Canadian Human Rights Commission discriminated against its Black, racialized employees: Union

By Association of Justice Counsel

On March 6th, 2023, the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) rendered its decision on an important grievance concerning discrimination against Black and racialized employees at the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). The TBS decision found that discrimination and systemic racism occurred at the CHRC and has invited the parties to engage in mediation to seek a meaningful resolution.   

As we have maintained from the onset of this matter, the CHRC has an important leadership role to play in setting the standards for eliminating systemic racism, as an organization that is mandated to protect all Canadians against discrimination.  If the CHRC is to maintain the trust and confidence of Canadians to protect them from systemic racism, then it must first look inwards and reform its approach in addition to its internal practices.   Prevention is essential. 

Eliminating Anti-Black Racism requires support from all levels of government, institutions, businesses and individuals. We hope that in light of the TBS findings, the Commission will take all the necessary steps to regain the trust not only of Black and racialized Canadians, but all Canadians, in this important institution. 

Black voices must be heard, Black contributions must be recognized, and Black lives must be valued. 

This is an important milestone for members of the AJC, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), and for all Black employees and racialized at the CHRC and across the federal public service.  

The AJC and its sister bargaining agents (CAPE and PSAC) have and continue to be committed to assisting and supporting members who have experienced racism, systemic barriers and other forms of discrimination and will be determining next steps in consultation with members. 

Background 

In 2020, when the CHRC issued a statement in support of Black Lives Matters, Black and racialized employees took the Chief Commissioner up on her invitation in that statement and provided the CHRC with a list of recommended actions to address the CHRC complaints process, practices and operations as well as shared Black and racialized employees’ experiences. They also shared these with their unions.   

The AJC and other Bargaining Agents wrote to the Commission in support of our racialized and Black members’ recommendations.  We attempted to work with the Commission to help improve the workplace and help the Commission regain the trust of its racialized and Black employees. 

The Commission responded by conducting a unilateral, non-inclusive investigative process involving outside third parties without consulting employees or their bargaining agents. These third parties did not, at the Commission’s request, produce a written report, allowing for transparency and accountability among its employees or bargaining agents. 

We formally pressed the Commission to conduct a workplace assessment instead of pursuing their investigative activities. It is in our collective view that this is the most appropriate means of engaging all employees when it comes to systemic discrimination issues and would ensure meaningful collaboration, transparency, fairness, inclusivity, credibility and psychological health and safety. 

In October 2020, the AJC and other Bargaining Agents filed policy grievances with Treasury Board to address systemic anti-Black racism and anti- Black sexism. The AJC alleged “Black and racialized people working at the Commission continue to experience the adverse impact of policies, procedures, practices and attitudes that serve as barriers to their advancement, health, safety, and overall wellbeing”.

In September 2021, the AJC along with other Bargaining Agents wrote to the Auditor General and federal parliamentarians about our concerns, suggesting that an audit of the CHRC could help the institution regain the trust of Black and racialized Canadians. 

On March 6th, 2023, the Treasury Board Secretariat rendered its decision on the grievance and stated: “(…) the CHRC has breached the “No Discrimination” clause of the LP collective agreement, namely, article 36.” 

Article 36: no discrimination   

36.01 There shall be no discrimination, interference, restriction, coercion, harassment, intimidation, or any disciplinary action exercised or practiced with respect to a lawyer by reason of age, race, creed, colour, national or ethnic origin, religious affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, family status, mental or physical disability, membership or activity in the Association, marital status or a conviction for which a pardon has been granted.   

36.02 By mutual agreement, the parties may use a mediator in an attempt to settle a grievance dealing with discrimination. The selection of the mediator will be by mutual agreement.  

A copy of the grievance filed by the AJC can be found here and supplementary submissions here