Black public servants’ lawsuit will force public service ‘to look deeply inside its structure,’ says former senator who’s fought for diversity in the PS for decades


While the concerns are legitimate, this focus on Black public servants as being unique and thus needing unique measures downplays the fact that other visible minority groups also are under-represented and some more so than Black public servants (yet again, see my What new disaggregated data tells us about federal public service …). Without situating these concerns in relation to other visible minority (and Indigenous) groups, and with minimal data to support these claims, an opportunity is missed for a more evidence-based and fulsome discussion:
 
 
Plaintiff Kathy Ann Samuel, who has worked within the department of public prosecutions as a legal assistant for the last 19 years, said she’s ‘tired of being tired’ and that ‘change has to start from the top, it has to start with the government.’

Former Senator Don Oliver, who has argued for decades that the government needs to appoint more Black judges, deputy and associate deputy ministers, and chiefs of staff in government offices, says he was not surprised to read about a planned class action lawsuit on behalf of current and former Black employees within the public service, and that he had “predicted and warned about one for 20 years.”

Twelve plaintiffs are involved in the proposed class-action lawsuit by former and current Black federal public servants, which alleges that Black employees have been systematically excluded from advancement and subjected to discrimination within the government for decades. They are seeking $900-million in damages.

“It’s happening now,” said Mr. Oliver. “I am not part of the lawsuit. But having fought hard for 22 years while a Senator to teach diversity in the public service to ‘simply accept difference,’ I was often a lone voice in the wilderness. But given what facts in the planned suit we know to be true, because they are backed by data, I accept and support that.”

“I have deep respect for the public service of Canada,” said Mr. Oliver. “Over two decades I have worked very closely with several eminent deputy ministers and clerks of the Privy Council trying to find ways to change the culture of some 300,000 employees and root out systemic black racism.”

Mr. Oliver said that the class action lawsuit immediately reminded him of a class action lawsuit filed by current and former African American employees against Coca Cola in the United States, something which Mr. Oliver addressed in 2000 in a major speech to the Senate.

“As in the Canadian suit, they alleged racial discrimination that produced lower pay, less promotions, and poor performance evaluations,” wrote Mr. Oliver in an emailed statement to The Hill Times. “The Black employees won the largest settlement ever in a corporate racial discrimination case, $192-million.”

Mr. Oliver also said he’s warned that given the systemic racism that exists in our largest corporations and institutions in Canada, the same thing could happen here. The former Senator now chairs the Black North Initiative committee on public relations and the public sector.

“I can state that the clerk [of the Privy Council], Ian Shugart, has been extremely open and forthcoming in helping us meet our 3.5 per cent targets looking to the future,” said Mr. Oliver. “That is most encouraging. The planned lawsuit looks to actions in the past.”

In regards to the highly publicized death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man who was killed by a police officer who pinned him down with a knee to his neck in June 2020, Mr. Oliver called it a “pivotal moment” that “brought to light the insidious but painful truth in Canada about white privilege.”

“The ‘perk’ that white people get by virtue of their colour,” said Mr. Oliver. “The lawsuit is a logical and natural next step after the necessary data has been secured.”

“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 Mr. Oliver. “It must start with some profound personal soul searching that will require all white managers to learn to accept some uncomfortable truths.”

“The machinery of government, i.e., getting a new government department, is something directed from PMO and when that directive comes to PCO one way or another, the Clerk of the Privy Council and all the deputy ministers must fall in line. The ongoing work we are doing in the Black North Initiative to find ways to break down systemic Black racism is going well,” wrote Mr. Oliver. “We have been working with a number of senior bureaucrats of good will. This will continue.”

Nicholas Marcus Thompson, who works for the Canada Revenue Agency as a collections contact officer and a plaintiff in the suit, told The Hill Times that the lawsuit started with the Canada Revenue Agency, calling it a “focal point” of this issue last week.

As a union president in Toronto, representing 800 workers in two offices, Mr. Thompson said he’s been advocating around this issue for years.

“In one of my buildings I have 1,100 workers, and there’s 20 Black people,” said Mr. Thompson. “I asked them to address this issue, to provide developmental opportunities to Black people so when staffing processes come out, they have the experience to apply.”

“They are giving the experience to other visible minorities and Caucasian employees, who are getting that opportunity,” said Mr. Thompson. “So that’s why we say ‘Black employee exclusion,’ and that’s why it’s not about visible minorities, because by far, they are allowing other visible minorities to move ahead and get into the management program and into the executive program.”

Duane Guy Guerra, a full-time employee at the Department of National Defence as a heavy equipment technician for more than 20 years, told The Hill Times that the class action lawsuit “is the next step in doing what I can do, and what seems to be happening now is that people are actually listening.”

Mr. Guerra said that when he first began working for the department in 1999, he was very excited and happy to be there and considered it the next step in his automotive career.

“I worked at General Motors for 13 years, I was proud of that, and I was really good at my job, and I figured, why not take my skills to the next level and try to do something better to serve my country?” said Mr. Guerra. “So I moved to [DND], and I was well received there until I started to try and advance, even though I had the support of my military supervisors.”

Kathy Ann Samuel, who works within the Department of Public Prosecutions as a legal assistant for the last 19 years, said she’s “tired of being tired.”

“Throughout the years, we have marched, we have come together, we have asked, we’ve begged, we’ve done different actions, and no change has been done,” said Ms. Samuel. “The change has to start from the top, it has to start with the government and the law has to be changed.”

“It’s just time, it’s the right thing to do,” said Ms. Samuel.

When asked about the brutal death of George Floyd in the summer, an event caught on video that galvanized thousands of people in Canada and in the United States, Ms. Samuel said the spirit of that moment is still alive.

“For what other people think, it may have passed for them,” said Ms. Samuel. “For us, for the Black community it has not passed. I have children—I have a Black son and I have a Black daughter, and anything can happen—they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s very troubling.”

“When it happened with George Floyd, every single video made me cry, because I put my son in that situation, I put my nephews in that situation, and it could be anybody, and it’s disheartening that in 2020, the Black community is still going through these types of incidents that have happened in the past,” said Ms. Samuel.

Courtney Betty, a Toronto-based lawyer involved in the proposed class action suit, told The Hill Times that “immediately, we would like to see the government prepared to enter into a dialogue with the parties to come up with a resolution.”

“It would avoid litigation and what I would say, is also some incredibly embarrassing stories of the pain and suffering that so many individuals [have experienced], and I think it would be a public embarrassment for Canada internationally when these stories become public,” said Mr. Betty. “It is just really beyond description in terms of the pain and suffering that these plaintiffs have faced.”

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment for this story.

Source: Black public servants’ lawsuit will force public service ‘to look deeply inside its structure,’ says former senator who’s fought for diversity in the PS for decades

Erica Ifill also misses this opportunity for a more informed discussion:

If the makeup of an organization is such that Black employees are ghettoized at the lower ranks with a mostly white managerial class, that’s not equity; that’s segregation, intentional or not. And yet, for months, we’ve seen many such institutions perform the equivalent of just taking a knee – proclaiming their commitment to resolving anti-Black racism generally without admitting its existence within their structure or committing to concrete action.

But for some institutions, chickens are coming home to roost. That includes Canada’s federal government, which is quick to crow about diversity but apparently needs to clean up its own coop first.

Last week, 12 Black public servants launched a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, claiming it “failed to uphold the Charter rights of Black employees in the federal public service, shirking its responsibility to create discrimination- and harassment-free workplaces, and actively excluding Black bureaucrats”.

Systemic racism has become the new buzzword, one that many leaders are happy to throw around, but few actually know how to define. That includes RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who said earlier this year that she was “struggling” with the term and had denied its existence in her organization. It should be no surprise that the RCMP is named among the departments accused in the lawsuit.

To fill folks in, systemic racism is discrimination perpetuated by a system that produces disparate outcomes based on race, despite the racial composition of those within the system, or whether the participants themselves are racist or not. Diversity does not resolve racism. Rather, without equity, it’s just an act of glorified window-dressing. Claiming diversity as your strength – as the organizations named in the lawsuit are wont to do – is not a get-out-of-jail-free card against the possibility of perpetuating systemic racism, just like having a Black friend does not permanently absolve someone of any act of racism.

A spokesperson from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat insists the federal government has taken steps to address anti-Black systemic racism across the country, citing that “the fall economic statement committed $12-million over three years toward a dedicated centre on diversity and inclusion in the federal public service. This will accelerate the government’s commitment to achieving a representative and inclusive public service.” However, recruiting more Black people will not solve the systemic problem of anti-Black racism in the public service. Effectively, the government has offered a solution to the wrong problem.

The government’s response makes clear only that no attempt has been made to review the existing structures and systems of accountability that prevent the promotion of Black people to the senior ranks, where other racialized groups are more represented. Treasury Board Secretariat’s own data show that Black employees’ salary ranges coalesce at the lower ends of the spectrum compared to those of other racialized groups and white employees, with miniscule representation at the higher ends, which would indicate management levels. The problem is the distribution of Black employees, who tend to occupy more administrative roles than analytical ones, which would enable them to move into management positions. Black executives make up only 1.6 per cent of the executive class (96 out of 5,887) yet comprise nearly 5 per cent of the administrative support staff (971 out of 19,900). This indicates that Black people are either not recruited at higher levels or they are not promoted into higher levels.

Dismantling systemic racism necessitates a genuine and effortful cultural shift in organizations that are stubbornly reticent to change. Expecting change from those who have benefitted from the existing structure is a near-impossible feat, which is why much of the work is usually left to a racialized third party.

The way forward includes anti-racism training that features critical race theory and leadership development, instead of the kind of vanilla anti-bias and diversity training that is mostly focussed on reducing legal liability. According to Harvard Business Review, that kind of training has been offered for decades with little effect: “laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out.” Policies, procedures, processes and accountability systems need to be audited for equity and remedies executed. As well, internal communications must be overhauled – not to hedge against liability, but to speak to employees with the intention of transparency and accountability.

Without a systemic and systematic makeover, businesses and organizations all over the country will face a reckoning that could have them spending more time and money in a courtroom, instead of the boardroom. If the federal government can be sued, anyone can, making inaction on dismantling systemic racism a potentially expensive liability.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-ottawa-claims-diversity-is-our-strength-so-why-is-it-being-sued-by/

After taking a knee, the next step is being spelled out for Justin Trudeau

Three articles on expectations for the Trudeau government with respect to countering anti-black racism, starting the Campbell Clark of the Globe, followed by former Conservative Senator Don Oliver and Liberal MP Greg Fergus. Clark focusses on RCMP reform, both Oliver and Fergus stress, among other issues, increased Black Canadian representation at senior levels:

When Justin Trudeau joined an anti-racism protest on Friday, taking a knee to express solidarity, it was as though he still didn’t know the next step after kneeling.

He had already spoken, in a press conference earlier that day, about the “disturbing” videos and reports of incidents that surfaced last week. He asserted, in earnest Trudeau-esque tones, that although “we can’t solve all this overnight,” change is needed, and “we need to start today.” Yet he didn’t offer any clear notion of what a first step could be.

Those disturbing reports, though, offered at least one obvious place to start: more transparency.

On Saturday, Chief Allan Adam, who leads the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, held a press conference to present grainy videos of the night in March when, Chief Adam said, he was beaten by RCMP officers when they stopped him and his wife over an expired registration for their car.

Chief Adam’s lawyer, Brian Beresh, called for the suspension of one of the officers involved, but what was notable was the basic call for transparency in the other three things he sought.

He called for the RCMP to release their own, clearer video of the incident, taken from an RCMP dashcam. He called for a full investigation by another police force – not the RCMP. And he called for body cameras to be worn by all RCMP officers.

Independent investigations? Public transparency? Body cams? Yes to all of that. Because it’s 2020.

And stats, too – disaggregated race-based statistics, so Canadians can get a sense of who gets arrested over expired registrations.

One thing on Chief Adam’s list, an outside investigation, is now happening. Alberta’s Serious Incident Response Team, which investigates serious injuries and deaths involving the police, said Saturday afternoon that they would review the allegations. The RCMP had previously said they had reviewed their own video of the incident, and that it didn’t meet the threshold for an outside investigation.

That’s a threshold that cries out for scrutiny: If there is video of police using force with a citizen, someone outside the organization should be looking at it.

Doing those things won’t eliminate racial discrimination in policing, let alone dismantle systemic racism in the country, which doesn’t start or end with the police. Body cams don’t prevent all abuses. They just offer the potential for a record.

But if Mr. Trudeau is looking for a place to start, he might start with the obvious: Disturbing events that came to light only because of bystanders taking video on their phones. More transparency is a basic step.

Mr. Trudeau’s government doesn’t hold all the levers on these things. Local policing is a provincial responsibility, even when it is done by the RCMP, and for much of the population, the local police are municipal or provincial forces.

But he does exert control over the RCMP, including appointing its Commissioner. He can demand standards of accountability for incidents that involve the use of force, and that they be reviewed independently. He can fix the broken complaints system for the RCMP – a small reform is already proposed in legislation before Parliament. He can demand that the collection, and publication, of statistics on arrests and charges be disaggregated by ethnic background.

He has federal spending power. A national initiative to have police wear body cameras can be pushed forward with funding from Ottawa. Especially if he moves forward now. He can press provincial premiers to join him in setting basic national standards of transparency.

That is, for starters, what the symbolism of taking a knee demands. You can judge for yourself if you think Mr. Trudeau is sincere or engaged in political play-acting, or some mix of the two, but you don’t have to look further than Donald Trump to see that the opposite symbolism is bad government. Mr. Trudeau chose to acknowledge systemic racism, rather than to deny it.

There is a lot that necessarily follows from that symbolism. But if Mr. Trudeau can’t find a first step now, he can look to the things that should have been done a long time ago to bring a little more transparency to policing.

Source:   opinion After taking a knee, the next step is being spelled out for Justin Trudeau Subscriber content The government must look to the things that should have been done a long time ago to bring a little more transparency to policing Campbell Clark       

Former Conservative Senator Don Oliver:

Both Canada and the United States are each deeply embroiled in the largest pandemic of anti-Black systemic racism since the height of the Martin Luther King civil rights movement that featured vicious attack dogs, and the brutal beatings, shootings, and murders by whites and by police of unarmed, innocent Black, men, women and children.

Only now, with the internet, technology, and social media, millions and millions of eyes from around the world are watching the United States. People are also watching Canada to see if this middle-ranked world power, once recognized and worshipped for its even-handedness, compassion, understanding and respect for diversity, can rise now to its former exalted position in the world. The world is watching us in the face of the ugly and racist murder of George Floyd in the United States to see if Canada can now give hope and demonstrate once again its earned reputation for understanding and tolerance, and produce a roadmap that all can see and read for overcoming and eliminating anti-Black systemic racism.

Some would argue that there was abject failure of leadership on the part of the Trudeau government to provide more than the vacuous, “we’re in this together,” but it’s clear that words alone will not eliminate anti-Black racism. Many people, including victims of anti-Black racism in Canada, are looking for some concrete resolutions.

The prime minister, however, has clearly stated repeatedly that anti-Black systemic racism exists in Canada today, and on June 2, he said, with humility: “I am not here today to describe a reality I do not know or speak to a pain I have not felt.” That’s probably because he’s white and privileged. He was born into that and it’s not a sin.

The reality, however, for most African Canadians is that their pigmentation defines who they are thought to be by the rest of the world, and it’s usually not positive. The sad reality for many Blacks is that with every step they take and every move they make they are liable to be stopped, suppressed, held back, criticized, ridiculed, and prevented from proceeding for perhaps no reason other than the colour of their skin. Those barriers exist particularly in housing, employment, health care, and criminal justice.

But it cannot be forgotten that there are throughout Canada thousands and thousands of white people who I salute and who do not see colour when they deal with us, and many of them have been on the streets the last nine days walking with us side by side, peacefully demonstrating for an end to systemic racism and protesting the horrible death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Many more have been at their homes praying for an end to Black-based systemic racism in Canada. These are the people of good faith who help make our country strong.

In my case, I started school at the age of five, in a small university Baptist town, the only Black child in the class. For the next 10 years or so, we all had the same school teachers, the same coaches for sports; we basically all went to the same Sunday school and church, played on the same hockey teams and attended all the same parties and socials.

But sometimes when I was engaged in an interesting discussion with teachers or with people around the university, or when I was playing sports with my classmates, I would momentarily forget about the colour of my skin. It didn’t seem that important in the scheme of things; after all, we had so many things in common. Colour was not always the foremost thought in my mind.

For a glancing moment, I had a feeling that there was really no difference and that we were indeed intrinsically alike. I had completely forgotten that pigmentation always denoted a marked physical and psychological difference. It had all the shades of invoking a subtle master/servant relationship from the days of slavery, and that being Black meant being inferior and less worthy than your white counterpart. Pigmentation would always describe who I was as a physical being.

So, how could I ever forget something so fundamental, even for an instant. It was painfully and blatantly clear that I would have to be conscious of my colour at all times and be ready to defend it as well. The colour of my skin is a situational fact that has stayed with me all my life. But even though pigmentation was not something that I thought about every hour of every day, it did help orient my entire life.

When in the middle of something very important and demanding, I would often receive the strange query—“don’t you realize you’re Black”—and it would happen on some of the most unexpected occasions, and I had to be ready. The situation is called racism. That is the constant reality for most Blacks in Canada today. We encounter race hatred, intolerance, discrimination, contempt, and prejudice in virtually everything we become part of in our daily lives.

The prime minister cannot possibly fathom our reality of racism because it defies so many of our senses and it’s just there with disquieting regularity. For instance, imagine you are eminently qualified and Black, with excellent managerial skills and experience, have superior, advanced education, are proficient in three languages, are the proper age, and that you’ve just learned that you’ve been passed over for the eighth time in an executive job competition. What a shock. What else can you do? You know implicitly that racism is present and totally in control of what is happening. But it has defied all your senses. Nothing overt gave you an explanation for the result. It’s something painful and hurtful. You want to cry, to scream out. But you dare not. It’s how systemic racism manifests itself, and that’s the pain and the reality our prime minister cannot possibly ever know and understand.

And it’s just like the anti-Black racism demonstrated by the beatings, shootings, and killings of Black people throughout Canada for which there are thousands of white and Black Canadians protesting and peacefully demonstrating in the streets. Prime Minister Trudeau must understand that anti-Black racism has to stop.

The job now for public policy-makers looking for solutions is to dig deeply into the very core of systemic racism, analyze it, and produce detailed, comprehensive, and professional recommendations for change that must be acted upon by government immediately. Remember, the eyes of the world are watching Canada with hope.

The prime minister can put a lot of easy and meaningful things in place immediately, if there is the will. As I have been saying for decades, some of these helpful things are very, very easy for a prime minister to implement and to make happen quickly.

For instance, one way to start to dispel the sting of anti-Black racism is for eminent and qualified Blacks to be appointed to senior positions on boards, commissions, and Crown corporations. For example, you will recall that, as prime minister, Brian Mulroney appointed Lincoln Alexander as the Queen’s representative of Canada’s largest province; Julius Isaacs was appointed chief justice of the Federal Court of Canada, and I was Speaker Pro Tempore of the Senate of Canada.

There are dozens of great Lincoln Alexanders out there today who could become significant influencers on major government boards and commissions and this would help reduce the impact of anti-Black racism. We desperately need more Black judges appointed to our Superior Courts across the country. We need Black deputy and associate deputy ministers appointed to our senior bureaucracy in Ottawa. We need more Black chiefs of staff in government offices. We need a new federal government Department of Diversity headed by a Black deputy minister. The upper echelons of power in Canada must reflect the diverse faces of Canada. A number of these things can be done by Prime Minister Trudeau with the stroke of his pen, and what a difference it would make for Canada.

In conjunction with these initiatives in boardrooms across the nation, we also need to make policy more effective. We urgently need accurate information: facts and race-based disaggregated data. Prime Minister Trudeau should pick up his pen this week and sign any prerequisite documentation from the Privy Council Office to order the immediate collection of comprehensive data on COVID-19 from every province and territory in Canada. This data should be submitted to Statistics Canada on a daily and weekly basis, possibly retroactively, to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United States now has close to 110,000 reported deaths from COVID-19 and, regretfully, a disproportionately high per cent of those deaths are Blacks and Latinos. In Canada, we have some general information that a disproportionately high percentage of those who have died from COVID-19 are also Black. We know these deaths in both countries involve socio-economic issues such as lack of a nutritious diet, access to the health-care system, employment opportunities, affordable, adequate housing and, most of all, the subtle, all-pervading yet omnipresent anti-Black systemic racism.

To examine and report on these issues, in-depth, I urgently call on Prime Minister Trudeau to appoint in June 2020 a commission of inquiry under the Inquiries Act, chaired by an eminent Black Canadian judge, to examine in detail the above socio-economic issues, call evidence and hear from those impacted by racism in the communities across Canada, and report back to Parliament with specific recommendations in each area designed to eradicate or substantially limit the reach and influence of anti-Black systemic racism in Canada. All aspects of the inquiry must involve in its membership and research a majority of eminent, qualified African Canadian men and women. The inquiry would, as well, receive all the race-based data collected by Statistics Canada, and hopefully provide recommendations to the government before the next wave of COVID-19.

No reasonable Canadian expects this prime minister to fully understand the reality and the 400 years of the pain of anti-Black systemic racism in Canada, but they do expect him to take some positive steps towards its elimination, such as those set out above.

Source: Trudeau must understand anti-Black racism has to stop, and he’s got the power to help stop it

Lastly, current Liberal MP Greg Fergus:

Greg Fergus spent much of last week in video conferences, talking to black Canadians and community leaders. The Liberal MP for Hull-Aylmer and chair of the parliamentary black caucus says many people are “traumatized.”

But, he said, they also know that this moment is an opportunity for other Canadians to “finally see the systemic barriers that are in place here.”

“Everyone says, I’m up and I’m down …  I’m angry and I’m hopeful. It’s an awful mix,” he said in an interview. “And because we have attention on the issue, everybody’s being asked about it. I’m happy to engage with this, but it’s hard to engage with it, because it’s overwhelming.

“We saw those brutal images of racism … and it triggers all those big and little things that every person of colour has been through.”

On Friday, Fergus was beside Justin Trudeau when the prime minister attended the Black Lives Matter rally on Parliament Hill and kneeled along with many others in the crowd, the symbolically powerful gesture that has become a hallmark of the protests and rallies against anti-black racism that have followed the May 25 killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis.

Trudeau’s participation was part of a week that will certainly be remembered as a significant moment in the history of protest against anti-black discrimination. But much now depends on what steps his government takes next.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an appearance at an anti-racism rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Friday. He was met with chants of “Stand up to Trump!” from the crowd and kneeled for eight minutes and 46 seconds to remember George Floyd. 1:47

“We always said we need to do more. Now we’re seeing why it’s important to do more,” Fergus said. “Racism kills.”

The list of what the Trudeau government could or should do is long. But Fergus said he is proud of what the government did in its first four years — action he believes his fellow black parliamentarians and Liberal staff were part of making happen.

Over its last two budgets, the Trudeau government committed $19 million over five years to develop mental health programs for black Canadians and support for young people, and $25 million over five years for community programming.

Statistics Canada was provided with $6.7 million to create a new Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics, which is mandated to “increase the disaggregation of various data sets by race, with a particular focus on the experience of black Canadians.” A new anti-racism strategy, including the creation of an anti-racism secretariat in the public service, was given $45 million over three years.

But Celina Caesar-Chevannes, the former Liberal MP who broke with the party last year, wrote this week that the funding committed to black Canadians for mental health was not nearly enough and “certainly [does] not speak to black lives mattering.”

In 2018, the government officially recognized the UN International Decade for People of African Descent and the prime minister publicly acknowledged the existence of “anti-black racism” — the first prime minister, Fergus said, to do so.

But a year later, Fergus also expressed frustration with how little the machinery of government had moved to match the prime minister’s words.

“It’s hard to convince people that there’s a problem,” he said.

Diversifying government’s highest ranks

Fergus has since been appointed parliamentary secretary to Jean-Yves Duclos, the president of the Treasury Board, and he is interested in promoting diversity throughout the upper echelon of the public service.

“I don’t think the public service is any different from Canada in general, in the sense that it’s hard to overcome the systemic barriers. We have an excellent public service that hires [people] in a way that reflects the way Canada looks. Where the public service doesn’t do as well is, as you go up the ranks, it becomes more and more homogeneous,” Fergus said.

In Fergus’s view, this is a textbook example of unconscious bias.

“This is an example of systemic discrimination — there are practices or assumptions or biases at play that end up having these kinds of results. You have to be conscious of these biases, and we have to really challenge the way it is,” he says.

“It doesn’t make sense that there’s been no black deputy ministers — you can’t convince me that there aren’t black people who are competent. But there’s something that went into the calculation over time that that person didn’t make the right fit, or didn’t get that promotion. We can justify any individual decision, but when you aggregate all these decisions, you end up with a biased result.

“Those are the things that we’ve got to take a look at. But it’s hard to do the things which are hard to do. And it’s hard to see bias. People don’t want to admit that’s going on.”

When the Trudeau government promoted Caroline Xavier to associate deputy minister at the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, she became the first black woman to reach that level of the public service. (Duclos’s chief of staff, Marjorie Michel, is also the first black of woman to hold that title in the federal government.)

But diversifying the public service is just one path of change and other areas crying out for government action.

Immigration policy, police reform other points of debate

Caesar-Chevannes laid out a proposed agenda that includes a review of immigration policy, increased government funding and the expunging of criminal records for marijuana possession, a charge that disproportionately punished black Canadians. She also called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

The RCMP and policing reform have emerged as significant points of debate in the weeks and months ahead. The NDP has already called for bans on racial profiling and the practice of “carding,” in which police stop individuals and ask to see ID without any evidence of wrongdoing.

Questions about policing and justice can be politically difficult to navigate — for decades, the incentive for politicians has been to seem “tough” on crime. That tide could be turning, but, regardless, the Trudeau government is unlikely to be excused for failing to deal with these issues.

But combating systemic racism and improving the lives of black Canadians means going well beyond such issues.

Fergus: ‘If there ever was a time to speak, it’s now’

Fergus said there is interest among black community leaders in federal support for black-owned businesses. The federal government could, for instance, provide microcredit and organize a program to provide mentorship from black financial experts. It has also been suggested that federal procurement policy could be used to benefit black-owned companies, similar to how Indigenous businesses have been a specific focus since 1996.

An emphasis on data — to better understand how black Canadians are doing and how public policy affects them — is a common theme across calls for change, including an essay penned last week by Sen. Wanda Thomas Bernard.

“That will be the gift that keeps giving,” Fergus said of better data.

Fergus said his advice to black Canadians and activists is to capitalize on this moment.

“If there was ever a time to speak it’s now. If there was ever a time to get that story out, it’s now,” he said. “We have 15 minutes of people’s attention. Let’s try to make this something that resonates longer and leads to substantive and systemic changes. This is the time.”

What Fergus saw around him on Friday tells him that Canadians are ready for and expecting that change.

“I think Canadians expect us to do more. And looking at the people who were in the crowd — really, it was good for me. It was really good for me to so many non-blacks took part. They were clearly the majority,” he said.

“That is a good feeling. They are awake to this.”

Source: Liberal MP takes stock of government’s action on anti-black racism and says there’s more to do

COVID-19 and African Canadians: a festering, unresolved problem

Former Nova Scotia Senator Don Oliver. I would suggest, however, that any enquiry regarding COVID-19 failings and lessons learned include a focus better data regarding the impact on different minority and socioeconomic groups, not just focussed on African-Canadians:

COVID-19 has bluntly shown all of us that African-Canadian front-line essential workers have been disproportionally affected with this highly contagious and deadly virus, even without supporting comprehensive scientific data. We now know that visible minority researchers throughout Canada have been demanding the collection of race-based and socio-economic data for years, because it is required to determine future public policy and, specifically, now for the containment of COVID-19.

And throughout North America, as we now sit in the shadow of another serious wave in which thousands more people will likely die, we have no more time to waste before collecting the requisite demographic race-based data, and then formulating public policies that will build more socio-economic equity into Canada’s health-care system and thereby save precious lives. Many enlightened political leaders—from the governor of New York state, to the premier of Ontario—are now demanding that accurate scientific race-based data be collected and analyzed.

We’ve all changed. No more handshaking. No more hugs of sympathy and condolence. We must now observe a two-metre social distancing. And we’ve likely spent more time at home either alone or with family than any other times in our lives. And that, too, was something very different. When our economies reopen, what will it look like and what must be done to treat all citizens fairly?

Our new, somewhat challenging, reality is the result of the sudden eruption and spread of COVID-19, and so we are now facing one of the most contagious and deadly viruses our modern society has ever met. Thousands have died and, sadly, it will be months before the carnage subsides in Canada.

This is a new coronavirus, and very little is known about it and its behaviour. But we do know for certain that it is lethal and that there is no known cure. Leading medical experts around the world willingly admit they are learning on the job each week as they observe things, like the COVID-19 massive inflammation in certain patients’ lungs that even the best ventilators cannot manage. But the good news is that thousands of Canadians who have tested positive are now fully recovered.

The pandemic has raised many fundamental, but painful questions for me and I trust for all our governments, provincial and federal. These questions include: have all Canadians had equal access to our health-care system to fight COVID-19? Is social equity in short supply? Have the poor and the homeless had equal access to hospitalization, treatment, and cures? Are any Canadians being sidelined because of issues of gender, geography or race?  

I try to keep current with the efforts our excellent scientific researchers and medical teams. There were times over the last three months that I felt sadness and anger when each day I read of the gross injustices and intrinsic unfairness in the treatment of three distinct groups of Canadians: our seniors, including some with special health needs in nursing homes and long-term care facilities where the death rate is totally unacceptable; people of colour or African-Canadians, particularly front-line essential workers and the poor and disabled; and other front-line health-care workers, doctors, nurses, orderlies, janitors. 

Our seniors are entitled to the same medical treatment and care and social equity as other Canadians, notwithstanding their age and pre-existing medical conditions. The other two groups are putting their lives on the line for us every day and, regretfully, thousands of them across Canada are testing positive to the virus, and don’t even have the fundamental protective equipment for doing the job properly. I’m referring to basic gowns, gloves, face masks, shields, and sanitizers, all known as PPEs. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet, but in this period of post-pandemic planning all levels of government must pick up the reins and help design, develop, and implement some forward-looking, creative public policies that will ensure these gross injustices will stop, and cease to exist. These public policies must go to the root of the problems that seniors face, and embrace substantial, fundamental change even to the structure, architecture, and internal layout of long-term nursing facilities that can accommodate concepts such as social-distancing.  

I am delighted to see that many groups in the three levels of government in Canada have already made very extensive systemic changes into their long-term planning for the protection of the front-line health-care workers, by warehousing excess masks, gowns, gloves, etc.  

But stockpiling PPEs is only part of the solution for African-Canadians and visible minorities on the front lines. Reliable Canadian race-based data and statistics are hard to come by, but our Canadian circumstances are akin to our American brothers and sisters. We share long-standing health and socio-economic disparities that make us highly vulnerable to pandemics like COVID-19. 

Consider this. One-third of the people who have died from the coronavirus in the United States so far have been African American, and they only represent 14 per cent of the U.S. population today. When I began writing this piece, there were 2,900 deaths in Michigan, just to the south of our border. Some 40 per cent of those deaths were African-American even though they represented only 14 per cent of the population. And in St. Louis, 21 deaths and 64 per cent of those COVID-19 deaths were African-Americans. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s report on race-based data that was just released specifically pointed out a wide racial disparity: 83 per cent of patients with COVID-19 in hospitals it studied in Georgia were African American. In the U.S., the so-called front line is disproportionately Black and Latino. 

In Canada, it is likewise disproportionate Black and visible minority, particularly for our front-line essential workers. I’m not just referring to cleaners and janitors inside a hospital. I refer to front line: public transportation workers in buses, trains, subways; building and cleaning services, garbage collection, grocery and convenience store workers, courier services, postal services, food delivery services, etc.; areas where so many of our Blacks and visible minorities are such a significant part of the workforce, and  that, during the pandemic has been starved of essential PPE’s. The best contemporary example is the visible minority, essential, front-line workers in Cargill plants in Alberta. The infection rate and deaths are astounding.    

Why is it that African Canadians suffer long-standing health and socio-economic disparity? What are the three levels of government planning to do about it? Well, I have seen little, if any, government interest or initiative to make the systemic changes required to interrupt the structural racism that confronts our Black front-line workers. Where were their masks, gloves, and other protective gear required for their employment? Where are the rules and government regulations that make it mandatory that African-Canadians can participate in the social equity that is part of the Canadian mosaic?  

As I said earlier, community and national groups have been lobbying governments for years about the need for some demographic race-based data that could now include questions on the number of deaths; the number of hospitalizations; the number of those testing positive for COVID-19; and data to demonstrate African-Canadians disproportional medical access challenges. 

OmiSoore Dryden, the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Studies at Dalhousie University, was quoted recently by the CBC to have said, referring to the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, that: “they specifically mentioned that during this pandemic we need to respond to the lack of representation in high-level decision-making specific health risks among Black communities, racial discrimination and implicit bias that may pervade and continue to pervade in pandemic policy-making.”

In a recent, powerful op-ed by Paul Deegan and Kevin Lynch, headlined “A Roadmap for Canada after the Pandemic,” they recommended inter alia the federal government set up committee of respected commissioners across the political spectrum under the Inquiries Act, to investigate, in a comprehensive way, five special heads, including taxation and the economy, but nothing specific to the systemic racial problems facing African Canadians. I recommend that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau establish, this June, a committee under the Inquiries Act to study the various systemic problems in Canada that make African Canadians more vulnerable to COVID-19. 

The inquiry could be headed by eminent Black jurist, Justice Michael Tulloch of the Ontario Court of Appeal. It could include other eminent Canadians, like Rona Ambrose, Jean Charest and John Manley, in addition to an equal number of eminent African Canadians and visible minorities, including Candace Thomas and Sharon Ross. Their preliminary report must be provided to the government no later than Jan. 31, 2021. The research division of the inquiry commission must include the finest researchers available in Canada. This inquiry is my personal vision for how we can eventually prevent so many innocent African Canadians from dying in such staggeringly high numbers from this and other contagious diseases. 

Prime Minister Trudeau should also immediately establish a new government Department of Diversity headed by an eminently qualified African Canadian to oversee and implement the various recommendations of the above commission and others that may report. This pandemic will be with us for some time, so we must act now to save more lives.  

Donald H. Oliver is a former Nova Scotia Senator who retired from the Senate in 2013. 

There’s a gaping hole in our democracy

Former Conservative Senator Oliver on the under-representation of Black Canadians.

His solutions are not as easy as he states, and certainly the current government has a good overall record in its appointments in terms of increased numbers of women, visible minorities and Indigenous peoples:

Canada was once the envy of the world with our legislation on multiculturalism, tolerance, and ethnic fairness. But our democracy, indeed all our democratic institutions, have failed us because, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said,” our House of Commons, the heart of our democracy, should look more like the composition of Canadian society”— including more Black MPs, but, sadly it doesn’t. However, the good news is that we are capable of reaching that pinnacle of democratic excellence once again if we could just learn how to accept diversity.

Some things never seem to change. In nature, virtually all plant and animal life change and adapt with time. But attitudinal change is difficult, particularly as it relates to our Canadian democratic demographics. They seem strangled by decades, indeed centuries, of insidious, often painful, and subtle racism that prevents minorities, specifically African Canadians, from participating, in a meaningful way, in the framework of Canadian society. And that includes being elected or appointed to Canada’s parliamentary institutions. In February, during Black History Month, Prime Minister Trudeau stated that he wants to do more to “recruit and elect Black Members of Parliament.”

Last year, our prime minister also announced that Canada officially recognized the UN International Decade for People of African Descent. But so far, that recognition, like the recruitment promise, has not made its way into the heart of our parliamentary institutions. It seems that everything, from gerrymandering, certain racially biased laws and regulations, to some blatant mainstream political party racial insensitivity, have kept our political and bureaucratic institutions virtually white. Of 338 members of the House of Commons, there are fewer than 10 African Canadians. Is that representative of the Canadian mosaic? Hardly. Where are they? Why aren’t more nominated and elected?

As the United Nations puts it, for far too many Canadians, anti-Black racism, discrimination and inequality are part of their daily lives. It reaches into our democratic institutions. It’s unacceptable and, frankly, it’s time our government took some concrete, positive steps to change and correct it.

What, you may ask, is so wrong if people in the seats of power in our democratic institutions do not reflect the face of Canada? What if they are all from the white majority? So, what? Well, for one thing, anti-Black racism is a fact and a reality in Canada today. It exists. Equality of opportunity for all is non-existent. So if African Canadians are not represented, their issues, concerns, aspirations, and needs can easily be unconsciously overlooked and ignored. That constitutes a fundamental failure of our democracy.

There are answers and there are solutions. But it will not be cured with one token appointment of a lone Black person delegated to the back corner. It requires critical mass to ensure a viable result.

All of this can be easily and quickly rectified starting with executive action in Ottawa. For instance, the next 10 appointments to the Senate of Canada could be African Canadians. More eminently qualified Black lawyers and judges could be immediately appointed by cabinet to our Supreme and Superior Courts throughout the land. The next three deputy ministers appointed in the public service could easily be African Canadians. There is a huge pool of bilingual, highly skilled senior EX managers awaiting a call. The prime minister could also act on another UN recommendation because we desperately need a new Department of Diversity headed by a seasoned and qualified Black Canadian deputy minister. The next 15 order-in-council executive appointments to our largest and most powerful Crown corporations could easily be African Canadians, and all of that can be done with the stroke of a pen. It simply takes executive will. Prime Minister Trudeau could implement all of the above before the next federal election.

That’s how easy it would be to implement, throughout Canada, the directives and wishes of the United Nations for this International Decade for People of African Descent. Once implemented, Canadians could observe these talented and qualified Black men and women perform with competence and integrity in these senior positions. At the same time, the remnants of this latent anti-Black racism would slowly dissipate and disappear. These exceptional Black leaders would be part of our cultural mosaic, which makes Canada so great. And Canada would once again return to its position of envy around the globe because of the strength of our democratic institutions.

Let’s fill that gaping hole in our democracy. Now is the time for all Canadians to call on their parliamentary representatives to force the executive to carry out these changes. What a better place Canada would then be for all of us.

Source: There’s a gaping hole in our democracy

Racism casts long shadow over Canada’s past, present | The Chronicle Herald

Former Senator Don Oliver, on the persistence of racism in Canada:

But even today, studies continue to show that if you’re a black Canadian, you are more likely than any other ethnic group not to get a job or a promotion. You are also more likely to get pulled over —“driving while black” — or to be discriminated against in the courts. What is more, there are very few blacks occupying the corner offices of Canadian companies or key political roles. That’s because racism still exists — in an undercurrent of apathy and ignorance that continues to impede people’s advancement.

Consider these statistics from Ryerson’s Diversity Leads. In the Greater Toronto Area, Canada’s most diverse region, the representation of blacks and other visible minorities in senior leadership roles inched up from 11.6 per cent in 2009 to 12.8 per cent in 2014, yet visible minorities account for 53.7 per cent of the population studied.

It’s not better in Greater Montreal, where only 5.9 per cent of senior leaders are visible minorities when they account for 22.5 per cent of the population. On corporate boards, the numbers are particularly dismal. The 2014 report of the Canadian Board Diversity Council reveals that visible minorities hold only two per cent of board seats when they make up 19.1 per cent of the population.

To change the future of black history in Canada, we urgently need more eminent black role models like Lincoln Alexander, Michaelle Jean, Julius Isaac and others to be appointed to senior government and corporate positions. We need all Canadians to embrace our country’s diversity. Once and for all, we need Canadians to demand an end to racism.

Racism casts long shadow over Canada’s past, present | The Chronicle Herald.

Are Canadians racist? Yes, let’s stop denying it | Former Senator Oliver

Former Senator Don Oliver on racism and equality:

Racism still exists—in a subtle, underlying current of apathy and ignorance that continues to impede the advancement of visible minorities toward equality.

That’s why we must continue to advocate for change within the federal public service—and within corporate Canada. This change is crucial. Canada’s demographic profile is becoming increasingly diverse. Its workforce is aging. Meanwhile, the competition for workers is escalating with the growing global shortage of talent.

If we want to compete effectively, Canadian organizations—both public and private—must bring and keep the best and the brightest on board—and increasingly, the best and brightest are visible minorities. We need visible, committed leadership to effect real change. Most of all, we need to put an end to racism—through proactive non-tolerance of any form of discrimination, through training, and through robust support systems for visible minorities.

Complacency and denial about the reality of racism haven’t made Canada a truly diverse and inclusive place to make a living and build a future. Let’s stop kidding ourselves now.

Are Canadians racist? Yes, let’s stop denying it | hilltimes.com.