A group of Black civil servants in Canada has filed a formal complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Council, alleging systemic racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance within the Canadian federal government. This bold move has garnered support from prominent figures such as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Amnesty International Canada. It comes on the heels of a class-action lawsuit filed in 2020, which claimed that the government’s hiring and promotion practices systematically discriminate against thousands of public servants based on their race.
The Black Class Action Secretariat, an organization spearheading this initiative, argues that the federal government has failed to act in good faith and has been uncooperative in addressing the longstanding issues of racial discrimination and inequality faced by Black civil servants. According to Nicholas Marcus Thompson, the executive director of the Black Class Action Secretariat, the government’s continued delays and its utilization of significant resources to deny justice to Black employees in the courts have forced them to seek international intervention. Thompson asserts that “Black Canadians are going to wait a very long time for justice within Canada, so we have turned to the international community to hold Canada accountable to international obligations.”
This complaint, formally submitted to the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, marks a significant escalation in the efforts to address systemic racism in Canada. The move underscores the determination of these civil servants to seek justice and redress on a global platform, emphasizing the gravity of the issue.
In response to this escalating situation, Mona Fortier, president of the Treasury Board, is scheduled to meet with Nicholas Marcus Thompson this week. In her official statement, Fortier acknowledges that many Black Canadians still face discrimination and hatred and expresses the government’s commitment to addressing these issues. She points to various government actions taken to address discrimination, including the passage of legislation, the creation of support and development programs, and the publication of disaggregated data. However, she concedes that there is still much more work to be done.
The original lawsuit, filed in Federal Court, alleges that as many as 30,000 Black civil servants have faced discrimination and have been denied opportunities and benefits solely because of their race. The discrimination is said to have persisted since the 1970s, affecting multiple generations of Black public servants. The statement of claim asserts that the lawsuit seeks damages to compensate Black public servants for the severe psychological and economic hardships they have endured due to systemic discrimination. Moreover, the plaintiffs are calling for a comprehensive plan to diversify the federal labor force and eliminate the persistent barriers that even employment equity laws have failed to remove.
Critics, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Nicholas Marcus Thompson, accuse the federal government of intentionally delaying court proceedings and not fully cooperating in addressing systemic racism. Singh asserts that “This Liberal government continues to say one thing to Black Canadians and then does another when it comes down to it.” However, in her official statement, Fortier maintains that the court has provided a clear roadmap outlining the next steps and timeline in the legal process, and the government is fully committed to respecting these requirements.
The involvement of Amnesty International adds further weight to these allegations. Ketty Nivyabandi, Amnesty International’s secretary-general in Canada, argues that Canada is in violation of its international human rights commitments, including the right to non-discrimination, by failing to effectively address systemic racism. Under international law, Canada has a positive obligation to take specific and concrete measures to eliminate discrimination in employment. Nivyabandi underscores that it is the government’s responsibility to address discrimination proactively and comprehensively.
As this complaint proceeds at the international level, the issue of systemic racism and discrimination within Canada’s civil service remains a topic of significant concern and debate. The actions of the federal government and the outcomes of this legal battle will undoubtedly shape the future of racial equality in Canada’s public sector. Many are watching closely to see if Canada will live up to its international obligations and take decisive action to address the deeply rooted issues of racism and discrimination faced by Black civil servants.
The decision to elevate this complaint to the international stage demonstrates the urgency and gravity of the situation and reinforces the commitment of Black civil servants to achieving justice and equality in the workplace. It serves as a stark reminder that the fight against systemic racism is far from over and that the struggle for justice and equality continues on multiple fronts, both within and beyond Canada’s borders.