The Association of Justice Counsel AJC and other bargaining agents filed policy grievances with Treasury Board in October 2020.
A grievance ruling by the Treasury Board Secretariat has found that the Canadian Human Rights Commission discriminated against its Black and racialized employees.
The government agency made the ruling March 6 that the CHRC, an independent government agency dealing with complaints of discrimination in employment, had itself breached the “no discrimination” clause of a collective agreement between Treasury Board and the Association of Justice Counsel, the bargaining agent for approximately 2,600 lawyers employed by the federal government.
“As federal institutions, we seek to create a workplace that is diverse and inclusive and where every public servant can make the best possible contribution to serving Canadians,” Treasury Board Associate Assistant Deputy Minister Carole Bidal said in her ruling on a grievance submitted by AJC.
Bidal said the Treasury Board’s Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer would be available should the parties desire assistance in finding resolution to the issues raised in a “respectful, meaningful and timely manner” and she encouraged the parties to engage in mediation to seek a meaningful resolution to the issues outlined in the policy grievance.
In 2020, nine CHRC employees, including AJC members, sent a letter to the chief commissioner decrying anti-Black racism and racial discrimination within the commission, raising issues within CHRC’s complaints process, practices and operations as well as sharing Black and racialized employees’ experiences and recommendations after the agency issued a statement in support of Black Lives Matter.
After receiving notices from AJC and other bargaining agents in support of the employees, the commission responded by conducting what the AJC called a “unilateral, non-inclusive investigative process” involving outside parties without fully consulting with employees or their bargaining agents. AJC then asked for a workplace assessment to be conducted, with the counsel and other bargaining agents filing policy grievances with Treasury Board in October 2020.
AJC President David McNairn said the Treasury Board’s decision confirmed that anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination occurred within the federal public service and affirmed the lived experiences of the employees on whose behalf the AJC and other bargaining agents filed the grievance.
Moving forward, McNairn said, the AJC would like to see fundamental systemic change at the CHRC that included transparency, accountability and the elimination of discrimination against employees.
“The CHRC cannot be its own watchdog and action must be taken to ensure that the important changes required to regain the trust of Canadians in this important institution are taken,” McNairn said.
McNairn argued that the CHRC must be willing to undergo independent external review and oversight, such as an independent audit by the Office of the Auditor General.
“(Treasury Board) encouraged the parties to engage in mediation and the AJC and sister bargaining agents need to meet and discuss with members to discuss this option further,” McNairn said. “We are open to mediation or other discussions which result in the necessary action at the CHRC, which will bring about the change which is necessary for the commission to re-earn the trust of its employees and Canadians.”
Justice Minister David Lametti said the grievance against the CHRC revealed concerning and disappointing information.
“The federal government strongly believes that Canadians deserve to feel safe and valued in their workplace,” Lametti said in an emailed statement. “Racism has absolutely no place in our institutions.”
Lametti said the government was working to appoint new leadership to the commission. The term of Marie-Claude Landry as chief commissioner ended last March, although the government extended her mandate until November.
“Dealing with the outcome of these findings will be an important part of their responsibilities,” Lametti said. “I had a frank conversation with Acting Chief Commissioner (Charlotte-Anne) Malischewski earlier this week to discuss the steps CHRC is taking to address this important issue.”
Malischewski said in a statement that the rights commission accepted the findings and recommendations of the decision and remained open to working to reach a meaningful and respectful resolution.
“We take this matter very seriously and remain deeply committed to anti-racism action and bringing about meaningful, systemic change,” Malischewski said, noting that the organization had taken part in significant anti-racism work over the past few years, developing an Anti-Racism Action Plan with input from employees, unions, stakeholder groups and consultants. “While we believe that the anti-racism work we have done over the past number of years has put us on the right path, this work is ongoing.”
Over the past few years, Malischewski said, there has been a significant reduction in the number of complaints on the grounds of discrimination of race, colour and/or national or ethnic origin (RCNEO) that were being dismissed by the CHRC: down from 32 per cent in 2017 to seven per cent in 2021.
There has also been a doubling of the percentage of RCNEO complaints referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, from nine per cent in 2017 to 18 per cent in 2021, plus an increase in the settlement rate of RCNEO complaints through mediation: 66 per cent compared to 40 per cent in previous years. As well, the acceptance of RCNEO complaints has continued to be higher than that of non-RCNEO complaints over the past four years.
Nicholas Marcus Thompson, executive director of the Black Class Action Secretariat, which has filed a class-action lawsuit in the Federal Court of Canada seeking long-term solutions to address systemic racism and discrimination in the public service, said many workers didn’t have confidence in the rights commission.
“We’ve contended for a long time that these institutions and processes are unable to address anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination because it’s inherent in all the organizations,” Thompson said. “We’ve just had confirmation of this.”
Thompson, who with his team has called on Canada to establish a Black equity commissioner, said the Treasury Board ruling was welcome, but action needed to follow.
“Workers are still suffering,” Thompson said. “Workers have had to resign; they cannot work under these conditions. Workers have had to take sick leave from the commission, and workers have been waiting to get this decision. And, while it validates the workers’ concerns, workers have no redress.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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