Ontario Govt committed to take steps against racism in public service


This follows a complaint by Black Ontario Public Service Employees Network

Steven Davidson and Osborne G. Barnwell

Last August we reported on a complaint made by the Black Ontario Public Service Employees Network (BOPSers) to the Ontario Provincial government about anti-black racism in the Ontario Public Service (OPS).

In a letter to Steven Davidson, secretary to the cabinet of Premier Doug Ford,

The #BOPSers described a “corrosive” and “toxic workplace” in the OPS.

Last 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’’.

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

The letter to Davidson repeated the complaint and called for a public service “free

of anti-Black racism’’ and said it wanted to see “visible transformative strides to

build a better province’’. The letter called for setting 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. They also recommended that they be granted a minimum annual budget of $50,000.00 to assist BOPSers with its work, “as a visible symbol’’ of the Black employees’ group’s “importance and value’’.

According to their legal representative, attorney Osborne G. Barnwell, the idea of the letter to Davidson was 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’’.

The letter precipitated a review of OPS workplace practices. The Third-Party Review of OPS Inclusive Workplace Policies and Programs was just released to Secretary of the Cabinet and the Deputy Ministers.

In a message from his department, the Secretary stated that the experiences and issues recounted in the reports were deeply concerning. And goes on to say that “The society we live in — its history, its culture and its institutions — has been shaped by colonization, slavery, racism and xenophobia that has privileged White people and has restricted access to opportunities and affected outcomes for Indigenous, Black and racialized people. In addition, the mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people and persons with disabilities remains pervasive.”

Admitting that the issues recounted in the reports are not new. It said that impacts of anti-Black racism were highlighted in the previous Independent External Review of Complex WDHP Cases (“Huggins Review”).

“Despite initiatives implemented over the years, the Third-Party Review found that systemic racism, discrimination and employment barriers continue to harm the wellbeing and careers of OPS employees who are Indigenous, Black, racialized, LGBTQ+ and employees with disabilities.”

Acknowledging the right to respectful, equitable treatment at work, the release goes on to apologize “for the harm caused to Black employees by the prevalence and severity of anti-Black racism in the workplace….for the harm caused to Indigenous employees by the pervasiveness of anti-Indigenous racism in the workplace” and “to all employees who have faced all other forms of racism, as well as discrimination, harassment and barriers because of your creed, sexuality, gender identity and/or your disabilities.”

The government committed itself to take concrete steps to address the root causes of racism, discrimination and harassment in the OPS and pledged to “ensure action and hold our organizations, and each other, accountable” and to share open, transparent and regular reports with the OPS employees.