideration when she failed a criminal background check.
“I feel very robbed,” said Mounsey. “I invested time and money to go to school to obtain a career in this field.”
Since Toronto police wouldn’t provide any information as to what led to their conclusion, the pair could only speculate based on documents they obtained from Toronto police through Freedom of Information requests.
Both presume the decision had something to do with the people they grew up with.
Mounsey’s father was murdered when she was a child living in Regent Park, but her mother soon moved them out of the neighbourhood and she has no contact with his side of the family. She also signed as a surety for an ex-boyfriend years ago.
Taban, has a close family member with a criminal history, though he said he doesn’t associate with him.
“We felt we were discriminated against for something that has nothing to do with both of us,” he said.
The former employees are now launching a human rights complaint, seeking damages for lost wages, pension, and benefits. Their lawyer calls it a wrongful dismissal on the basis of race.
“There is a historical problem with police, recognized by the force, with respect to discrimination against African-Canadians in Toronto,” explained Lawyer Glen Chochla.
Taban and Mounsey are both black, and their complaint asserts that because of their race, their chances of interacting with police are greater, even if those interactions don’t lead to charges or convictions.
Chochla says that, along with Toronto Police’s pass/fail system, puts them at a disadvantage since they have no way to appeal the decision.
“They’ve never spoken to Thairu or myself, or anyone, including Metrolinx, about what the concerns are, about the information they have, and whether or not the information they have is correct,” said Chochla.
“If I’ve never been convicted of a criminal offence, then why am I being treated as such?” asks Mounsey. “It looks like there is more protection for people who have actually committed criminal offences because they can apply for a pardon. But in Thairu and I’s case, we’ve never been convicted of anything so there’s no system or file to wipe.”
In a statement to CityNews, Toronto Police spokesperson Connie Osborne wouldn’t specify why they don’t provide reasons behind a pass or fail, only saying that the individual file is accessed by multiple people “to ensure there is no bias,” and that agencies can request a candidate be reassessed.
She also adds, “Our employment process is currently a part of a service-wide review looking at policies, practices and procedures with an equity lens to eliminate any potential systemic racism and discrimination.”
Chochla said he is in touch with Metrolinx’s lawyers, who couldn’t comment specifically on Taban and Mounsey’s case, but in a statement, Metrolinx spokesperson Matt Llewellyn explained that Transit Safety Dispatchers “must have the proper clearances to use the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC).”
“The criteria for who can access CPIC results, and under which circumstances, is strictly monitored and controlled by the RCMP. As part of the RCMP’s security screening process, each person requesting access to CPIC must undergo a thorough criminal background record check,” said Llewellyn.
Llewellyn added that after their agreement with Toronto police expired a few months ago, they now do criminal background checks through Coburg Police, because they provide results faster and offer more information beyond a pass or fail, allowing applicants to follow up with more information and potentially ask for a re-evaluation.
Taban says he hopes it’s a change Toronto Police will consider making.
“This could affect other people of colour who are trying to better themselves coming out of Toronto’s inner cities,” he says. “Kids from Jane and Finch, Regent Park, Flemo, Thorncliffe … this is bigger than just myself.”