Employment Equity Act Review: My submission

For the first time in decades, major changes are coming to Canada’s workplace equity laws

Of note as would also apply to federal public service (where TBS is lead). Hopefully the focus will be on the substantive issues, not just the terminology:

Federal legislation that aims to ensure equal opportunities for employees from under-represented groups is heading for its most significant overhaul since its introduction 35 years ago.

The Liberal government announced today that it has convened a new task force to review the Employment Equity Act, which the government describes as “an important tool to promote fairness, equality and diversity in federally regulated workplaces.”

The legislation states that no person should be denied employment opportunities for reasons unrelated to ability. It says that creating those conditions “requires special measures and the accommodation of differences.”

Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said the legislation has improved the standing of various groups that have been marginalized in the workplace, but that the act was overdue for an update.

“It’s about bringing the act into the 21st century,” Tassi said.

Future changes to the legislation, she added, “are absolutely going to result in more equitable workplaces.”

The 13-member task force conducting the review is being asked to come up with recommendations to “modernize” the legislation. The task force will host its first meeting on July 15 and is expected to have a final report by early 2022.

About 1.3 million people, representing about six per cent of Canada’s workforce, are employed in federally regulated industries and workplaces.

Review could result in more precise categories of marginalized workers

The existing Employment Equity Act identifies four groups that have faced additional barriers in workplaces: women, Indigenous Peoples, people with disabilities and members of visible minorities.

Those categories were defined when the act was introduced in 1986. The legislation was largely inspired by the 1984 Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, which was led by Rosalie Abella before she was appointed to the Supreme Court.

Among other things, the task force will be charged with reviewing those groups, which likely will result in the creation of more precise and varied categories of under-represented workers.

Adelle Blackett, a law professor at McGill University who was named chair of the task force, said LGBTQ people, for example, probably will need representation in the next iteration of the act.

“The time is now,” Blackett told CBC News. “We have a really important opportunity to achieve equality.”

Blackett said the national reckoning over the atrocities committed in Canada’s residential school system, and the murder of George Floyd in the United States, are driving the effort to address systemic inequalites.

“It’s hard not to be thinking about how to build a legacy of meaningful inclusion, including in our workplaces,” Blackett said.

According to the latest report on equity within federally regulated workplaces, women, Indigenous Peoples and people with disabilities remain underrepresented in federally regulated workplaces.

Representation of visible minorities is more favourable, with those workers filling slightly more jobs than expected based on their overall share of the workforce.

Unifor says existing act has ‘failed to deliver’

The launch of the review task force comes following recent efforts by the Liberal government to reduce inequities across a range of sectors — including new pay equity legislation that will go into effect at the end of August.

Critics, including the federal New Democrats, have described some of the announcements as pre-election manoeuvring.

NDP critic for women and gender equality Lindsay Mathyssen said last week’s news on pay equity follows the Liberal’s recent track record of providing “pretty words instead of substantive actions.”

Unifor, the largest union representing workers in the federally regulated private sector, said changes to the act are badly needed.

“Despite being in force for 35 years, the Employment Equity Act has failed to deliver on its promise,” Unifor national president Jerry Dias wrote on Twitter. He called on the federal government to ensure that input from workers is considered during the review.

“Updating terms, expanding inclusion and prioritizing enforcement will go a long way,” Dias added.

Source: For the first time in decades, major changes are coming to Canada’s workplace equity laws

Racism probe finds ‘marginalization, discrimination, harassment’ in Peel school board

Ongoing review:

Just weeks into their probe of racism and dysfunction in the Peel public school board, three provincial reviewers say they have already “consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities.”

The “narratives shared with us signal a profound lack of respect in relationships, demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behaviour, and harassment,” says their interim report, obtained by the Star.

Ena Chadha, Suzanne Herbert and newly appointed reviewer Shawn Richard are looking into complaints of racism — in particular anti-Black racism — as well as issues overall with equity, hiring and leadership.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce ordered the investigation in early November after the Peel board reached out for help as it grappled with allegations of anti-Black racism, a trustee who referred to the diverse McCrimmon Middle School as “McCriminal,” and after a senior administrator in charge of anti-discrimination launched a human rights complaint.

So far, the review team has received more than 350 interview requests as well as email, mail and phone submissions, which they characterize as a “strong” public response.

The review began in December, and that month alone they spoke to 50 people, both individually and in groups.

Richard, a lawyer, was appointed later last month after concerns that no one from the Black community was on the front lines.

At the time, Lecce noted that the entire review was being overseen by assistant deputy education minister and human rights lawyer Patrick Case, a prominent member of the Black community who was part of a review team in 2017 — with Herbert — that issued a scathing report on racism and a lack of leadership in the York Region District School Board.

The trio filed their interim report on Peel to Lecce on Dec. 30, and their final report is due by spring.

In a statement, Lecce said he has met with the reviewers “to better understand their immediate observations of systemic anti-Black racism, and lack of adherence to governance, leadership, trustee conduct” and hiring and promotions practices.

“I believe students and families deserve better,” Lecce said. “It is my hope that the final report will build momentum for the transformational change racialized families are seeking, after a period of inaction.”

Their interim report says “we have received written and oral submissions from many individuals and groups representing diverse perspectives on the issues within the scope of the review.”

The reviewers have also been examining “various documentation, minutes of board meetings, board policies and data. We have consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities that speak to systemic and historical disparities between and across racial, ethnic and cultural groups with respect to access to programming, services, academic achievement, transitions to post-secondary education and the workforce, hiring, and promotion, as well as discipline measures both in education and employment.”

They go on to say that a “profound lack of respect (is) demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behaviour, and harassment. To date, these sentiments relate to leadership, governance, human resources, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and other forms of inequities put forward by students, parents, educators, staff, senior administrators, elected officials and community members who we have met with thus far.”

The Peel District School Board is the second largest in the province, with more than 155,000 students in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon schools, and about 17,000 staffers. Its student body is highly diverse, with the three largest groups identifying as South Asian (45 per cent), white (17 per cent) and Black (10 per cent).

So far, the reviewers say that “all stakeholders, from students and parents to educators, staff, senior administrators, trustees and community members, have expressed consensus that the review is a much needed intervention to better understand the challenging and compounding dynamics operating within the (Peel board) and broader community.”

However, there has been some criticism that given the tight timeline, the review will not be as comprehensive as needed. The reviewers say they will identify the problems and make recommendations, but more work will need to be done.

The board, they say, will need a “process that will allow community members to directly ‘speak their truth’ to trustees and senior staff” in order to “regain public confidence that will be necessarily longer-term and that will be monitored by the ministry,” they wrote.

Those they’ve interviewed “have told us that they expect that this review will assist the (Peel board) to become more transparent and responsive in its commitment to provide inclusive learning and working environments where all students and staff feel respected.”

Last month, Lecce himself met with some Peel community members who told him part of the problem is a lack of diversity among teachers.

Lecce said that Regulation 274, which was brought in under the former Liberal government, impedes boards in hiring because it forces schools to hire the most experience supply teachers for full-time jobs, rather than their top choice or who will be the best fit.

The regulation is a part of the current negotiating round between teacher unions and the province.

The Peel review team had at least 13 days of interviews in January — in Brampton, Mississauga, Malton, Etobicoke and Toronto — and notes that “considering the urgency to complete this review and the volume of requests to participate in the review process, we will not be able meet with everyone who has expressed interest” but promises that all written submissions will be looked at.

Lecce said he wants families to know the government “is listening and is fully committed to combating racism and improving equity and opportunity for their children.”

He pledged to “continue to empower students — notably from racialized communities — to be a part of the solution, to have a voice, and to work collaboratively to eliminate obstacles to academic success and well-being.”

Source: Racism probe finds ‘marginalization, discrimination, harassment’ in Peel school board