Discrimination is, unfortunately, common in our society. Whether it be motivated by race, religion, or gender, it tends to rear its ugly head in all facets of life. Arguably the worst kind of which is blatant discrimination based on race.
Ronald Bonspille, a member of the Kanesatake Mohawk band, has, like all natives, experienced this bigotry first hand. Bonspille is currently putting together a class action lawsuit, with the hopes of exposing the current policies insurance companies have in dealing with native people living on the reserve.
“Because I’m considered to be living in the village of Oka, I have no trouble getting insurance on my house or vehicles, but on my other three houses up the bay (on reserve). I’ve had one insurance company cancel us already, and we can’t get insurance on the other two houses.”
Bonspille also runs a farm on land rented from another Kanesatake resident, and has repeatedly tried to get insurance for his livestock, “the farm that I’m trying to get insurance on, is bordered by lands rented by non-native people who have insurance with the same company who refused me. They say we’re in a red zone, and they don’t insure anybody within the red zone of Kanesatake, yet the white people are insured.”
We asked Fabi Bertolotto, an insurance broker with Innovex who has had dealings with Kanesatake, and Kahnawake in the past, why he thinks some insurance companies refuse to deal with these two reserves. “I think 1990 (the Oka crisis) is definitely a key element.”
“We know if we try to insure anybody in Kahnawake, it’s going to come back to me. It’s not going to be accepted, the companies that we deal with simply don’t insure there.”
This, according to Bonspille, is not acceptable, and he hopes that other natives will join him in his fight for equality. “It’s not the idea of the money, we want to get the same equal treatment as everybody else in Canada.”
“I’ve been contacted by 37 people up till now, and I’m sending out a form letter tomorrow to all the people in Kanesatake asking them to get in touch with myself or Human Rights to see how many have actually been refused.”
According to Bertolotto, “Even in the city, because of claims, or the house is too old, people get refused, that’s their (insurance companies) privilege, they’re private companies and they do pretty much whatever they want.”
Patrick Homier, spokesman for the Quebec Human Rights Commission, said it was too early to comment about this particular case, but added, “is it because there’s a higher risk where Mr. Bonspille lives? Or because he’s a native, that’s what we’re going to find out.”
“You cannot deny somebody insurance because they’re native or black, or Chinese, that’s against the charter of rights. That’s discrimination.”
If this lawsuit is successful, “The monetary compensation is going to concern only the plaintiff that has submitted a written complaint.”
In other words if you have been refused insurance because of your race, and you fail to come forward and write a complaint, you could be left out of the financial compensation owed to you, if this case happens to be successful. This includes all natives, not only Mohawks.
The investigation is slated to begin in the next few weeks, and could take “a year and a half at least. Our case load is very big at the moment, we have a lot of complaints to look into.”