BOPSers call for a public service ‘free of anti-Black racism’

By Lincoln DePradine

Steven Davidson and Osborne G. Barnwell

A Toronto lawyer says almost four weeks after writing Steven Davidson, secretary to the cabinet of Premier Doug Ford, about Black employees’ experience of a “corrosive’’ and “toxic workplace’’ in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), he is yet to receive a response from Davidson.

“Do I expect him to write me? It would be good if he were to write me back,’’ attorney Osborne G. Barnwell told The Caribbean Camera.

In his July 23 letter to Davidson, who is head of the OPS, Barnwell describes himself as “a legal adviser’’ to the Black Ontario Public Service Employees Network (BOPSers).

In June, BOPSers held  a “silent protest’’ on the grounds of the Ontario legislature at Queen’s Park, calling on the Conservative government to set up an independent task force to “review all existing systems and processes in order to reform and adequately address the problems of anti-Black racism’’.

BOPSers chair Elvalyn Brown said  “many Black employees face an organizational culture of fear and intimidation, subtly and overtly, making it impossible for them to do their job and serve the people of Ontario’’.

The allegations are repeated in Barnwell’s letter, which claims that Black workers in the public service have had to deal with “the full and corrosive impact of a toxic workplace’’.

BOPSers and Ontario’s Black community, the letter says, want a public service “free of anti-Black racism’’ and are interested in seeing “visible transformative strides to build a better province’’.

Davidson became interim cabinet secretary on February 1, 2019 and was formally appointed to that position four months later . He succeeded Steve Orsini who resigned as cabinet secretary on January 31, 2019.

Orsini had a “very open door’’ approach to BOPSers, Barnwell said. “He listened to them in terms of how he can combat anti-Black racism. When Davidson came,

he decided to close the doors and not have BOPSers at the table.’’

Among the demands of BOPSers, made through their lawyer’s letter, are the setting of “specific and significant targets’’ to assist “over-qualified Black women move from clerical administrative positions’’; and also for steps to be taken for Black OPS employees to transition and advance into programs of internship, leadership and management.

In addition, they’re recommending minimum annual funding of $50,000 to assist BOPSers with its work, “as a visible symbol’’ of the Black employees’ group’s “importance and value’’.

BOPSers members are also unhappy that the ant-racism directorate has been taken away from the cabinet office and placed under the ministry of the solicitor general of Ontario.

The shift to the solicitor general’s ministry, says BOPSers, reinforces the stereotype that “Black people are inherently criminal and that anti-racism efforts, therefore, ought to be led by the corrections officials’’.

They want the directorate returned to the cabinet office and be “well-funded and staffed with people who have deep expertise in anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and in lndigeneity’’.

For too many Black Ontario public workers, “there is sincere frustration that things are not moving as they should’’, said Barnwell, and their “dreams, their opportunities, their hopes, they’ve been hijacked by anti-Black racism’’.

The idea of the letter to Davidson, he said, is for him “to take notice’’ that people are watching and are concerned; and that Black people in the OPS and in the wider community “are not sleeping’’.

Barnwell said with global “uprisings’’, sparked by protests in the United States led by the Black Lives Matter movement, expectations on administrations and institutions have been raised, and “the world is demanding fundamental change in systemic and systematic racism within institutions such as the OPS’’.

“With these heightened expectations,’’ added Barnwell, “there comes this pandering of, ‘we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that’. Yet, there is no real effort to address the many aches and pains, for lack of a better word, that Black people have been going through at the OPS.’’

BOPSers is seeking “to make Ontario a place of justice for all’’, Barnwell said.