CBC on Discrimination – appearance
I just had a telling experience with the CBC in Vancouver. Their show â€œOn the Coastâ€ was doing a piece on the discriminatory experience of a young women who applied for a job at Joey Restaurants. She went through their training period (which consisted largely of tips about how to dress and apply makeup), but at the end of the week was told she didnâ€™t have the look they wanted they told her. She cried, was humiliated, and let the CBC know about this awful experience.
The CBC asked a human rights lawyer about this type of discrimination. He said, on air, that it wasnâ€™t against the law.Â This is correct, since the BC Human Rights legislation prohibits discrimination on lots of grounds, including race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age (over 19), criminal conviction, political belief, and lawful source of income, but it doesnâ€™t prohibit discrimination on the basis of how one looks.Â Â Any official complaint would go nowhere. Then an historian on sexuality explained that discrimination on the basis of looks is a part of history and it is well-known that looks are an important part of the service in bars and restaurants. Itâ€™s just the way things have been and are.
Iâ€™d been asked for comments for a taped interview and was told it would be part of the program. I certainly acknowledged that people were not formally protected against discrimination because of appearance and that it has been a long-standing practice in the restaurant industry. But my main point was that there have been ways that workers were protected in the past and could be in the future. I cited the significance of trade unions in protecting workers. Airline workers were a good example: there was a time when women were routinely fired as flight attendants when they aged and became less conventionally attractive. This has changed. My message was that trade unions are in a position to protect workers from this kind of discrimination and that the restaurant industry needed much better worker protection that trade unions could give.
But I also stressed the need to extend the prohibited grounds for discrimination in B.C. This has been expanded considerably over the years to protect people from discriminating employers and landlords.
Did I mention that none of this made it into the program? The CBCâ€™s ultimate message was that discrimination on the basis of appearance is just the way things are and we need to learn to live with it. And, since the young woman in question found another job, well…… it all turns out well.
Marjorie Griffin Cohen is currently the Chair of the B.C. Fair Wages Commission. She is an economist who has written on the Canadian economy, women’s labour, electricity deregulation, and international trade agreements