Black civil servants’ $900-million proposed class action lawsuit against feds a ‘logical, natural’ next step, says NDP MP Green

Again, the lack of reference to employment equity disaggregated data to provide context or justify their arguments is disappointing. The data now exists for the distinct visible minority and Indigenous groups and thus it is negligence not to refer to it, suggesting that many have not done so (see What new disaggregated data tells us about federal public service …):

A proposed class-action lawsuit by 12 former and current Black federal public servants alleging that Black employees have been systematically excluded from advancement and subjected to discrimination within the government for decades is a “logical, natural next step, given that it’s clear that many people feel like their issues haven’t been resolved or dealt with in a meaningful way,” says NDP MP Matthew Green.

The representative plaintiffs are seeking $900-million in damages as well as a mandatory order to implement a Diversity and Promotional Plan for Black Public Service Employees related to the hiring and promotion of Black employees within the public service.

“Racism is expensive, is the lesson to be learned. Racism costs people who face it, and, in a just world, it ought to cost the people who perpetrate it,” said Mr. Green (Hamilton Centre, Ont.) in an interview with The Hill Times. “Within a justice framework, compensation for harm done is something that is considered in every aspect of the law, and so if people have worked their entire careers subjugated to systemic anti-Black racism, then they have retired with lower pensions presumably, with lost opportunity cost of having equal and equitable compensation, and that’s a considerable thing in labour practice.”

“That is a fundamental claim within labour law, so I’m not surprised by the number,” said Mr. Green.

 The proposed class proceeding, which has not yet been certified, includes plaintiffs from a wide range of government agencies, including the Canada Revenue Agency, Employment and Social Development Canada, Corrections Canada, the Department of National Defence, and the RCMP.

Many of the experiences of class members delineated in the court document centre on their lack of promotions within the public service after many years on the job—promotions which have been made available to other members of visible minority groups.

The proposed suit alleges that the Employment Equity Act has “failed in its goals and mandate to Black employees,” as it “fails to break down the category of visible minorities and thus ignores the unique, invisible and systemic racism faced by Black employees relative to other disadvantaged groups that are covered by the categories established by the Act.”

“I think what we’re seeing in this statement of claim is a very clear, step-by-step definition and expression of the ways in which systemic anti-Black racism impacts workers in Canada,” Mr. Green said.

“And [there’s] the disconnect that we have between [those] experiencing this, and those in power, for instance, the government, which will talk about systemic racism [and] use expressions of individual experiences to individualize stories that they can then pretend to remedy in a way that never seeks to address the systemic barriers to begin with,” said Mr. Green. “For a government that seeks to benefit from identity politics without the class analysis, this is a wake-up call and a reckoning that people will no longer be managed by the shallow words of things like reconciliation and things like Black Lives Matter if there is not a meaningful movement towards actual justice.”

The NDP MP said he’s 100 per cent in solidarity with the lawsuit, and that it’s “a beautiful act of solidarity that 12 individuals have begun this claim, which takes a tremendous amount of courage in an environment where going along to get along is perhaps a much better tool for survival within systems of anti-Black racism.”

“These folks have certainly shown courage, and this is also not about 12 individuals,” said Mr. Green. “My hope is, people reading this story, people reading this news, will find the courage to file their own claims.”

Proposed suit raised in Question Period

Mr. Green highlighted the class-action claim during Question Period on Dec. 4, asking “if the majority of the Liberal cabinet agrees that anti-Black racism exists within the federal government, what specific measures within the federal workplace, if any, has the government taken to actually address it?”

Liberal MP Greg Fergus (Hull-Aylmer, Que.), the parliamentary secretary to Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos (Québec, Que.) and Minister of Digital Government Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, B.C.), replied by saying “we cannot ignore that racism is a lived reality for Black Canadians, Indigenous peoples, and people of colour” and that “we have to make sure that our public service is not only representative of the population it serves but that it offers an opportunity for all employees to express their full potential.”

Mr. Fergus also noted the $12-million over three years that was recently committed by the federal government in the fall economic statement to a dedicated centre on diversity and inclusion.

“This will accelerate the government’s commitment to achieving a representative and inclusive public service,” said Mr. Fergus.

The Liberal MP declined to comment further following an interview request from The Hill Times, as the matter is before the courts.

In an earlier emailed response to The Hill Times, a spokesperson from the Treasury Board Secretariat said “systemic racism and discrimination is a painful lived reality for Black Canadians, racialized people and Indigenous people,” and that the most recent Speech from the Throne announced an action plan to increase representation and leadership development within the public service.

“As the matter is currently before the courts, the Treasury Board Secretariat cannot comment on this suit at this time,” according to the spokesperson.

Federal Black Employee Caucus stands in solidarity, PSAC to serve as intervener

Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team, told The Hill Times that although her organization is not part of the class-action suit, FBEC stands in solidarity with anyone who’s working to give voice and address issues of anti-Black systemic racism within the federal public service.

Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team, says her organization will ‘continue to work in collaboration with senior public officials and different employment, equity and diversity groups to advocate for measures.’ 

“We continue to work in collaboration with senior public officials and different employment, equity, and diversity groups to advocate for measures,” said Ms. Ater. “We stand in solidarity, and we’re going to continue to work with the federal public service to address the same issues that were brought about and highlighted within this class action.”

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Canada’s largest federal public service union, supports the legal action taken on behalf of nearly 30,000 past and present federal public service workers who identify as Black, Caribbean or of African descent, according to a Dec. 4 press release.

PSAC intends to serve as an intervener in the proposed lawsuit.

“Canada’s public service presents itself as a ‘merit-based, representative and non-partisan organization that serves all Canadians,’” said Chris Aylward, PSAC’s national president in an emailed statement to The Hill Times. “While laudable as a principle, many Canadians, particularly Black Canadians, have experienced a different reality. The government must do what is necessary to right these wrongs and ensure that these injustices do not continue.”

Former MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who represented the riding of Whitby, Ont.,  as a Liberal from 2015 before sitting as an Independent after resigning from the Liberal caucus in March 2019, told The Hill Times that after “years and years of saying the same thing and getting promise after promise of action in some kind of way, shape, or form—that doesn’t materialize—to seeing either changes to the federal public service or appointments or anything, I think it’s brilliant that they’re finally saying ‘enough is enough.’”

Former Liberal and Independent MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes says ‘one would hope that the government takes it serious enough that it doesn’t need to be drawn out for years and years of legal proceedings.’

Ms. Caesar-Chavannes, whose book Can You Hear Me Now? is scheduled to hit bookshelves in early February 2021, also said “one would hope that the government takes it serious enough that it doesn’t need to be drawn out for years and years of legal proceedings.”

She introduced a private member’s bill in the dying days of the last Parliament to change the Employment Equity Act. The bill called for a requirement of the Canada Human Rights Commission to provide an annual report to the minister “on the progress made by the Government of Canada in dismantling systemic barriers that prevent members of visible minorities from being promoted within the federal public service and in remedying the disadvantages caused by those barriers.”

“One would hope that the prime minister, in all his take-a-knee glory, would actually sit down with the plaintiffs or sit down before it even gets that far and say ‘let’s deal with this,’ like he’s done with other issues with the RCMP and with Indigenous people,” said Ms. Caesar-Chavannes.

“If the prime minister does not take it upon himself to lead from the top and say that we’re going to sit down in trust, like we’ve done with other communities with the plaintiffs or the lawyers of the case, and deal with it before it has to go through the legal system, if he doesn’t do that, then it will absolutely show his true colours on this one.”

Mr. Green also said he was reminded about “all the theatrics that this prime minister has undertaken from taking a knee, to the language of reconciliation with Indigenous people. And yet, time and time again, has failed to actually address the systems which oppress these peoples.”

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment, as this is before the courts.

Source: Black civil servants’ $900-million proposed class action lawsuit against feds a ‘logical, natural’ next step, says NDP MP Green

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: