Government finds discrimination at Canadian Human Rights Commission, union says


A central government agency has found discrimination against workers within a Canadian institution specifically designed to eradicate it.

The Treasury Board Secretary discovered last week that the Canadian Human Rights Commission, whose mandate is to protect the fundamental principle of equal opportunity, discriminated against black and racialized employees.

A decision dated March 6, obtained by The Canadian Press, says the commission violated the “non-discrimination” clause in its collective agreement with three major public service unions.

“I encourage the parties to engage in mediation to seek a meaningful resolution to the issues outlined in this policy complaint,” Carole Bidal, the agency’s deputy deputy minister, said in her decision.

“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.”

The Justice Lawyers Association said in a statement that the decision is “an important victory” and that it will have consequences throughout the federal public service.

The union, which represents government lawyers, filed a formal grievance in 2020, along with the Public Services Alliance of Canada and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees.

The complaints alleged that the “policies, procedures, practices, and attitudes” had a negative impact on Black and other people of color and were “barriers to their advancement, health, safety, and general well-being.”

In a news release, the lawyers union said it was not satisfied with the commission’s response when employees told management about their experiences after the commission made a public statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We intend to work with the commission to help improve the workplace and help the commission win back the trust of its black and racialized employees,” the justice bar association said in a news release Thursday.

But the commission responded by “conducting a one-sided and non-inclusive investigative process that involved third parties without fully consulting with employees or their bargaining agents,” it said.

“Racism has absolutely no place in our institutions,” Justice Minister David Lametti said in a statement, adding that the information emerging from the complaint is “both worrying and disappointing, especially for the institution involved.” .

Lametti noted that the chief commissioner position is currently vacant, saying that “we are working to appoint new leadership.”

He said he had a “frank talk” with the current leadership to discuss the steps the institution is taking to address the problem.

The commission said in an email late Thursday that it has an updated action plan to deal with the effects of systemic racism and discrimination on society as an employer, service provider and regulator, and advocate for human rights.

“As an employer, we are committed to creating an open, healthy, safe and inclusive workplace that has the principles of anti-racism and fairness at its core,” the commission said.

“We value and respect the diversity of our commissioners, leadership and staff. We are mindful of the various historical and structural inequalities that have created social barriers for Indigenous, Black, and other races.

“We are committed to ensuring that anti-racism and equity measures continue to promote the full participation of our diverse staff.”

Bidal’s decision said the commission had already taken “proactive steps to address these issues” and had indicated its interest in engaging with bargaining agents and employees to find a solution. He did not detail what steps the commission has taken.

The lawyers’ union said Thursday that, in light of the Treasury Board’s decision, it hopes the commission’s leaders will now join calls for a formal audit. He had written to parliamentarians and the federal auditor general with such a request in 2021.

“If the CHRC is to maintain the trust of Canadians to protect them from systemic racism, it must first look inward and reform its internal practices,” the union’s press release says.

The union added that following the Treasury Board’s decision, it is “considering its options” in consultation with its members and brother bargaining agents.

The Treasury Board Secretary said in a statement that it is “committed to ensuring access to a robust complaints process that addresses issues as they arise.”

He said he “remains available, at the request of the parties, to support the parties as they continue to work toward a workplace free from harassment and discrimination.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 16, 2023.

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