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Don’t Go Outside, There’s a Hippie Out There

The story is legendary in my family.

It is the early 1970s, and I am enjoying playing with my toys in our screened-in front porch. It is a beautiful sunny spring day and the trees are in bloom.

At one point, my father steps out onto the porch from inside the house and proceeds to lock the front screen door. This is strange to me. I had never seen anyone lock that door before. He looks at me, and he says, “Don’t go outside”. I must’ve looked at him quizzically because he then says, “because there’s a hippie out there!”

I stand up look out, because of course, I’ve never seen a real hippie before. Sure enough, a few moments later, a boy with long scraggly blonde hair and a jean jacket, probably in his late teens, walks by the house. In a few moments, the boy is gone, and I’m left to wonder why you must lock the screen door and stay inside when a hippie is in the vicinity.

Of course, in today’s world, this story is absurd. My parent’s generation, however, were very leery of hippies. In their minds, they were unpredictable, lazy, pot-smoking ner-do-wells who had the potential to bring down property values.

I don’t know how my father knew that a hippie was coming—perhaps one of the neighbours down the street called him to give him a heads up. If that was the case, dislike of hippies apparently would’ve been common in the neighbourhood.

Yes, we can all laugh about how times have changed. These days, you don’t have to be a hippie to choose to have long hair, and men with long hair are not evil; they’re fashionable.

I thought of this story this past weekend when reading an article in the Toronto Star about recent human rights decisions in Ontario.–complaints-overwhelm-human-rights-watchdog

In Canada, provincial laws protecting human rights at work, in housing, and in business are generally broader or are interpreted differently than they are in the U.S. The protected grounds of discrimination applicable in many provinces include race, ancestry, place of origin, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, same-sex partnership status, family status, record of offences, political beliefs, language and disability.

The process for making a human rights complaint was made simpler here in Ontario a few years ago. As a result, the Ontario Legal Support Centre received 38,579 calls last year. There is also now a substantial backlog of cases, although the new process has resulted in more cases being heard than previously.

One of the stories highlighted in the Toronto Star article is the fact that a Coffee Time donut shop was fined $15,000 for calling someone a Gypsy and refusing to serve him because he was Turkish.

Ok, I totally get that it was a human rights violation to refuse to serve the man because he was Turkish. It is a very sad statement to say that it happened here in Toronto, one of the most diverse cities in the world with a reputation for promoting diversity and having residents who practice a high level of tolerance.

That said, please forgive my ignorance and apparent lack of knowledge of the nomadic cultures, but up until fairly recently, I did not know that the term “Gypsy” referred to a specific group that could be protected under race, ethnic origin and/or ancestry clauses in human rights. I was taught to fear gypsies in the same way as I was to fear hippies. I was taught that gypsies were people who used deception to steal from you. I was taught that they worked in groups and were notorious shoplifters. Somewhere along the line, I missed that a gypsy was any particular ethnic group, but rather a type of behaviour.

In Toronto, recent statistics show that 49.9% of residents were born outside of Canada. It is a global city, full of individuals from places like Manila, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Karachi, Beijing, Bogota, Dubai and beyond. I would never condone or advocate discriminatory behaviour whatsoever, and as HR professionals I believe we try to promote diversity and non-discriminatory practices in our workplaces. There however simply has to be a certain level of forgiveness practiced if we are all going to live among so many different cultures and traditions. My concern is that making it easy to file complaints is not the solution to everyone getting along.

Long ago, a long-haired boy in a jean jacket was my first exposure to the reality that not all people embrace the same things. Recognizing that experiencing diversity is positive, if not enlightening, well, it appears for some, we still have a long way to go.

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