Uber the latest to back into corporate defence mode | Opinion

Small stories open up into bigger stories. The CBC’s Go Public series investigated a small incident where an Uber driver called one of his passengers by the N word.

When the passenger’s girlfriend defended him, the driver ordered her to shut up.

All captured on video.

It should have been an open-and-shut case. The girlfriend sent the video to Uber.

But Uber didn’t apologize. It slipped into

corporate defence mode.

You’ll see it often.

Uber refused to tell the woman making the complaint what action it had taken, if any. It didn’t speak to either the woman or her black companion. It drew attention to its zero-tolerance policy for racism and discrimination posted on its website. It stated that its “customer support agents” get special training for handling cases like this.

Then it charged the woman’s credit card an extra $282 for allegedly damaging the driver’s side mirror.

It acted, in other words, according to the primary rules of corporate ethics. Shift the blame. Admit nothing. Cover your ass.

In my experience, few corporate entities ever admit they did anything wrong. They’ll cite reams of statistics. They’ll quote lofty mission statements.

They’ll run their lengthy history as a good corporate citizen up the flagpole.

Watch the Liberals and the Conservatives blame each other for whatever went wrong.

And don’t expect the fossil fuel industry to admit its complicity in global warming.

That judgement applies even to churches, which should know better.

As a boy, I used to wonder why preaching classes were called “apologetics” at the theological college where my father was principal.

I looked the word up: “The intellectual defense of the truth of the Christian religion,” said one definition.

And another, “To engage the questions, doubts, and skepticism of unbelievers and believers in the late modern culture.”

The implied purpose of preaching, in other words, was not to encourage Christians to live more Christ-like lives, but to defend the institution against perceived attacks.

In one sense, the apology issued in Prince Albert this past week by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to the Indigenous peoples of Canada, broke no new grounds. It didn’t add anything to our knowledge of injustices at the residential schools operated for the government of Canada by the churches.

But it did break new ground in another sense.

Welby didn’t defend the Anglican Church. He didn’t blame injustice on a few misguided members.

Welby said, in part, “I am here today … to apologize for the damage caused to your communities… and to recognise the grievous sins of the Church of England … against the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis people of Canada.”

He called it “structural sin, not just individual sin, which has been terrible enough. Structural in society and, worse still, in the Church. Sins of racism and discrimination.

“Instead of standing with you, we abandoned you. In the midst of great poverty, the Church shrugged its shoulders and contributed to further hardship.

“Even if we were powerless (to change the residential school system) we should have been willing to suffer alongside you.”

I like his term “structural sin.” It’s sin built into the systems by which we run other systems. A system can’t be undone by the words of mission statements or pious policies, because it was never set out in words. It grew out of the actions of thousands of ordinary people living what they didn’t realize were prejudices.

British common law is an example of a

system. No one controls it. No one governs it. No one set it up. It just exists.

International trade is another system. No one planned it. No one governs it. It grew out of millions of individual transactions.

Sexism in the military, the RCMP, perhaps also in fire halls, is systemic. It has grown over decades of being taken for granted. It can’t be stopped by an edict from above.

Systems gather momentum like a rock rolling down a mountainside. Until they crash into something.

Like irrefutable evidence of climate change. Or movements like Black Lives Matter.

Or, in Uber’s case, into a national TV


Not until the CBC’s Go Public team got involved did Uber even admit that it had disciplined its erring driver.

But it still refused to say what it had done, or when, or for how long.

It’s a small thing. A derogatory comment. An arbitrary charge.

Yet it reveals a pattern of response that’s too often endemic.


Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. Email:

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