March 30, 2023
OTTAWA - The federal government released its 2023 budget in which it acknowledges the harm and the trauma of systemic and institutional racism experienced by Black federal public service workers across Canada. At the same time, the government continues with a Motion to Strike a landmark class action that seeks to remedy these historic wrongs. In 2021, plaintiffs in the class action filed a motion in the court for $100 million to establish this mental health program.
The mental health motion is part of a landmark class action lawsuit which seeks to represent thousands of Black Canadians who have been subjected to systemic discrimination in the federal public service for decades. Lead representative plaintiff Nicholas Marcus Thompson states:
We are fighting for Canada, not against Canada. We are fighting to make Canada a better place for all of us. The federal government is presently requiring that Black workers relive the harm and trauma experienced over past decades by requiring them to submit to months of cross-examinations in the ongoing lawsuit. It is inhumane for the Government to retraumatize these workers who were brave enough to come forward asking the Government to address their pain and suffering. The government’s own acknowledgment yesterday of the harm and trauma experienced by Black workers confirms what Black employees have been saying for decades.
Although short of what is needed, the Black Class Action Secretariat (BCAS) welcomes the allocation of $45.9 million to create a mental health fund to address the racial trauma that Black employees suffer in the federal public service. In the 2022 budget, an amount of $3.7 million was allocated for the design and implementation of a Black-led, co-developed mental health program. We have serious concerns that the new allocation grants the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) with the mandate to implement and run the program without Black-led leadership.
In December 2022, Black employees working on the first stage of the mental health fund accused TBS of anti-Black racism. TBS retaliated by ending all their contracts. In addition, past attempts by TBS to improve conditions for Black workers have fell short of what is needed. Both the Mosaic and the Executive Leadership Development Program continue to have significantly low levels of Black participation and when Black employees are selected to participate in these programs, they have faced barriers to career advancement that their White and non-Black visible minority colleagues do not face. Therefore, we have serious concerns with TBS designing and implement this program on its own. We therefore urge the government to ensure that Black employee networks, federal bargaining agents, and the BCAS are part of the development and implementation of this fund. It must be Black led.
Canada continues to acknowledge the discrimination and damages that its institutions have inflicted on Black employees. On March 6, the government found that the Canadian Human Rights Commission was discriminating against its Black employees. Workers are therefore unable to turn to this commission for redress.
On March 27, 2023, unions representing over 3 million workers in Canada called on the federal government to settle the class action considering its own guilty finding on the commission. The unions state that the labour processes, as well as the Canadian Human Rights Commission are unable to address systemic anti-Black racism. Jennifer Carr, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada states:
This important legal action shines a light on systemic racism and discrimination within our workplaces, and it is a vital step towards fostering a more equitable and inclusive environment for all employees. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that every individual is treated with fairness, respect, and dignity, and we must address the root causes of inequality in order to build a more just and compassionate society. We demand the government end its delay tactics and work with Black Class Action to bring equity and justice to public service workers.
Amnesty International, the leading global human rights organization, has also called on the Government of Canada to implement long-term solutions to address systemic racism and discrimination in its federal public service, which it views as necessary for Canada to meet its obligations to Black Canadians under international law. Amnesty Secretary General Ketty Nivyabandi states:
For too long, Black employees have faced dehumanizing experiences of racist exclusion at the hands of the government. Amnesty International supports the work led by the Black Class Action to bring justice to Black federal employees in Canada and prevent further harm from taking place.
Leaders of Canada’s labour unions call on the government to settle the class action lawsuit and to abandon their Motion to Strike the action which is in stark contrast to the public acknowledgement made yesterday of the harm experienced by Black workers as part of the government’s budget statement to Canadians.
The President of the Treasury Board has a mandate commitment to establish a mental health fund for Black public servants. It arose from the Thompson class action suit (Nicholas Marcus Thompson et al v. Her Majesty the Queen), where on July 9, 2021, the Plaintiffs filed a motion seeking an Order for the establishment of a fund to provide mental health services and counselling for Black public servants who have suffered mental health and physical symptoms associated with experiences of racial trauma and systemic discrimination within the Public Service of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/corporate/transparency/briefing-documents-treasury-board-canada-secretariat/parliamentary-committee/oggo-nffn-main-estimates-2022-23.html
Black Class Action Secretariat