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Canadian Human Rights Commission Found Guilty of Discrimination Against Black and Racialized Workers


March 17, 2023

OTTAWA – On March 6, 2023, the Office of the Chief Human Resource Office at the Treasury Board Secretariat, issued a decision against the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) in response to a policy grievance filed by the Public Service Association of Canada (PSAC), Association of Justice Counsel (AJC) and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE). The decision held that the CHRC – the federal body responsible for resolving allegations of racism and other forms of discrimination – had itself been subjecting its Black employees to “anti-Black racism, sexism and systemic discrimination”. Among the allegations made against the institutions were that the CHRC: consistently excluded Black employees from opportunities for training and career advancement; subjected Black employees to negative differential treatment; summarily dismissed Black employees concerns about anti-Black racism within the institution; denied them access to managerial and senior roles, and targeted Black employees that spoke out against the discriminatory institutional environment.

The decision affirms much of what many Black and other racialized individuals have been saying for decades. And whilst the Black Class Action Secretariat welcomes this determination, various elements of the decision raise further fundamental questions about recourse of justice for Black public employees. Indeed, as a policy grievance, the decision is unable to remedially address the economic and health impact of a decades-long discriminatory culture that undoubtedly denied employment opportunities and career advancement for countless Black individuals. It is important to note that workers opted to use the anonymous “policy grievance” option rather than individual or group grievances due to feeling unsafe and fear of retaliation.

It also raises concerns about the CHRC’s capacity to offer justice to the broader experiences of Black workers across the entirety of the federal public service who share similar stories and experiences for over 50 years. Moreover, what’s additionally concerning is that the Treasury Board Secretariat, the very department responsible for overseeing the public service and rendering this decision, is itself mired in historic and current allegations of systemic racism against its own Black employees.

In response to the verdict, David Lametti, Canada’s Attorney General said that the decision was “both concerning and disappointing”. Mr. Lametti’s statement belies the fact he and his government have long been aware of these problems. In April of 2021, his office received a letter from the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, which had been signed by 30 other organisations, calling on the Government to implement recommendations stemming from a review of the CHRC by Justice Gerard La Forest over 20 years ago. His government has also been aware of various reports and calls from the United Nations stemming from at least 1998, which have continuously called on Canada to address its ineffectual human rights complaints system. Moreover, despite being aware of the broad reality of anti-Black racism across the public service, Mr. Lametti is currently directing Canada’s Department of Justice to seek dismissal of a comprehensive class-action lawsuit that seeks to obtain historic justice and accountability for decades of anti-Black racism against Black workers. The government insists that workers should turn to the CHRC for remedy.

It is inconceivable that the federal government would spend millions of dollars fighting Black public service workers in court, when the government itself has concluded that the very institution designed to address these issues becomes a gatekeeper for systemic racism and discrimination. Undoubtedly, the processes that the government wants workers to turn to for redress are broken and plagued with anti-Black racism. In fact, former CHRC employees have expressly called on complainants to avoid attempting to seek justice through the organization to outright boycott racist mechanisms that effectively ensure race-based complaints are devalued and denied.

The Black Class Action calls on the Government of Canada to immediately begin discussions with us to find a pathway to addressing the impact of over 50 years of anti-Black racism and discrimination for thousands of workers. Indeed, the CHRC is not the only government institution or body facing such allegations. Many lives, careers and families have been left decimated by systemic anti-Black racism that permeates the entirety of the public service. Further attempts to deny and dismiss these accounts only add to the culpable negligence of our leaders and erodes the critical trust that Canadians expect from our institutions and elected officials.

For further information or media inquiries please contact:  

Black Class Action Secretariat


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