Canadian government announces initiatives to support Black public servants

Canadian government announces initiatives to support mental health and career growth of Black public servants

By Lincoln DePradine

The Canadian government, which has been accused of not doing enough to address reports of racism and discrimination against Black employees in the federal public service, now plans on dealing with the problem through a series of initiatives, including a new investment of nearly $6 million in a program to be carried out by Health Canada.

Nicholas Marcus Thompson

The initiatives, comprising what’s described as “two pillars’’, were unveiled yesterday as part of what the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls “first steps’’ in an “action plan to support Black public servants’’.

“The first pillar, founded on $5.9 million of funding, is for Health Canada to introduce Black-centred enhancement to the employee assistance program,’’ Anita Anand, Liberal MP for Oakville and president of the Treasury Board, told reporters at a news conference.

“There is already an employee assistance program in place and what we are now doing is ensuring that there are counsellors, specifically for Black employees. And these counsellors themselves will be Black and able to understand and address the targeted support that we have heard Black public servants want and need,’’said Anand.

Anita Anand

 “The second pillar of support’’,  she said, “relates to leadership and career development’’.

It’s an executive leadership program, for some categories of Black employees, that will be conducted through the Canada School of Public Service.

“The program will be delivered to four cohorts of Black executives, a total of a hundred individuals over two years, starting this summer,’’ Anand revealed.

“These Black-centred programs will support the mental health and career growth of Black public servants and complement the deliberate focus on increasing the representation of Black leaders in existing leadership development programs.’’

Complaints by African-Canadian federal workers, of racism and discrimination, led to the filing of a class action lawsuit in December 2020.

The lawsuit was filed by the non-profit “Black Class Action Secretariat’’ and its executive director Nicholas Marcus Thompson, an award-winning human rights advocate, who also has served as a union representative for workers at the Canada Revenue Agency.

The group said it was seeking $2.5 billion in compensation for roughly 30,000 Black civil service employees, dating back to 1970.

Thompson has travelled to Geneva, Switzerland, to testify at a United Nations’ meeting on the experiences of Canada’s Black federal civil servants.

“It is very important that the international community is aware of what is happening in Canada and that Canada is required to respect its human rights obligations,’’ Thompson said at the time.

The government, in a news release coinciding with Anand’s announcement  yesterday, expressed a commitment to “fostering a safe, healthy, and inclusive environment, where Black public servants are equally recognized for their important contributions and provided every opportunity to succeed’’.

The government, in reiterating its commitment, pointed to a sum of close to $50 million in 2022 and 2023 budgetary allocations “to creating career development programs and a mental health fund for Black public servants’’.

It said that “in budget 2023 – following the invaluable work of several Black public servants’ networks in 2022 – the government of Canada committed an additional $45.9 million to complement the initial funding in budget 2022 for a Black mental health fund. As a result, nearly $50 million is supporting the creation and development of the Action Plan for Black Public Servants to establish career development programs and mental health supports for Black public servants’’.

With all the government is doing to address the complaints of Black employees, it still has more work to do, Anand said yesterday.

“To be frank, we haven’t done enough and we haven’t done it fast enough,’’ she admitted. “From a pay equity standpoint, from a systemic discrimination standpoint, we have work to do.’’

Government is determined to have a public service “where systemic discrimination and inequality are not the reality’’, said Anand, a lawyer by profession.

The spending on the Action Plan and the programs to be undertaken by Health Canada and the Canada School of Public Service follow the signing of three memoranda of understanding with the departments, and are based on recommendations gathered from engagement with Black federal workers, Anandsaid.

“I am here today to commit, on behalf of the government of Canada, to do better,’’ she said, promising to “work alongside Black public servants’’ in implementing the Action Plan.

“I know that there is more work to do, but we will keep working with Black public servants to address and prevent all forms of anti-Black Racism. Diversity and inclusion, these are words that many of us use all the time; but we have to learn towalk the walk and talk the talk,’’ Anand said.

“We have more road to travel and I look forward to doing it with you,’’ she added.