Black civil servants take Government to UN Human Rights tribunal

UN Human Rights

Black civil servants are ramping up their pressure on the federal government by filing a complaint with the United Nations alleging Ottawa violated their civil rights.

The complaint by the Black Class Action Secretariat is being sent to the UN Commission for Human Rights Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

It follows a class action lawsuit the same group filed against the federal government accusing it of systemic racism, discrimination and employee exclusion.

“This complaint details systemic and anti-Black racism in hiring and promotions within Canada’s federal public service,” said Nicholas Marcus Thompson, executive director of the Black Class

Ketty Nivyabandi

Action Secretariat.

“With this complaint, we are elevating Canada’s past failures and failure to act in the present to an international body.”

Thompson told a news conference in Ottawa that the secretariat hopes the UN special rapporteur investigates its claims and calls on Canada to meet its international obligations to Black employees by establishing a plan to increase opportunities for Black women in the government and develop specific targets for hiring and promoting Black workers.

Amnesty International threw its weight behind the complaint, noting that 70 per cent of the 1,500 employees who have joined the class action are Black women.

“This is contrary to the feminist commitments made by the Canadian government,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.

In addition to supporting the complaint, Nivyabandi also called on the government to establish a designated category under the Employment Equity Act for Black employees. Canada has launched a task force to review this legislation.

Nicholas Marcus Thompson and members of the Black Class Action Secretariat

The stated purpose of the Employment Equity Act is to “correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and New Democrat MP Matthew Green were at Wednesday’s news conference on Parliament Hill to offer their support.

“On behalf of all New Democrats, as leader of the party, I want to express my full solidarity,” Singh said. “Their call for justice, in this case, their call for equity … is something that we fully support.”

Mona Fortier, president of the Treasury Board, is set to meet with Thompson this week. She said that far too many Black Canadians still face discrimination and hate.

“The government is actively working to address harms and to create a diverse and inclusive public service free from harassment and discrimination. We passed legislation, created support and development programs, and published disaggregated data — but know there is still more to do,” Fortier said in a media statement.

The lawsuit filed in Federal Court alleges that, going back to the 1970s, roughly 30,000 Black civil servants have lost out on “opportunities and benefits afforded to others based on their race.”

The statement of claim says the lawsuit is seeking damages to compensate Black public servants for their mental and economic hardships. Plaintiffs are also asking for a plan to finally diversify the federal labour force and eliminate barriers that even employment equity laws have been unable to remove.