RCMP academy discriminated against Muslim cadet: Tribunal

Tribunal orders reinstatement and more than $500,000 in lost wages to cadet who was kicked out for poor performance

Cadet faced climate of discrimination

Ali Tahmourpour had always dreamed of becoming a police officer. He pursued that dream by applying to the RCMP training academy in Regina. However, he found conditions for visible minorities like himself made it difficult to complete the training and he was tossed out of the academy three months after joining.

Tahmourpour said his instructors singled him out for extra verbal abuse and he was mocked for things such as his religious pendant and Persian style of signing his name. This climate made it difficult for him to perform his tasks and complete tests to the best of his ability. He also said the evaluations he received were unfairly harsh.

Tahmourpour’s complaint brought to light that systemic discrimination was a serious issue at the academy, as statistics showed a much higher proportion of visible minorities than Caucasians failed training.

Because of the systemic discrimination and differential treatment, the tribunal agreed Tahmourpour’s chances of passing were hindered, as was his earning power if he graduated. Given the liability the tribunal placed on the RCMP for the actions of its instructors, employers would be wise to consider whether their workplaces have any ingrained practices that would put them at risk for a discrimination complaint.

A former RCMP cadet who said he was drummed out of the police service’s training program because of discrimination should be readmitted and compensated for the discriminatory treatment he faced, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.

Ali Tahmourpour, a 35-year-old Muslim who was born in Iran and dreamed of being a police officer, entered the RCMP’s training academy in Regina in July 1999. However, his experience at the academy fell short of expectations when he encountered difficulties from his instructors right from the beginning that he felt were because of the fact he was Muslim and Iranian.

On July 12, 1999, Tahmourpour’s first day of physical training, the instructor told the cadets to remove all jewelry and watches. The RCMP dress code prohibited cadets from wearing jewelry except for medic alert bracelets. Tahmourpour explained privately to the instructor that he wore a religious pendant that he didn’t wish to remove. The instructor said it was fine but then told all the cadets, in what Tahmourpour described as a sarcastic and condescending tone, nobody could wear jewelry accept for his pendant.

Tahmourpour said he felt uncomfortable and singled out because of this incident. The instructor said he told all the cadets about the pendant because he didn’t want Tahmourpour to be bothered by them about it. He also said had he known Tahmourpour wanted the information to be private, he would have only told the person in charge of the troop’s uniforms.

Instructor verbally abusive

Tahmourpour said the discrimination continued with the corporal who was the head instructor for the firearms unit. He said the firearms instructor often yelled in his ear using epithets such as “loser, “coward” and telling him he was “useless” and “incompetent.” Though the corporal yelled and insulted all cadets, Tahmourpour said he directed “significantly more” of his attention to him than the others.

The firearms instructor also offended Tahmourpour when, after seeing him sign his name in Persian, asked him, “Is it something you’ve made up?” Tahmourpour said he couldn’t concentrate and perform at his best because of his “constant fear of rebuke and condemnation” from the instructor.

The firearms instructor admitted he yelled and insulted cadets frequently, but denied singling out Tahmourpour. The firearms course was a dangerous environment, he said, so he had to be tough to ensure cadets were at their best. He also admitted to asking Tahmourpour about the language he signed his name in but he claimed he wanted to ensure it was his real signature.

Poor performance evaluation

On Sept. 10, 1999, Tahmourpour received a performance feedback sheet where he received 12 needs improvement grades in applied police sciences as well as two needs improvements and one unacceptable rating in firearms. His problems in applied police services stemmed from his communication skills, where the instructors felt he demonstrated weakness during different scenario exercises.

In firearms, the instructor claimed he had a dirty pistol during inspection on two occasions. He received a second unacceptable after failing the second firearm inspection. As was normal procedure, Tahmourpour was given one month to improve his performance. The academy’s cadet assessment procedures stipulated if a cadet received two unacceptables in one area during an assessment period, his training contract would be terminated.

Instructors requested termination of contract

On Oct. 7, 1999, one day before the deadline for improvement, two of Tahmourpour’s instructors requested the termination of his contract, prompted by the two unacceptables he received in firearms training. Their reasoning was that he hadn’t shown improvement and was going to receive another five unacceptables on his feedback sheet the next day.

Tahmourpour disputed both the Sept. 10 feedback and the assertion he hadn’t shown improvement, claiming his evaluation wasn’t an accurate representation of his performance and discrimination created a difficult environment to perform to the best of his abilities. He testified he often felt alienated and vulnerable because his instructors focused negative attention on him. He also said his poor grade in firearms was false because his pistol had been clean but the instructor held him to a different standard.

The tribunal found Tahmourpour was subjected to differential treatment by his instructors. The pointing out of his religious pendant and the hostile treatment by the firearms instructor were both attempts to differentiate him from other cadets based on his race, religion or national origin. The firearms instructor’s behaviour also constituted harassment based on the same grounds. It agreed his communication skills in the scenario exercises and his performance in the firearms were likely subpar, but at least part of this was because of the treatment he received.

“In an atmosphere where racial intolerance and harassment is tacitly condoned, and where cadets like Mr. Tahmourpour are subjected to verbal abuse and bullying, it is reasonable to infer that their performance will be negatively affected,” the tribunal said.

Tahmourpour also didn’t receive any formal feedback on what he needed to improve before the Sept. 10 evaluation, which was contrary to standard procedure. Without feedback, cadets assume their performance is at an acceptable level. This suggested, the tribunal said, “there was another factor influencing the feedback besides the instructors’ concerns about Mr. Tahmourpour’s performance.”

The tribunal also found the firearms instructor’s attitude towards Tahmourpour had influenced the other instructors by entering his grades before the others, contrary to standard practice of grades being recorded chronologically. In addition, while many cadets who fail the training program were re-admitted, Tahmourpour discovered a memorandum had been placed in his file saying he shouldn’t be considered for readmission.

The tribunal noted RCMP data showed the failure rate of visible minorities was three times that of Caucasian cadets in 1999, with similar rates from 1998 to 2003, which made it likely Tahmourpour’s treatment was the result of a climate of discrimination at the academy.

The tribunal determined Tahmourpour was treated differently from other cadets during his training and in his evaluation. This discrimination was based on prohibited grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act and was a factor in his ability to complete the training and in his termination.

“There is a serious possibility that had the discrimination not occurred, Mr. Tahmourpour would have successfully completed the training,” the tribunal said.

It ordered the RCMP to offer him reinstatement to the next training program at the academy and the difference between what his RCMP salary would have been over what he would have made in an average job. The RCMP was also ordered to pay salary and benefits for a two-year period after Tahmourpour’s termination during which he was unable to work due to stress, bringing the total estimated lost wages award to more than $500,000. Finally, the tribunal awarded Tahmourpour $30,500 in damages for pain and suffering from the RCMP’s discriminatory conduct.

For more information see:

Tahmourpour v. Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2008 CarswellNat 1007 (Can. Human Rights Trib.).

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