Nov 8, 2017

CSIS lacks commitment to harassment-free workplace: 5 employees

Allege racist, sexist, homophobic and discriminatory behaviour accepted part of culture
By Jim Bronskill

OTTAWA (CP) — Employees suing the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) say the spy agency ``utterly lacks commitment'' to a diverse and harassment-free working environment — contrary to a recently filed statement of defence.

In a reply to the CSIS defence, the employees say management created a workplace rife with discrimination, harassment and bullying ``through its tone at the top.''

The reply was submitted to the Federal Court of Canada this week, the latest volley in a high-profile legal battle.

It comes as the Liberal government introduces legislation aimed at better dealing with allegations of harassment in federally regulated workplaces.

A statement of claim filed in July by five CSIS employees, who cannot be legally identified, alleges that racist, sexist, homophobic and discriminatory behaviour had become the accepted culture and norm at the agency.

Late last month CSIS asked the Federal Court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying it never engaged in or tolerated religious bigotry, used derogatory nicknames or subjected the staffers to reprisals.

The agency admitted ``inappropriate language'' was used by service employees in informal communications in the Toronto region.

But it said the allegations of the five employees were addressed by the service through policies and procedures relevant to the facts of each case.

The defence added that CSIS is committed to a healthy and respectful workplace of inclusion and does not tolerate harassment, discrimination or bullying under any circumstances.

In the reply, the employees acknowledge that CSIS has policies in place against discrimination and harassment and purports to offer avenues of redress, but ``these are nothing but hollow words. Actions tell a different story.''

The five employees seek millions of dollars in damages for what they say were years of harassment condoned by supervisors. All say they can no longer work due to depression, anxiety and other ailments linked to the harassment they endured.

One woman claims that managers had to approve her participation in personal and religious activities after she began wearing a hijab, despite having passed security screening.

A gay man with a Muslim partner alleges that a colleague wrote in an October 2015 email, ``careful your Muslim in-laws don't behead you in your sleep for being homo.''