Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for August 1st, 2009

The life of a female longshore worker

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April Hurmuses, a Vancouver writer, was hired on the docks in 1984 as a switchman. She is now a head checker on the container docks. Her current project is an oral history of women who work in non-traditional jobs. To contribute or comment contact: Longshoremaam(at)

April has written an account of gender discrimination in the Port of Vancouver published in the Sun yesterday. This weekend, all of Vancouver will be out enjoying the Gay Pride parade, and feeling good about how inclusive and multicultural we are. Yet this is the same place where a newspaper vendor – who happens to be a “visible ethnic minority” – gets assaulted by off duty police, using racial epithets, and one of them gets off with a short period of confinement he can serve in his own home.

Reading her account I felt like I had been thrown back forty years. When I started work these attitudes were common – not just in the docks but in banks, supermarkets and libararies. Every workplace seemed to have its own strange segregations. In one very posh city bank there were separate lunch rooms for male and female staff. No one said anything until one day a new female teller asked me to show her where the lunchroom was so I showed her to where I ate my lunch. It never occurred to me that such segregation could exist in Britain in the 1960s.

I was also fortunate later to work for the Greater London Council, which led the way in fighting discrimination against women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. And was pilloried by the right wing press for its actions.

It is utterly shameful that these conditions persist in Canada in the twenty first century. It is hardly surprising when the provincial government can cut back the budget of the Human Rights Commission to a level of complete ineffectiveness and suffer no consequences. We know that this kind of behaviour continues – and the City of Richmond has had to face both gender and race issues in its Fire Department and works yard.   The Port is, of course, federal jurisdiction but the CHRC does not seem to have been very effective either.

There should be effective government agencies that deal with these issues and ensure that progress is made. We cannot simply sit back smugly and applaud ourselves for our “tolerance” when such injustices continue unpunished and uncorrected. Yet under the present administrations, federal and provincial, that is the most likely outcome. And that is a disgrace on us all.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 1, 2009 at 10:18 am