The intersection of Law and Policy

By Mark M. Persaud LL.B., L.L.M.

The public admonition of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) leadership, by the Minister of Public Safety, on the issue of gender discrimination has been widely reported recently in the media. This should serve as a grave reminder that discrimination in the public service is a reality faced by women and minorities on a regular basis and that there is an urgent need to address it. The public service, of all places, should be a model work environment.

Indeed, it should be a workplace where employees are treated with fairness, dignity and respect. It should necessarily set a high standard for the private sector. The issue of discrimination is not unique to the RCMP. Notwithstanding its problems, the RCMP is largely a force of highly professional men and women that we should take pride in as Canadians.

I am proud to have worked as legal counsel to our national police force for about two years and with many officers over the years during my tenure as a prosecutor. Regrettably, other cabinet minister and senior government officials have consistently failed to address this important issue including the federal Minister of Justice.

This Minister has yet to deal appropriately with racism at the Department of Justice despite this serious problem being brought to the forefront before a senate committee that I was invited to testify before.

The senators preferred my evidence on the subject over the denials of the then Deputy Minister of Justice. Furthermore, my testimony was subsequently corroborated by a significant number of visible minority lawyers from the Department of Justice who experienced direct and systemic racism.

Discrimination of this nature not only dehumanizes women and minorities but also invariably brings the administration of justice into disrepute. It is high time that our elected representatives and senior government officials retreat from their denials or stop minimizing this serious problem. They must acknowledge the gravity of the problem then take credible and decisive measures to address discrimination in the federal public service. It would be a folly to continue to ignore this egregious issue as the increasing importance of women and visible minorities as voters could easily prompt these important constituencies to exercise their displeasure at the polls.

Mark Persaud is a senior counsel and adjunct law professor. He was called to the Ontario Bar in 1993 and held a broad range of positions with the Department of Justice as a prosecutor, counsel to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and civil litigation counsel. He studied political science at York University and obtained his law degrees from Osgoode Hall Law School . He also studied at the Center for Study of Values in Public Life at Harvard University. He is the recipient of many awards and recognitions for his civic and public sector contributions including a Public Sector Gold Key Award in 2007 from Osgoode Hall Law School and being nominated by the diplomatic community for the prestigious 2006 Seoul Peace Prize He is a litigation counsel with a practice in civil and criminal litigation.