Forest Gump’s legendary “life is like a box of chocolates” maxim can be applied to random meetings at cafés. You never never know what you’re gonna get. Paul Richard, for example. First impressions lie as he is not your typical wealthy and wise elderly man. His wealth isn’t from his scarce savings account, nor is his wisdom from the seven decades that he’s been around. But an impromptu chitchat at his frequented Second Cup café at du Parc and Milton reveals a particular earnestness underneath his jovial cover. “I like my coffee strong,” he says, sipping it black .
Paul’s strength and vitality become more apparent as we enter into his story. It encompasses a career as a federal civil servant, a sexual preference for his own gender, and discrimination. A Biblicized telling of Paul’s story wouldn’t lean toward Sodom and Gomorrah so much as David and Goliath.
For several years now, Paul has relentlessly fought for justice against the giant Canadian tribunal system, a battle familiar to all those who have been victims of discrimination. His artillery merely a huge heart and wisdom hard earned from a roller coaster life of experiences.
An Acadian from New Brunswick, Paul’s upbringing was like any other child’s, full of inquisitiveness and attempts at fathoming our confusing world. All this was only amplified after realizing his exclusive sexuality.
“I went to confession more than any other kid,” Paul says. “I have a conceptual mind, I can synthesize and arrive at conclusions very quickly.” He pursued an undergraduate degree in commerce and a graduate degree in economics. Shortly after, Paul terminated his doctoral studies at Université de Paris and returned to Canada as a public servant, unwittingly severing all opportunity he had strived so hard for.
In the fall of 1970, Paul was hired as a junior economist for the Federal Public Service. Oblivious to the federal government’s internal policies, Paul promptly became the quarry of discrimination based on his homosexuality. Fifteen years later, the government successfully ousted him through repetitive psychological intimidating tactics involving isolation, unmerited negative evaluations, frequent reorganizations, and blocking him from any promotions. Through it all, that Paul’s work was diligent and conscientious was never questioned. “Even though my performance was always well received, my superiors would always change their minds at evaluation time,” Paul says.
According to Gary Kinsman, a leading Canadian sociologist, “Homosexuals would often be the target of demotion in their careers as they were thought to be of a security risk to the government.”
Paul’s realizations that he was no longer an asset to the government but rather a liability as a result of his sexual preference, was followed by severe psychological trauma, unemployment and, soon after, homelessness and suicidal tendencies.
Having sought medical expertise, Paul credits his therapist, a Dr. Morin,for giving him the mindfulness that he was a victim of a prejudiced system. After losing his house, under Dr. Morin’s advice, Paul moved from Ottawa to Montreal for a fresh start. “Dr. Morin made me realize that my fields of work in economics and finance were generally known to be very macho and homophobic environments,” Paul says.
Moreover, Dr. Morin introduced Paul to a more spiritual approach, through the Metropolitan Community Church. Paul regained his courage, climbed out the dark barrel, and commenced his fight against injustice.
But life is sometimes like a boxing bout, where the three judges scoring it are also the opposition.
In 2005, Paul filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Having explained his delay as a result of the consequence of psychological trauma, his requests to be heard have consistently been denied on the grounds of being time-barred.“The government just doesn’t want to admit their faults,” he says.
Today Paul’s battleground is centered on creating awareness and applying political pressure in order to eradicate rampant Harperism, which has denied numerous people their basic human rights. What keeps you going? I ask.
“Its in my mettle. Like my distant-distant cousin Maurice Richard, we are fighters.”
A conversation with Paul can be both inspirational and rousing. He can be found at the Second Cup café off Milton and Du Parc.
Raised in British Columbia of South Asian Heritage and now living in Montreal, Zeshaun has an MA in Near and Eastern Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has traveled extensively and studied in North Africa and the Middle East.