Human rights commissions suffers from 'crisis of confidence' following reports of racism at work
The Canadian federal government is being urged to review the workplace conditions of Black, Indigenous, and racialized employees of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) following reports of racism in the institution.
The Senate Committee on Human Rights said last week that the government should hire an independent expert to carry out the review.
It also urged the federal government to appoint a Black equity commissioner, as well as modernise human rights and employment equity laws to address the problem.
"Workplace discrimination can have catastrophic, profound, and lasting effects on employees and their families," said Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, Deputy Chair of the committee, in a statement.
"The appointment of a Black equity commissioner, among other crucial steps, would go a long way toward confronting and eradicating institutional and systemic racism in federal workplaces."
Discrimination in the CHRC
The recommendations were outlined in the committee's study released last week, which came after a set of grievances were filed against the CHRC by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Association of Justice Counsel, and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees.
The three unions previously filed complaints over the CHRC's treatment of Black and racialized employees, calling on the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat to address systemic anti-Black racism and anti-Black sexism in the commission.
The Treasury Board in March 2023 confirmed that the allegations, affirming that the CHRC breached the "No Discrimination" clauses of three collective agreements.
'Crisis of confidence'
The senate committee's report, which began in May 2023, reaffirmed these allegations of discrimination and anti-Black racism at the CHRC.
The 24 witnesses involved in the report described a "toxic culture" at the CHRC and provided evidence of systemic discrimination.
There were witnesses who said the CHRC is "broken beyond repair," while others said the problems can still be addressed.
"Their testimony and submissions demonstrated a crisis of confidence in the federal human rights system and underscored the disturbing fact that no institution is immune to systemic racism," the report said.
According to report, the findings also put into question the ability of the CHRC to handle human rights complaints in a fair and equitable manner.
"Black Canadians from coast to coast to coast have lost trust in the commission, which is worse than not having a human rights commission at all because they are discriminating against the very population they promised to protect," Bernard said during a public hearing on the matter.
Discrimination in Federal Public Service
In addition, the report also discussed the issue of systemic discrimination in the Federal Public Service.
"While the committee's study was primarily focused on the issue of anti-Black racism within the CHRC, in examining this issue, it was impossible to ignore the broader problem of systemic racism across the federal public service," the report said.
The report heard that there were cases of discrimination stretching back decades, while others were "alarmingly recent" from several witnesses and authors.
"Anti-Black racism and other forms of systemic discrimination are unacceptable in any institution. The committee was therefore concerned to hear that anti-Black racism is pervasive in the federal public service and was particularly troubled by its presence within the CHRC, a body designed to be a watchdog for human rights," the report said.
Recommendations from the Senate
The committee made 11 recommendations to the federal government, including the hiring of an independent expert to carry out a review on the workplace conditions at the CHRC. Other recommendations include:
- That the Clerk of the Privy Council and federal public servants at all levels act as leaders in confronting anti-Black racism
- That all federal departments and agencies increased mandatory anti-racism training for their employees
- That the Department of Canadian Heritage urgently complete its promised National Action Plan on Combatting Hate and updated Anti-Racism Strategy
- That the Department of Canadian Heritage develop educational items on Anti-Black racism and other forms of systemic discrimination that can be incorporated into classroom and professional development activities
- That a parliamentary committee undertake a study about anti-Black racism in the public service as soon as possible
- That the Canadian Human Rights Commission consider providing immediate legal and psychological support for complainants and their families.
- That the Government of Canada take steps to ensure that victims of discrimination have access to a human rights system that is fair, effective, and timely
- That the Government of Canada appoint a Black Equity Commissioner as an independent officer of Parliament
- That the Government of Canada introduce legislation to modernize the Employment Equity Act
- That the Department of Justice undertake a comprehensive review of the Canadian Human Rights Act that includes a comparative study of human rights systems in various Canadian and international jurisdictions, and propose amendments to improve access to justice for marginalized groups
Senator Salma Ataullahjan, Chair of the senate committee, said anti-Black racism and other forms of systemic discrimination are "unacceptable" in any institution.
"To prevent further harm, the federal government must act quickly to ensure victims of discrimination have access to a human rights system that is fair, effective and timely. The Canadian Human Rights Commission fell short of that standard," Ataullahjan said in a statement.