Canadian Human Rights Commission discriminates against its own Black employees, Senate committee finds

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard said that Black Canadians have lost trust in the commission.

Canadian Human Rights Commission discriminates against its own Black employees, Senate committee finds
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The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) mistreats its own Black employees and has a toxic workplace culture, found a study by the Senate Committee on Human Rights. 

As reported by Blacklock's Reporter, in a report released Monday titled Anti-Black Racism, Sexism And Systemic Discrimination In The Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Senate committee examined claims by Black employees of the CHRC that the commission is biased against Black Canadians. 

The report was prompted by a set of grievances levelled against the CHRC by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Association of Justice Counsel and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees. In March 2023, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat found that the commission had breached anti-discrimination clauses in three separate collective agreements. The Senate committee heard testimony on the issue from 24 witnesses throughout May 2023, in addition to written submissions. 

"Allegations of anti-Black racism have raised concerns about the CHRC’s treatment of its own employees, as well as its decision-making processes when dealing with complaints," wrote the committee. 

The CHRC is the 'gatekeeper' agency which serves as the first step in registering a human rights complaint at the federal level. If the commission is satisfied that a complaint meets certain criteria and there is reasonable basis for it, it can refer the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for further inquiry. 

Current and former employees at the CHRC allege that there are “deeply entrenched biases against racialized complainants." These biases were presented as one reason why race-based complaints made to the commission are dismissed at a higher rate than other types of complaints. In 2018, only 6% of cases based on race, colour, or national or ethnic origin were referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

A former employee also said they had attended “countless meetings within the Complaints branch where racist comments have been made about Black, Indigenous, and Muslim people.” 

"There were situations in our Complaints Services Branch in which employees responded in unprofessional and disrespectful ways to the contributions their Black and racialized colleagues made at work," the CHRC acknowledged in testimony before the Senate committee. 

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard said that Black Canadians have lost trust in the commission. Bernard said this was "worse than not having a human rights commission at all because they are discriminating against the very population they promised to protect.”

Among 11 total recommendations, the Senate committee called for Parliament to establish a Black Equity Commissioner to investigate systemic racism within the CHRC and the public service more broadly. The committee also recommended hiring an independent expert to perform a workplace review of the CHRC, focusing on anti-Black discrimination. 

"The committee agrees that federal leadership is needed to combat racism and foster a culture of rights in Canada. However, for that leadership to be effective, systemic racism must be eradicated from the federal public service itself," the report stated. 

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