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A watchdog or lapdog?

The Yukon Human Rights Commission has let Cheryl Clarke down.Or so she insists.For years, Clarke has fought for answers from the commission…

The Yukon Human Rights Commission has let Cheryl Clarke down.

Or so she insists.

For years, Clarke has fought for answers from the commission stemming from discrimination she suffered on the job.

Getting them has proved nearly impossible.

So now she’s going public.

Clarke is Whitehorse’s only female heavy equipment operator.

And she has paid for it.

Fresh from college, she began working for Highways and Public Works 25 years ago as a labourer.

By the mid-‘80s, she was driving heavy equipment for Highways.

But, unlike the other operators, she was also routinely dispatched to clean toilets at highway rest areas.

“I was cleaning them all the time, and I asked my supervisor why we didn’t have labourers doing this work, because we had lots of male labourers,” said Clarke.

She was doing the menial jobs and cleaning highway rest areas because it was “women’s work,” said her supervisor.

Clarke was frustrated.

But it got worse.

She was laid off in the winter.

“I was told I couldn’t work in the winter ‘cause it was too dangerous for a woman,” she said.

“I lost substantial wages.”

Clarke, like many of the heavy equipment operators, was an auxiliary worker.

“But whenever there was work available, the men got it,” she said. “I never got it.”

Clarke had enough.

In 2000, she approached the human rights commission and filed a discrimination and harassment complaint based on gender.

The commission accepted the complaint and told Clarke it appeared valid.

But the government didn’t co-operate with the human rights investigation, said Clarke.

The commission requested documents. The government withheld them, saying “they were confidential,” she said.

So, human rights requested the documents through access to information laws.

But it never received any of the requested government information, said Clarke.

“Because the government wasn’t co-operating with the investigation, human rights told me they were going to apply to the Supreme Court for a judge’s ruling to get access to this information,” she said.

But, when Clarke returned to the commission to check on her case, she was told the investigation was closed and there would be no appeal.

“And they told me they didn’t have to provide reasons why the case was dismissed,” she said.

This was three years ago.

“All this time, I’ve just been left hanging,” she said.

Clarke returned to the human rights commission hoping to get some closure, but met with nothing but secrecy, she said.

However, during the investigation, Clarke was offered full-time heavy equipment work with Highways.

“I got full-time just before the case was dismissed by human rights,” she said.

“And I was offered this auxiliary winter position through employment equity because I was a woman.”

Although Clarke is working under a new supervisor and loves her job, she still wants to get to the bottom of the affair.

“I had meetings with human rights to try and get some answers, to find out why the case was dismissed, but all I was told was that there was no appeal,” she said.

Clarke told the commission she planned to take her story to the media.

At that point, one of the human rights representatives leaned across the table and told Clarke to “think twice” before contacting the media, she said.

“So, here I am,” she said with a laugh.

“I don’t want this happening to anyone else, because it’s been sheer hell.

“And no one’s been accountable for their comments and actions.”

Clarke has put forward allegations of bias against the human rights commission.

“It’s so bizarre — human rights must be biased,” she said.

“I can’t really get my head around it.

“But why do we have a human rights commission if nobody wants to co-operate with it?”

The commission does not use its power to access information and it is not making informed decisions, she said.

In 1996, Highways and Public Works was found guilty of human rights violations based on race, said Clarke.

“So, maybe there was potential for more embarrassing findings.”

After all, it’s a government town, she said.

Clarke, who loves her job, was scared to speak out.

“But I had to,” she said.

“I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t follow through with this.

“If I didn’t speak out, what would this say to other women trying to pursue non-traditional jobs — where are they supposed to go?”