‘A deal to be silent’: Public servant paid to keep quiet about discrimination on the job

An annual government report on public servant NDAs would be helpful, which could provide some breakdowns on the nature of complaints, departments and amounts to help identify overall problem areas that should be addressed. Given that Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary Greg Fergus is on record as favouring more information, the government should act:

A Black federal public servant who launched a racial discrimination complaint against the Canadian government says she felt uncomfortable signing a gag order because she feared it could further entrench a culture of silence around racism within the bureaucracy.

“I was signing a deal to be silent about the discrimination I’ve been through,” said the woman, whom CBC/Radio-Canada has agreed not to name because she fears losing her job. “Throughout my entire career, I noticed colleagues, mostly white colleagues, getting privileges that I didn’t.”

The woman said the federal government paid her several thousand dollars in exchange for withdrawing the racial discrimination complaint.

Radio-Canada obtained a copy of the legal document, which was initialled by both the employer and the woman’s union. It contains a confidentiality clause preventing her from speaking out about the racism she says she experienced on the job.”They’re putting a price on it,” she said. “It’s completely inadequate, and those agreements are immoral and they need to stop.”

The woman said the agreement did resolve her specific issue, which she chose not to disclose because she worries it could identify her. However, she said the agreement did little to address the bigger problem of systemic racism within federal departments.

Around 800 current and former Black public servants have launched a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, alleging it has discriminated against Black employees for decades. It was filed with the Federal Court of Canada in December, but the government has yet to file a statement of defence.

The suit, which has not been certified, accuses the government of excluding Black employees from promotions.

‘Making the problem invisible’

Such agreements cover a range of issues from racial slurs to workplace harassment.

Doug Hill, a grievance and adjudication officer for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) in Halifax, said about 70 per cent of the complaints he handles are resolved through settlements that contain a similar confidentiality clause. He also said the compensation offered sometimes goes well beyond the maximum $40,000 that can be paid under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

“There is no maximum amount” when it comes to the federal government, Hill said.

But critics say these arrangements are problematic because they cover up the real problem instead of addressing it.

“By making the problem invisible we’re making the victims invisible, and we basically have no precedent to build on and no lessons to learn,” said Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) in Montreal.

Every year, the non-profit civil rights organization helps about 200 people who are victims of discrimination based on race, gender or disability. Niemi said often, people don’t realize the implications of signing an agreement that includes a confidentiality clause.

“Sometimes the complainant or the victim goes alone, feels very much pressured into signing something that that person may not be able to fully understand,” he said.

Need for transparency

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos directed Radio-Canada to his parliamentary secretary Greg Fergus, who said he believes these agreements are only acceptable if they are signed at the request of the complainant.

“You want to really recognize that the problem happened, you want to be transparent so you can fix the problem so that we can go ahead and create a better public service,” the Liberal MP for Hull–Aylmer said.

Fergus, who also chairs the Caucus of Black Parliamentarians, said the government needs to keep more detailed data regarding complaints that are withdrawn after the complainant signs a confidentiality clause.

“We can’t change things if we can’t measure them,” Fergus said.

Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/public-servant-signs-deal-to-withdraw-racial-discrimination-complaint-1.6041139

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: