Canada’s human rights system is facing a “crisis of confidence”, a Senate committee has warned, after racially abused employees at the Canadian Human Rights Commission blew the whistle on anti-Black racism.
The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights has called on the federal government to commission an independent inquiry into the conditions faced by Black, Indigenous and racialized Commission staff, and a comprehensive review of Canada’s human rights laws. I’m asking you to get started.
senate committee study of the problem The system was launched after the CBC reported that the Canadian government had concluded that the commission had discriminated against some employees.
“We’re not talking about a small issue here. This is a serious issue,” said Sen. Wanda Thomas Barnard, vice chair of the committee.
Watch | Senators say ‘crisis of trust’ needs to be addressed
In March, the federal government reported that the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) discriminated against Black employees and engaged in racial discrimination. The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBCS), the government’s human resources arm, reached this conclusion after nine employees filed complaints through their union in October 2020.
Their complaint alleges that “CHRC’s Black and racialized employees face systemic anti-Black racism, sexism, and systemic discrimination.”
CBC News obtained TBCS’ March ruling, reviewed related documents and spoke to a group of current and former commission officials.
They describe what they call a hostile and racist workplace where Black and racialized employees are excluded from career and training opportunities and excluded from formal and informal networks. explained.
High denial rates for race-based claims
They argue that while their white colleagues are being promoted, the careers of black and racialized employees remain stagnant, and that the majority of senior management positions remain white. Current and former employees who spoke to CBC said their health suffered as a result of workplace discrimination.
Employees also pointed to high firing rates for race-based complaints, a claim supported by CHRC data, and said all-white teams are typically assigned to investigate them.
In 2018, only 6% of cases based on race, color or ethnic origin were deemed to have sufficient credibility to proceed to court, according to data obtained by the Senate.
The committee’s report said the senators were “particularly concerned” about the CHRC’s ability to handle race-based complaints in a fair and impartial manner. The commission concluded that the submissions it received showed a “crisis of confidence in the federal human rights system”.
“It’s absolutely devastating,” said Senator Barnard. “I think this is one of the most important issues to address.”
Senate seeks appointment of Black Equity Commissioner
The committee heard directly from CHRC employee Bernadeth Bech, who also spoke to CBC. Becci described to senators a conversation he overheard as his colleagues were evaluating complaints to determine whether they should be investigated.
“It was common for staff to guess how the complainant was imagining things,” Becci said. “Sadly, pre-judging the outcome of charges is commonplace on all grounds, but the insidious nature of racism means that the race-based charges I have seen are based on the evidence presented. Almost all were rejected regardless.”
Becci left the commission on medical leave in September 2020. She told her senators that the racism she faced created feelings of anxiety, stress and trauma. She has since returned to her position as a policy advisor to the committee.
She told CBC News she welcomed the Senate report, but added that little has changed in the workplace.
“There has been no real change yet,” Becci said. “Employees are still waiting for the changes we have asked for.”
Mr Becci called on the committee and the federal government to take forward the recommendations from the Senate inquiry. Among its 11 recommendations, the Senate committee calls for an independent review of the conditions black, indigenous and racialized employees face in the committee.
It is also calling on the government to appoint a Black Equity Commissioner. Some committee witnesses suggested that the role would be comparable to Canada’s Auditor General and would face institutional and systemic racism in the CHRC and the broader public service.
In a joint statement, the three unions representing CHRC workers said the Senate committee’s report justified their members’ complaints.
“The Senate report reaffirms and recognizes that discrimination and systemic anti-Black racism occurred at the CHRC,” said the Association of Judicial Lawyers (AJC), Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), Public Service the alliance said in a statement. Canada (PSAC).
Trade unions called on the government to implement the recommendations without delay.
Labor unions and the CHRC engage in mediation to resolve workplace grievances that led to findings of discrimination. As a result, the commission has limited its comments and said it will not be available for interviews with CBC News.
“We remain committed to doing what is necessary to ensure that everyone in Canada has confidence in the commission and that we conduct our work with integrity and accountability,” said Véronique Robitaille, director of communications for the CHRC. .
The Senate committee criticized former Justice Minister David Lametti for not taking part in the investigation, saying it was “unfortunate” that Mr Lametti did not appear in court.
Lametti’s office also declined several interview requests from CBC. His successor spoke to CBC about the matter.
“What I want to say to everyone is that we have to take these allegations seriously,” Justice Minister Arif Virani said. “Eradicating systemic discrimination of all kinds, especially anti-Black racism, is a priority for me.”
So far, Virani has not committed to implementing the Senate’s recommendations.