An Abenaki who had been refused a car insurance offer by the Industrial Alliance was the victim of racial discrimination, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec ruled.
Written at 3:20 p.m.
Updated at 18.20.
Alexis Wawanoloath, barrister and former PQ MP, lodged a complaint in 2018 against the Industrial Alliance.
The insurance company had refused to make an offer on his car because of his zip code in Odanak, an Abenaki reservation near Sorel-Tracy.
When the complainant gave his address to the agent handling his request, the latter allegedly replied that the company [fait pas de soumissions] on reserves.
According to the agent’s version, a “RESIN” (for “Indian reserve”) had appeared in the computer system, indicating that the company did not serve that area.
Industrial Alliance “did not provide any specific documentation or actuarial data to justify” this restriction, which applied to the Odanak reserve, located less than a kilometer from Pierreville, a non-Aboriginal municipality still served by the insurer, the commission stressed.
The evidence reveals that “the standards and practices followed by the company result in a disproportionate effect of exclusion of people living in Aboriginal communities,” the decision, made in October, indicates.
Five Aboriginal reserves, including Odanak, are subject to a partial service restriction by the Industrial Alliance. In those local communities, only existing customers can buy insurance from the company, reads the judgment.
The “evacuated” systemic aspect
Industrial Alliance is not the only company refusing to bid on original reserves.
In 2020, a study of The press reported systematic refusals from several insurance companies.
In many cases, the residents experienced that their submissions were rejected without even having their files analyzed.
After a four-year delay which he considers “unreasonable”, Mr Wawanoloath says he is “pleased” with the Commission’s decision. However, he regrets that the systemic aspect of these refusals has been “evacuated” from the decision.
Apart from my little person, this situation of discrimination, we cannot say that it is anything but systemic.
Alexis Wawanoloath, in interview with The press
The former elected representative is calling for a systemic investigation into the industry’s behavior towards indigenous communities, which the Commission had committed to doing in 2020.
“I still have a lot of questions and I don’t have any answers,” he says.
$20,000 in moral and punitive damages
Will the decision discourage insurers who refuse to make offers on native reservations? Alexis Wawanoloath hopes so, but doubts it.
The commission ordered Industrial Alliance to pay Alexis Wawanoloath $10,000 in punitive damages and $10,000 in punitive damages, for a total of $20,000.
“The punitive damages of $10,000, I find that small for a large insurance company,” he said.
In its decision, the commission also asks the insurer to change its standards and practices “to ensure that the criteria for exclusion of geographical areas are based on verified and verifiable elements and are applied equally to allochthonous and indigenous communities”.
The insurance company has until November 11 to pay the compensation or the case will be brought before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal.
With the Canadian Press