Feds deny delay as lawyer in multi-billion-dollar Black bureaucrats’ class-action suit calls Crown’s ‘overlap’ arguments ‘insulting’

Watching with interest. In terms of the data, clear that the lawyers have cherry-picked the worst departments, and not the overall picture which indicates that Blacks are not unduly under-represented compared to other visible minority groups (see Will the removal of the Canadian citizenship preference in the public service make a difference?):

The leading lawyer in a multi-billion-dollar class-action lawsuit representing current and former Black federal public servants, filed against the federal government and now involving nearly 1,300 individuals, says the government’s lawyers are attempting to delay proceedings by claiming the Black class action overlaps with other ongoing cases—an argument which he calls “insulting.”

“It’s not a secret, we’ve laid it out, we’ve argued it over and over in court. The government has one goal right now: do not let this matter go to court in September,” said Courtney Betty, a former Crown attorney at the federal Justice Department’s Toronto office in the early 1990s, who is leading the class action filed on Dec. 2, 2020.

In March 2021, The Hill Times reported that more than 520 class members had joined a proposed $900-milllion class-action lawsuit alleging decades-long government discrimination, lack of advancement opportunities, and harassment. As of Sept. 21, the number of class members had increased to 1,031, who are now seeking $2.5-billion in damages following an amendment to the claim made on May 13.

The number of class members has increased to 1,293, as of Feb. 28, according to Nicholas Marcus Thompson, who was among the first of the current and former federal employees who filed the class-action lawsuit as a representative plaintiff.

“The Crown’s argument really is that the government is facing a number of class-action lawsuits that raise the issue of systemic levels of discrimination against visible minority groups and racialized groups in government,” said Kofi Achampong, principal lawyer and government relations adviser with Achampong Law.

“Presumably, some of the pleadings in those class actions would cross over or would have some level of consistency with some of the pleadings in the Black class action lawsuit, and therefore it’s difficult for the government to determine who they are responding to in relation to the causes of action for racialized employees,” said Achampong, who is a lawyer and legal strategist for the class-action lawsuit.

“In essence, they are saying there is too much overlap,” he said.

Betty said the government “came up with a very creative argument,” calling it “insulting.”

“What the government says, is that any case in Canada … an Indigenous case, a woman’s case, could be any case—as long as there is racism and discrimination mentioned, then there’s an automatic overlap with the Black class action.”

“That argument carries no weight at all,” said Betty, who noted that this particular case deals with hiring and advancement within the public service.

“Our case is about the hiring and promotion of Black public service workers—there are no other cases that are out there that deals with the hiring and promotion of Black public service workers.”

“The reality is that the basis, the pith and substance of the Black class action, is really the unique experience that Black public servants have undergone across over 100 government departments,” said Achampong, adding that this is “the only legal action, the only class action in the history of Canada, that has ever explicitly sought to address that particular issue.”

Alain Belle-Isle, spokesperson for the Treasury Board Secretariat, said the Government of Canada “has no intention of delaying the certification hearing.”

“The parties in this case continue to discuss the best means of addressing the issue of overlapping claims with the Court, while also preparing for the certification hearing scheduled for September 2022,” wrote Belle-Isle in an emailed response to the The Hill Times. 

He reaffirmed the government’s commitment to creating a “diverse and inclusive public service free of discrimination, harassment and violence,” which was reflected in the most recent mandate letter to the president of the Treasury Board, Mona Fortier (Ottawa-Vanier, Ont).

The mandate letter for Treasury Board President Mona Fortier, pictured during a press conference on Jan. 25, 2021, cites the government’s commitment to a ‘diverse and inclusive public service free of discrimination, harassment and violence.’ 

Black employees ‘last to be hired, first to be fired’: law firm analysis

According to Betty’s legal firm, which has analyzed numbers regarding promotions and demographics within the federal public service, the number of “Black employees” within Natural Resources and the Department of National Defence (civilian staff), was less than two per cent.

In the Department of Justice, less than 20 individuals were appointed on an intermediate basis from 1970 to 2000 who were identified as “Black.”

In Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as of March 31, 2019,  the number of “Black employees” was less than one percent.

And for the 2005 to 2018 period, 35.4 per cent of “Black employees” within the federal public service received zero job promotions.

“What we’ve done is we’ve looked at 30 years of government data, and we’ve demonstrated that on a percentage basis, Black public service workers are the last to be hired, the first to be fired, last to be promoted,” said Betty, pointing to the above data analysis provided to The Hill Times.

“We’ve demonstrated that statistically, so with the harassment of the individual, none of that comes in,” said Betty. “It’s a data analysis case, there’s none of the other cases that are even similar to that.”

Thompson expressed his dismay that there’s “been no appointment in leadership positions” for Black employees in the public service in recent months.

“We’re still in the same position that we were in last year and the year before and the year before,” said Thompson, who added that the government is trying to create a mental health plan, are trying to create developmental opportunities under the mandate of the Treasury Board, “and have acknowledged all of things that we’ve raised as issues that exists for Black workers.”

“But in the courtroom, they are fighting to avoid having to pay for those damages,” said Thompson.

The leadership of the public service continues to remain “almost exclusively white,” said Thompson, as Black workers “continue to be at the bottom of the public service and racialized workers just above.”

“The work of eradicating bias, barriers, and discrimination demands an ongoing, relentless effort, said Belle-Isle. “We are committed to this effort and to using all available levers to improve the experiences of public servants, to ensure that they are able to realize their full potential, and for Canada’s public service to fully reflect the diversity of Canadians.”

Proceed on a ‘case-by-case basis,’ says Justice Gagné

Associate Chief Justice of the Federal Court Jocelyne Gagné said during a Feb. 16 hearing a motion to stay would need ‘substantial overlapping.’ 

The class action will be moving towards certification following a Federal Court justice’s direction for the government and the class action members to file additional documentation.

During the most recent court proceeding on Feb 16, Associate Chief Justice Jocelyne Gagné directed the plaintiffs to serve and file their additional submissions on the issue of overlapping with any other class action brought before the court no later than March 26.

Justice Gagné also directed the Crown to serve and file its record no later than June 29, with the plaintiff’s reply to be file no later than July 14. Certification hearing dates have been set for Sept. 21-23, 2022.

In the Feb. 16 hearing, Gagné said a meeting had taken place amongst the judges who were seized with other class actions, “however all of them, but the two last ones, which quite frankly have nothing to do with the issue before the court on this file—and I can tell you that at this point, it is the general view that these cases should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

“In my view, and in the view of many, a carriage motion or a motion to stay, I think you need substantial overlapping, which is absent here in these cases,” said Gagné.

“That said, I understand that the case before me is broader, and although encompasses only one group of people, it encompasses many departments of the government,” she said.

Source: Feds deny delay as lawyer in multi-billion-dollar Black bureaucrats’ class-action suit calls Crown’s ‘overlap’ arguments ‘insulting’

‘Enough is enough’: Black civil servants vow to press on with discrimination suit as Liberals promise change

Update on the proposed class-action lawsuit:

Carol Sip spent three decades inside the federal public service, but her retirement plaque is the last thing she wants to see on her wall.

Instead it sits stored away in the original packaging.

“Why would I hang it up? It will only bring back awful memories,” Sip said. “It should be something that you should be proud of, but I’m not proud of it because I know what I went through.”

Sip is one of a group Black federal employees involved in a proposed class-action lawsuit launched last December against the federal government alleging years of discrimination and seeking some $2.5 billion in damages.

Earlier this year, federal employee Monica Agard broke her silence about being Black in the public service after a senior colleague at the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Toronto office allegedly praised “the good old days when we had slaves.”

Since then, the proposed class-action lawsuit has become one step closer to reality after a motion was filed for it to be certified. It will fall to the newly elected government to decide whether to challenge that.

But as Canadians head to the polls, the Liberals appear to be changing course on the issue with a policy plank promising support for Black workers.

Liberals now promise support for Black workers

The federal government had maintained that its workers could find help through the employee assistance and health-care programs, which the plaintiffs have long said fail to address the specific trauma of anti-Black racism.

Now, if elected, the Liberal Party says in its platform it will “establish a mental health fund for Black public servants, and support career advancement, training, sponsorship, and educational opportunities for Black workers.”

Party spokesperson Alex Wellstead wouldn’t explicitly say if a Liberal government would support certifying the class action to go forward, but acknowledged “Black Canadians face unique challenges when it comes to mental health in the workplace.

“That is why we’ve committed through our platform to work with community partners on the design and establishment of this fund, which directly responds to calls from Black employees in the public service and will ensure that Black public servants are supported.”

As the employer of the federal public service, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat said the courts have not set a timetable for next steps on certifying the suit and that at this stage, it would be “premature” to comment.

Lawyer Hugh Scher, who’s assisting with the suit, hopes whichever party forms government will work with Black civil servants to address their needs.

“If they do, then they will have a willing partner,” he said. “If they don’t, they they will have a worthy adversary in court.”

‘A living nightmare’

Sip’s ordeal began in the early 1980s, shortly after she became an employee at the federal customs department under what is now the Canada Revenue Agency. Over a number of years spent working there, she says she experienced repeated incidents of harassment and discrimination by a supervisor who behaved with impunity.

And she says never in her 26 years was she promoted beyond her clerical position.

“It became a living nightmare,” she told CBC News. Sip filed multiple grievances and won two. But she felt blacklisted for complaining and says nothing was done.

“If they had a project with lifting boxes, only the Black ladies were chosen to lift the boxes,” she recalled.

In the late 90s, Sip was diagnosed with both breast and uterine cancer. She was off work on disability in 1999, when she was told her department was being restructured. Sip says her manager told her to resign. Believing she had no other option, she did.

In a statement, the CRA told CBC News it cannot discuss specific cases but that it is “firmly dedicated to diversity inclusion and anti-racism in the workplace.”

“The CRA has launched, and will launch further, targeted executive staffing processes for visible minorities and Indigenous peoples who are underrepresented at the leadership levels,” the statement said, noting that CRA encourages all employees to come forward if they experience or witness any discrimination or harassment.

As for why she joined the proposed class action, Sip said: “I look at the young children growing up and I don’t want them to go through what I personally went through, or the others have gone through.”

‘It kills you a little bit inside’

It’s been four months since Marcia Banfield Smith left her job at the Department of Justice.

But she says the scars from her time there run deep.

Over the years, she says she endured racist jokes at meetings and watched as non-Black colleagues rose up the ranks. Meanwhile, despite applying for higher-paying roles, she was stuck in a paralegal role at the same pay — for 19 years.

“It kills you a little bit inside,” she said.

Source: ‘Enough is enough’: Black civil servants vow to press on with discrimination suit as Liberals promise change

Action needed to end anti-Black racism in public service: advocates

As you may recall, I have analysed both the overall numbers (What new disaggregated data tells us about federal public service …) and the hiring and promotions data (Diversity and inclusion: public service hirings, promotions and separations) which show that:
 
“Black Canadians are the visible minority group with the strongest numbers in the public service compared to their share of the citizen population, but their representation is overwhelmingly in the two administrative categories. This is not unique – there is significant under-representation among Latin American, Chinese, Filipino and South East Asian groups in the executive ranks of the public service. A similar general pattern can be found with Indigenous public service representation.”
 
Striking how the advocates do not appear to be aware of the availability of this data (its posted on open data).
 
Even stranger is PSAC not acknowledging that disaggregated data exists as they surely should know that it does (“He said the current data collected by the government only allow people to self-identify as visible minorities, so it’s not clear how many Black employees are working in each level of the public service.”
 
An earlier study I did regarding the use of non-advertised processes showed little impact on hiring diversity (much to my surprise), ‘Non-advertising’ hiring up due to feds’ new appointments policy, data shows:
 
…the shift towards non-advertised staffing processes does not appear to affect the ongoing trends towards increased representation of women and visible minorities and to a lesser extent, Indigenous peoples. The slight decline in representation of persons with disabilities cannot be attributed to the new appointment policy, given that there was no shift towards non-advertised process that involved persons with disabilities.”
 
As we have evidence, albeit imperfect, advocates and their allies need to use and understand the disaggregated date rather than relying on anecdotes or previous data gaps:

The federal government must address anti-Black racism in the public service by implementing timely changes to staffing processes and effective training programs for public servants, not by long-term promises, advocates say.

The Liberals pledged in the 2021 budget to make changes to the Public Service Employment Act that aim to promote a more diverse and inclusive workforce and to spend $285 million over five years to collect disaggregated data that will help in understanding the experiences of people of colour in Canada.

Nicholas Marcus Thompson, one of 12 current and former Black federal workers who filed in December a proposed class-action lawsuit in Federal Court against the government, said their action is one of the reasons that the government made these promises.

He said it shouldn’t take the government five years to collect disaggregated data to understand the underrepresentation of Black workers in the upper echelons of the public service and to take down barriers they face.

“The time frame is very long and Black workers continue to suffer and show up to work injured every day,” he said.

“There’s a lot of mental health issues associated with the discrimination, the systemic discrimination, that Black workers have faced and continue to face — a lot of racial trauma that Black workers are facing.”

The plaintiffs are alleging systemic discrimination in how the federal government has hired and promoted thousands of public servants for nearly half a century.

“There’s a glass ceiling at the bottom of the public service for Black workers, and the top of the public service is reserved for white folks,” he said.

None of the allegations has been tested in court. The plaintiffs are waiting for a certification hearing scheduled for June.

Treasury Board spokesperson Martin Potvin said it’s premature to comment on the lawsuit, but the government will consider all options, including alternative dispute resolution, as it seeks to address the concerns raised.

The national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada said anti-Black racism in the federal public service is widespread.

Chris Aylward said there’s limited opportunities for career growth or advancement due to systemic exclusion of Black employees.

“Canada’s public service represents itself as merit-based, inclusive and non-partisan but ongoing systemic discrimination and racism basically show that this is not the reality,” he said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind about that and it’s not specific to any one department or agency. I think it’s government-wide.”

He said the current data collected by the government only allow people to self-identify as visible minorities, so it’s not clear how many Black employees are working in each level of the public service.

“We believe (the disaggregated data) is crucial to understanding the disparities for specific marginalized communities in Canada, and in particular the Black community,” he said.

Potvin of the Treasury Board said more work is needed to eliminate bias, barriers and discrimination in the public service.

“We must take deliberate and continual steps to remove systemic discrimination from our institutions and from our culture,” Potvin said in a statement.

Norma Domey, executive vice-president of the Professional Institute of Public Service of Canada, said she is the first Black executive in her institute’s 100-year history.

“It’s heavy on me to try to push the envelope for our folks and push diversity, and it just makes my job harder,” she said.

Domey said staffing process in the public service is not transparent, and there’s limited recourse provided to candidates that makes it very difficult for them to challenge the system.

She said non-advertised appointments have dramatically increased to 60 per cent in 2020 compared to 29 per cent of all appointments in 2016.

Black employees fear retaliation if they challenge the process, she said.

“It’s the excessive use of non-advertised processes that add to the exclusion to the (marginalized) groups and given the demographics and the biases of hiring managers, it ends up being a huge disadvantage to folks like ourselves,” she said.

Domey said her institution was initially consulted on possible changes to the Public Service Employment Act, but it’s still unclear what changes to the act the government is considering.

“We’re hoping there’s going to be some progress on this whole staffing process, and the revamp of the Public Service Employment Act,” she said.

Potvin of the Treasury Board said information about the changes the government will propose to the act will be made available once legislation has been introduced in Parliament.

Thompson said the government should create a separate category for Black workers under the Employment Equity Act in order to guarantee better representation in the public service.

He said Black people are currently considered a part of the visible minority group.

“What we’ve seen is that they’ve consistently picked one or two groups from the entire visible minority category, (so) they meet (the requirements of) the Employment Equity Act,” he said.

Aylward of the Public Service Alliance of Canada also said federal departments meet the act requirements by hiring non-Black people of colour.

“They say ‘Oh, we’re on target. We’ve met our quota,’ kind of thing. And that’s simply not right,” he said.

He said a complete review of the Public Service Employment Act and the Employment Equity Act has to happen at the same time.

Domey said there also is a need for more bias-awareness training in the public service.

“People don’t even recognize when they’re being racist, so there’s something wrong with that picture,” she said.

She said the training courses need to be ongoing and entrenched into the public servants’ day-to-day activities.

“I hope it’s not just, ‘Oh, I’ve done my presentation. I’m the champion for diversity. Now, I can tick off that box and get my bonus.’ “

Source: Action needed to end anti-Black racism in public service: advocates

More than 520 plaintiffs now part of Black public servants’ $900-million class-action lawsuit against government, as feds enlist Bay Street law firm

The disaggregated data that we have for the past three years (employment equity reports including hiring and promotion data, public service employee survey) along with PSC analysis of staffing process stages on employment equity results is not supportive of the proposed suit.

The large number of claimants, on the other hand, provides large-scale anecdotal evidence. (For my overall analysis, see Public Service Disaggregated Data for Visible Minorities and Indigenous peoples, Citizenship status):

More than 520 current and former Black federal public servants are now part of a $900-million class-action lawsuit that is alleging decades-long government discrimination, lack of advancement opportunities, and harassment. Three months ago, there were 12 representative plaintiffs.

After three months of waiting to hear from Ottawa, the suit’s leading lawyer says the government has decided to enlist a Bay Street law firm to fight the action despite the fact that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) has publicly admitted that racism and discrimination exists across public-sector institutions.

Courtney Betty, the lawyer leading the class action, has called his experience over the last three months and the steady influx of new plaintiffs “an incredible journey and nothing that I had expected.”

“I think that every day, we’re having new plaintiffs register and new individuals calling in asking how they can become class members,” said Mr. Betty, a former Crown attorney at the Department of Justice.

The class action started receiving a “flood” of call from elderly individuals who have retired from government departments and agencies, something which Mr. Betty called a “game-changer.”

“When we started getting people that were 74, 78 years old, it was like an atomic explosion, because it really brought to the forefront so many things that we had not been aware of,” said Mr. Betty. “It’s like unearthing this tremendous pool of pain and trauma.”

Filed on Dec. 2, 2020, the class proceeding includes plaintiffs from a wide range of government departments and 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 members delineated in the class action centre on their lack of promotions within the federal public service after many years on the job, with the suit alleging 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.”

The class proceeding has now been filed, is before the court, and the government has been served, according to Mr. Betty.

“We wanted the government to have 90 days to come to the table, accept our offer, to meet with Black employee representatives, to meet with the union representatives, and figure out if there is a way of taking this to mediation and arbitration,” said Mr. Betty. “It just seemed like the natural thing to do.”

At the eleventh hour, the government informed the legal team that it had retained a Bay Street law firm, sending a signal they were intending to fight the litigation, said Mr. Betty.

“We’re now getting geared up on the premise that the government is prepared to have these individuals relive their horror, and tell their stories,” said Mr. Betty. “It’s a game changer for us in terms of how we approach it, and so we’re definitely now in a a position where we’re going to aggressively put forward our case.”

Mr. Betty said he’s “the guy who has spent my entire life waving the Canadian flag, I’m the guy who loves this country more than most Canadians do.”

“And now I’m in a situation where I recognize the government has been committing behaviour, that in many ways, [with] the pain and suffering that these individuals are feeling, is a form of atrocity that’s been committed against them,” said Mr. Betty. “And I know that’s a strong word.”

In a Dec. 4, 2020 press release, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Canada’s largest federal public service union, indicated its support for the legal action, with union president Chris Aylward telling The Hill Times that “Canada’s public service presents itself as a ‘merit-based, representative and non-partisan organization that serves all Canadians.’”

“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,” wrote Mr. Aylward.

According to a joint response from the Department of Justice and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the proposed class-action brought on behalf of Black employees in the Public Service of Canada was issued by the Federal Court on Dec. 2, 2020. The statement of claim was received by Canada and the proposed class-action is not certified.

“As part of the class-action process, the parties may proceed to schedule a motion for the court to determine whether to certify the action,” according to the statement. “No motion has yet been scheduled. “

Counsel for the Attorney General of Canada was in communication with counsel for the proposed class and advised Mr. Betty that outside counsel would be appointed, according to the statement.

“Counsel from Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP reached out to plaintiffs’ counsel in February to indicate that they will be representing the government’s interests in the two class proceedings and to discuss next steps,” according to the statement. “No schedule has been set for the government to set out its position on the lawsuit.”

According to the government, counsel for Canada has not received a request from counsel for the proposed class to enter into mediation with respect to this class action.

“Any future request would be given consideration,” according to the government. “As this complex proposed class action is in its early stages, it is otherwise premature to comment on the litigation at this point.”

The joint statement added that “systemic racism and discrimination is a painful lived reality for Black Canadians, racialized Canadians and Indigenous people,” that the government has taken steps to address anti-Black racism, systemic discrimination and injustice across the country, and that $12-million over three years has been committed towards a dedicated Centre on Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Public Service.

“In September, the Speech from the Throne announced an action plan to increase representation and leadership development within the public service,” according to the statement. “Early in its mandate, the government also reflected its commitment in mandate letters, in the establishment of an Anti-Racism Strategy and Secretariat, in the appointment of a Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, and in the creation of the Office for Public Service Accessibility.”

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

NDP MP Matthew Green (Hamilton Centre, Ont.) told The Hill Times that he believes the government has retained a law firm in an attempt to “use the infinite resources of the government to ensure Black workers in the public sector never have a fair day in court.”

“They’re going to lawyer up, they’re going to drag it out, and they’re going to try to bleed the class action support dry,” said Mr. Green last week.

Mr. Green said he believes this government does an actuarial risk assessment “both politically and financially.”

“I think on one side, you have a scenario in which they know they’re wrong, that many in the processes they claim to put in place around equity, diversity and inclusion under the guise of [Gender Based Analysis Plus], the language that the government uses, actually does not have the outcomes in which they purport to have.”

“We’ve now had decades of anti-Black racism, which will be in the most contemporary terms, validated in these toxic workplace cultures that have essentially left out a sub-segment of their workers in ways that they can point to as being quantifiable,” said Mr. Green.

Any worker, more especially marginalized workers, deserve to have basic workplace fairness, said Mr. Green.

“You could imagine working somewhere for 20 or 30 years and only ever being promoted one or two pay grades above your entry level while seeing your co-workers go on to become senior management and fully pensioned,” said Mr. Green. “The opportunity cost lost for these Black workers is immense, so on one hand you have a government that knows that and recognizes the burden of their financial obligation, while simultaneously doing the risk analysis politically on whether or not stifling these workers is going to result in votes lost for their future political gains.”

Mr. Green said that when this government felt it most politically expedient to take up the cause of the Black Lives Matter movement, it politicized it for their own partisan gain and for the branding exercise of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) to take a knee in that moment, alluding to the June 5 “No Peace Until Justice” march on Parliament Hill to protest racism, police brutality, and systemic discrimination in Canada and around the world.

“[To] not stand for the thousands of Black workers who are past and present impacted by anti-Black racism within the public sector says everything you need to know about this government,” said Mr. Green. “They’re all about identity politics, without any commitment to justice, and that is a very cynical way to treat people.”

“I won’t mince words—it’s performative, and when push comes to shove, Justin Trudeau and this Liberal government are nowhere to be found in tackling things that are well within their power,” said Mr. Green.

“We’re not asking them to solve racism in Canada, we’re telling them they have a responsibility to Black workers within the public service that they are ignoring and in fact, in this case, continuing to uphold in perpetuity, that they are upholding anti-Blackness by not mediating with this group in good faith,” said Mr. Green.

37 years stuck at one level

Caroline Layne, one of hundreds of plaintiffs now part of the class-action lawsuit, said she started as a temporary employee as a telecommunications clerk with the RCMP in 1982, and spent 37 years with the RCMP before retiring in 2009. Ms. Layne said she spent 37 years stuck at one level and was never promoted.

“People say to me, ‘You worked with the government, you must have a good pension,’” said Ms. Layne in an interview with The Hill Times.

“But I don’t, because I was never able to move up the ladder,” said Ms. Layne. “The thing is, for an honest day’s work, you should get an honest day’s pay.”

Outlining some of her experiences during her many years with the RCMP, including acts of both indirect and overt racism from co-workers, members of the public and sometimes from superiors, Ms. Layne said there was never anyone to turn to or to relate her story.

“Everybody turned a deaf ear,” said Ms. Layne.

“People would come to the front desk and almost want to throw me out, and I would just have to take it on the chin,” said Ms. Layne. “I had to take it and just smile.”

When a police officer takes on a post, they should take it on “because of who they are, because they are there for society, and there to help each individual, Black, brown or white,” said Ms. Layne. “When I went to the RCMP, I took an oath as a public servant.”

Another plaintiff in the class action, Carol Sip, spent 26 years in the federal public service, starting in the Department of National Defence in 1974 before retiring in 2000.

“There was not much room for promotion, so I decided to apply elsewhere,” said Ms. Sip at the beginning of an emotional interview with The Hill Times.

Looking for a permanent position, Ms. Sip applied to the now defunct Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (known today as the Canada Border Services Agency), as well as to Gateway postal services, alluding to the Canada Post facility in Mississauga.

“I chose Customs, thinking I’ll have a better chance of promotion there,” said Ms. Sip. “But I was wrong.”

The former federal public servant, who would end up spending the vast majority of her career with the agency, said she joined the class-action lawsuit because the lack of opportunities for promotion throughout her career affected her mental health and well-being, and found herself looking for part-time work to subsidize her income, ending up working very difficult hours.

“Now, instead of the government taking responsibility, protecting me, and addressing the matter, they hire a Bay Street law firm to inflict more pain and suffering,” said Ms. Sip. “The victims always suffer.”

Ms. Sip said she initially didn’t want to come forward with her story.

“But then I think about the younger generation and if this would make a difference,” said Ms. Sip.

Erica Ifill, a policy analyst at Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada (ISED) who has been with the department since Feb. 2019 and is currently on sick leave, recently penned a piece for The Hill Times in her regular column called “An open letter to federal Black employees,” where she outlined her experience being “harassed, bullied and surveilled for most of my time at the department” where she was “denied development opportunities and promotions.”

Ms. Ifill also wrote that when she tried to seek redress through the internal processes, “again I was refused any meaningful action.”

When asked if she believed the emergence of this lawsuit and the continued growth of the number of plaintiffs involved will send a strong message to the federal public service in a follow-up interview with The Hill Times last week, Ms. Ifill was not optimistic.

“[The public service] exists on a plane that is divorced from reality,” said Ms. Ifill. “Their ability to assess risk is very skewed—they get to where they are by badly assessing risk.”

“I don’t have any faith in them, I think they’re going to have to be forced to do the right thing,” said Ms. Ifill, who is also a member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus.

Although not yet a part of the class-action suit, Ms. Ifill said she’s considering it and that she’s currently in talks with representatives.

Riyadh Nazerally, a spokesperson with ISED, said “the public service has long made diversity and inclusion in its workforce a core value, and there has been steady progress over the past decade, but many gaps remain,” in an emailed statement to The Hill Times. “In particular, the lack of diversity in leadership roles across the public service has been persistent and must be addressed.”

“At ISED, we have started a dialogue and we are listening. We are learning from lived experience through ongoing employee consultation and safe space discussions,” added Mr. Nazerally, who also pointed to the creation of a Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce focused on identifying and implementing specific diversity and inclusion measures.

“We are actively consulting with employees on a plan to identify meaningful actions in order to build a more diversified workforce. One of our objectives is to remove biases and systemic barriers. We are committed to addressing and dismantling structural and systemic racism and discrimination, while also ensuring that our workplace is free of harassment.”

“For privacy reasons, we cannot comment or discuss specific employee matters,” wrote Mr. Nazerally.

‘Persistent threat to our national security’

Huda Mukbil, a former senior intelligence officer with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and a national security expert, is not a plaintiff in the Black class-action lawsuit, but she told The Hill Times that she is helping the team and hoping to become more involved in the future.

“The reason I feel passionate about this, is because I feel that it is a persistent threat to our national security,” said Ms. Mukbil, who began her career at CSIS in 2001 and was the first Arab woman and one of very few black women at the agency.

“I was well received for a very long time, about three years, and then what can I say—I encountered systemic issues,” said Ms. Mukbil, who went on to outline discrimination she would face throughout her career.

“The biggest problem is that it’s left up to individuals to fight the discrimination and the harassment and the microaggressions and the lack of career progression—the whole thing is left up to an individual,” said Ms. Mukbil. “There’s a risk obviously—you’re looking at one individual trying to take on a system.”

What’s coming out as a function of this lawsuit is “really the tip of the iceberg,” said Ms. Mukbil.

“There is so much going on, there’s so much damage that’s happening to so many people’s lives, and what we’re seeing now is just horrible,” said Ms. Mukbil.

‘This lawsuit will force the public service to look deeply inside its structure’

Although former senator Don Oliver was unavailable for an interview last week, he has spent decades fighting against systemic racism within the public service, and told The Hill Times in December 2020 that he was supportive of the lawsuit and the effect it would have on structures within the bureaucracy.

“The lawsuit will force the public service to look deeply inside its structure and systems to find ways to eradicate white privilege in performance evaluations and all other known forms of systemic black racism,” wrote the retired Senator in a message to The Hill Times shortly after the lawsuit was first launched. “It must start with some profound personal soul searching that will require all white managers to learn to accept some uncomfortable truths.”

And as the establishment of any new government department is ultimately directed by the PMO, according to the former Senator, the clerk of the Privy Council and all deputy ministers in the public service would have to fall in line.

In a piece that ran in The Globe and Mail on March 1 following Black History Month, Sen. Oliver wrote that deputy ministers in government “can speed up the internal cleansing and make meaningful change” by, among other practices, ensuring that no barriers exist to prevent Black employees from advancing, implementing or expanding unconscious bias and anti-racism education, sharing best—and unsuccessful—practices, working with members of the Black community, and creating the conditions for success.

“The defining test of systemic racism in Canada is when I no longer have to somehow prove that I, as a Black Canadian, am worthy to participate in and enjoy all the fruits, benefits and perks of daily living that have been bestowed on the white majority by virtue of their privilege,” wrote the former Senator, who served in the Red Chamber from 1990 to 2003.

When asked for comment, the Prime Minister’s Office referred The Hill Times back to the Treasury Board.

Source: More than 520 plaintiffs now part of Black public servants’ $900-million class-action lawsuit against government, as feds enlist Bay Street law firm