Anti-racism work

Systemic racism is a persistent problem in Canada. No organization and no government is immune. It is up to all of us to uncover and reject all forms of racism and discrimination.

The Commission is made up of a diverse group of people, many of whom have lived experiences of the very kinds of discrimination that the Canadian Human Rights Act exists to protect. We are dedicated individuals who care deeply about uncovering and eliminating discrimination and racism in all its forms.

We are committed to doing what is necessary to ensure that everyone in Canada can trust in the Commission to conduct its work with integrity and accountability. We are committed to providing our employees with a psychologically safe, healthy and respectful environment to do their important work.

We have developed a comprehensive Anti-Racism Action Plan, informed by recommendations and input from employees, unions, stakeholders, and external experts. Every Commission executive is accountable for implementing this Plan, which is assessed in their yearly performance evaluations.

Our Anti-Racism Journey: Timeline

The Commission is committed to effecting and influencing systemic anti-racist change as an employer, a regulator, and as Canada’s national human rights institution. Here is a timeline of our actions to date. This work remains ongoing and is a permanent facet of our organization.

2023

  • The Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO) rendered decisions in relation to the policy grievances filed against us in 2020. OCHRO found that the Commission breached the ‘no-discrimination’ clauses of the respective collective agreements. OCHRO did not make any factual findings and found that there was no violation of the other clauses invoked, which included ‘managerial responsibilities’, ‘health and safety’, ‘career development’, ‘pay administration’ and ‘statement of duties’. OCHRO did not order any remedies and acknowledged that the Commission has already taken proactive steps to address these matters and that, by its very nature, this work will take time.
  • We fully accept the OCHRO decisions and believe the lived experiences of those who have experienced discrimination is what matters most. We remain open to working with the unions to address any outstanding issues and we remain deeply committed to our ongoing, evolving work to bringing about meaningful and measurable action to address systemic racism and discrimination.

2022

  • We continued to embed the various actions outlined in our 2021 Anti-Racism Action Plan across all our roles — an employer, service provider, as a regulator and as Canada's national human rights institution.
  • We published our second comprehensive Anti-Racism Action Plan Progress Report. It details how we are advancing anti-racism, equity and inclusion across our various roles. The report provides an update on the specific actions we have taken, the results we have achieved, and the next steps we will pursue to maintain our momentum.
  • We continued to make systemic improvements to our workplace —from strengthening our complaints screening process to improving access to justice for Indigenous, Black and racialized people across Canada. We have engaged with stakeholders, including members of our Network for Advancing Racial Equality, to inform continued improvements to our work.
  • We have completed 17.5% (7) of the actions outlined in our Anti-Racism Action Plan, while 52.5% (21) are in progress. The remaining 30% (12) of our actions have been integrated into our way of working.

    November: Following our internal employment equity audit, the Commission also engaged a qualified, racialized consultant with expertise in the field of anti-racism, equity and diversity in the federal public sector, to conduct an Employment Systems Review. The final report is available on the Commission’s website.

2021

  • January: We published the first draft of an Anti-Racism Action Plan.
  • We hired an independent third-party auditor to conduct an audit of the representation of the four groups designated under the Employment Equity Act, specifically Indigenous peoples, racialized people, people with disabilities, and women. It found that the Commission continues to have a strong representation of members from the four designated groups when compared to the availability in the Canadian workforce.
  • We have contracted a dedicated trauma-informed counsellor to offer additional support to employees who feel they have experienced the effects of racism.
  • We invested in additional training for Commission staff responsible for assessing complaints, as well as supporting legal and policy advisors. The training was comprehensive and covered topics such as conscious and unconscious/implicit bias, systemic racism, and more specifically:
    • January 2021: training sessions by Mark Hart, author of our 2020 commissioned report, “Strengthening the Commission's handling of Race-based Cases.”
    • March 8, 2021, training: Understanding Racial Trauma.
    • March 2021 training: “The Four Pillars of Trauma” course, delivered by Myrna McCallum to the Commission's complaints services staff and all our human rights officers.
    • Summer-Fall 2021: “Avoiding Harm when Discussing Racism,” by former Commissioner Edith Bramwell.
  • We submitted “Walking the Talk: An Open Letter on the Canadian Human Rights Commission's implementation of the Clerk's Call to Action on Anti-racism, Equity and Inclusion.
  • Following input from employees and the unions that represent them, as well as stakeholders and expert consultants, we published our revised Anti-Racism Action Plan.
  • We established the Decolonization and Anti-Racism Consultation Committee comprising a diverse team of Commission employees who, among several other responsibilities and functions, provide the perspectives of people with lived experience with racism to inform the evolution of the Commission's work.

2020

  • January: We commissioned Mark Hart to write a comprehensive report that has served as a foundational resource to inform improvements to our complaints processes as they relate specifically to race-based complaints.

    We then had Mark Hart develop and deliver multiple training sessions based on his report, “Strengthening the Commission's handling of Race-based Cases.”
  • March: We met with racialized experts from across Canada to hear their views on how the Commission can improve its processes for people filing race-based complaints. A comprehensive summary of the dialogue session can be found on our website: Canadian Human Rights Commission Dialogue Session with Representatives from Racialized Communities on Advancing Racial Equality in Canada.
  • We worked with an external facilitator to create a safe and confidential forum for Indigenous, Black and racialized employees to share their experiences at the Commission.
  • We launched a project to retroactively collect disaggregated race-based data from past complainants, and capture disaggregated race-based data for all new complaints. We continue to work to improve our approach to analyzing these data.
  • June: We announced that we had begun a journey of self-improvement to examine how racism can manifest itself within our organization and how it influences our daily work and the services we provide to Canadians. Read our 2020 statement: Walking the Talk - It's time for all of us to address systemic racism and discrimination, inside and out
  • September: We appointed a senior Commission official to lead and oversee the development of an action plan based on the recommendations from the roundtable and other consultations with stakeholders.
  • October: The Association of Justice Counsel (AJC), the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) filed policy grievances against the Commission.

2019

  • We called on Canada's newly elected Parliament to confront and address systemic racism in Canada.
  • We provided training to staff and our commissioners on how to recognize and correct unconscious and implicit bias in our thinking and our actions, facilitated by Dr. Rachel Zellars.
  • Human Rights Officers were taught specific techniques to identify the “subtle scent” of racism, which is often more difficult to present evidence for, compared for example, to complaints related to disability.

2018

  • Under the leadership of then Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry, we began taking a close look at how systemic racism can manifest itself within our organization, and how it might be influencing our daily work and the services we provide to people in Canada.
  • We took steps to change how we review cases so that we give greater care and scrutiny to complaints that alleged discrimination based on race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

A look at our role in anti-racism human rights cases

The Commission is responsible for mediating, settling and litigating key human rights cases with the aim to correct systemic forms of racism in Canada. It only takes one individual, one case to help create positive change for so many others. While the Commission is entirely separate from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, we often participate in Tribunal hearings and represent the public interest in cases that stand to impact the human rights of many people in Canada. Here are examples of human rights cases, in which we have participated, to help combat systemic racism.

CSIS affirms its commitment and actions to address and prevent racism and discrimination in human rights settlement

This settlement is the result of a complaint filed by a Black woman who worked for CSIS as an Intelligence Officer. The Commission referred the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (the “Tribunal”). CSIS, the Complainant and the Commission settled the matter without a Tribunal hearing. Although the parties do not necessarily agree on all of the matters raised in the complaint, they have agreed to the public interest remedies described in this statement.

In this settlement, CSIS re-affirms its commitment to:

  • promote greater diversity on selection panels, with the goal of including at least one representative from an employment equity group on all panels, to the greatest extent possible;
  • run an executive recruitment process for employees from employment equity groups and prioritize the placement of qualified participants into executive roles in areas where representation of the relevant group is lower than workforce availability;
  • give employees training on unconscious bias and anti-racism;
  • integrate discrimination as an explicit ground for appealing staffing decisions; and
  • review HR assessment tools to reduce potential for individual bias and subjectivity.

Read our full statement.

RCMP commits to addressing and preventing racial discrimination

In 2023, the Canadian Human Rights Commission reached a settlement with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP agreed to implement a variety of equity, diversity and inclusion measures aimed at identifying and combatting possible obstacles to the successful recruitment and retention of racialized applicants and cadets at the RCMP Training Academy at Depot Division, in Regina. The case began with a complaint to the Commission from an RCMP cadet, who identified as a Black Canadian, and who attended the RCMP Training Academy.

Thanks to his courage, changes are being made right now to address any barriers that underrepresented groups may face when trying to successfully complete their training curriculum at the RCMP Training Academy.

The RCMP has committed to identifying and reducing workplace barriers and discrimination by taking steps to improve the experience of racialized employees at the RCMP, in particular at the RCMP Training Academy. The RCMP has also committed to taking proactive steps — in policy and training — to prevent and address racism, and to increasing the diversity of applicants and cadets at the RCMP Training Academy, as well as across the RCMP, and among those in leadership roles.

Terms of Settlement

National Film Board of Canada to better protect Inuit culture

In 2023, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) reached an agreement to settle a human rights complaint before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal about systemic discrimination in the workplace. The complainant, Mr. Stephen Puskas (who agreed to be named), was a young Inuk man who worked at the NFB as an associate producer intern in 2017–2018. He worked on multiple projects, including Hothouse 12 and Ingenia, the NFB's Indigenous Cinema webpage, and helping to promote the NFB and their work in Indigenous communities (ie. the Wide Awake Tour in Labrador and Kuujjuaq.)

Because of his courage and resilience, and with the support of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), Mr. Puskas helped bring about powerful changes within the NFB, including.

  • NFB agreeing to provide mandatory training, to all its employees, on Inuit History and Inuit lived experience. The NFB will work with an Inuit consultant when developing this training;
  • NFB agreeing to work closely with Inuit agencies in developing an Indigenous internship program at the NFB during the 2023–24 fiscal year;
  • NFB agreeing to work with Inuit Human Resources consultation firms and/or advisors to ensure proper outreach is carried out in Inuit communities; and
  • NFB's restating its commitment to its Indigenous Action Plan, which references First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

The rights of Indigenous prisoners in federal corrections

The 2018 Supreme Court decision in Ewert was an important step for the human rights of Indigenous offenders in Canada, who remain over-represented in our federal correctional system. The case centered around the use of risk assessment tests that help determine an inmate's safety risk based on their criminal history, personal characteristics and other various factors. However, there were questions about whether these tools could provide accurate assessments for Indigenous offenders, like Jeffrey Ewert. If not, Indigenous offenders could be misclassified as higher risk than they actually are. That kind of misclassification puts an inmate at a disadvantage in the correctional system.

The Commission appeared as an intervener before the Supreme Court.

In its decision, the Court ruled that Correctional Service Canada (CSC) failed to meet its legal obligations by not confirming the accuracy of the testing tools for Indigenous offenders. The ruling said that CSC must do more to ensure that risk assessment tests do not lead to discrimination and disparity in outcomes for Indigenous offenders.

The Supreme Court's ruling affirmed what has long been pointed out by the Commission, by the Office of the Correctional Investigator, and by prisoners' rights advocates: more work needs to be done to prevent discrimination and meet the unique needs of Indigenous offenders in the criminal justice system.

Racial profiling is prohibited by the Canadian Human Rights Act

In 2006, Ms. Davis, a member of the Mohawk Community of Akwesasne, filed a complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of race after she was detained at the border by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). The Commission appeared as a party before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which upheld Ms. Davis' complaint in part. The Tribunal found that a CBSA officer made comments that were “unjustified, even aggressive, and defiant” and that his behaviour was “marked by racist stereotyping” towards Ms. Davis as a First Nations woman.

The Tribunal affirmed that “racial stereotyping will usually be the result of subtle unconscious beliefs, biases and prejudices.” The Tribunal awarded Ms. Davis $5,000 in compensation and directed the CBSA to develop and implement a policy specifically prohibiting racial discrimination and profiling.

When the CBSA tried to have the Tribunal's decision overturned, the Commission successfully defended the decision in the Federal Court.

The rights of First Nations children and their families

In 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, together with the Assembly of First Nations, filed a human rights complaint against the Government of Canada, on behalf of First Nations children and families. The complainants alleged the federal government discriminated on the basis of race and national or ethnic origin by failing to provide enough funding and other supports to enable the delivery of child and family services, and other services, capable of meeting the real needs of First Nations children on reserve and in the Yukon.

The complaint proceeded before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, where the Canadian Human Rights Commission participated, on behalf of the public interest. The Tribunal hearing took place over 70 days in 2013 and 2014. There were more than 25 witnesses, and over 500 exhibits.

In January of 2016, the Tribunal released its decision upholding the complaint. It ordered the federal government to reform the child and family services program, and to properly implement Jordan's Principle – a child-first principle that makes sure First Nations children can access the products, services and supports they need, when they need them.

Since 2016, the Tribunal has issued more than 20 additional rulings, giving guidance on the proper implementation of its remedies, and awarding financial compensation to thousands of individual victims of the discriminatory practices.

The Commission applauds the Tribunal's decisions as powerful reaffirmations of the human right of all First Nations children to grow up safe, with the love and support of their families.

Systemic racial discrimination in federal government selection procedures

In 1992, the National Capital Alliance on Race Relations alleged that Health Canada's employment practices discriminated against racialized employees by denying them promotions to senior management positions. At the time, only one of 118 people in senior management was a member of a racialized group. This compared with a 25% representation rate for racialized employees across the whole department.

The Commission participated in the hearing before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which lasted 46 days. Together with the Alliance, we argued that the staffing and promotion practices were denying racialized people employment and advancement opportunities. For example, the hiring and promotion boards were composed disproportionately of white individuals; racialized people were offered less career and development training than white people, and were less often appointed in acting positions with supervisory duties.

The Tribunal issued its decision in 1997, upholding the complaint. It confirmed that systemic discrimination could be an unintentional consequence of employment systems and practices. It confirmed that in this case, the Alliance and the Commission had successfully demonstrated that there were “a number of staffing practices of [Health Canada] that have a disproportionately negative effect on visible minorities in [Health Canada] which the Tribunal finds discriminatory.” Since Health Canada had chosen not to try to explain the significant under-representation of racialized employees in senior management, the Tribunal held that the Alliance and the Commission had proven that Health Canada had discriminatory promotion practices.

While the Alliance case was systemic in nature, a number of individual public servants filed complaints alleging their careers had been negatively affected in similar ways. The Tribunal upheld a number of these, including complaints filed by Dr. Shiv Chopra against Health Canada, and Dr. Chander Grover against the National Research Council. Along with the Alliance case, these rulings helped to establish important principles for identifying and eliminating systemic discrimination in federal workplaces.

The rights of Sikh members of the RCMP

Today, Sikh Canadians who join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police don't have to choose between wearing the RCMP uniform and following their religious practices. They can do both. But things were once very different.

When Baltej Singh Dhillon applied to be an RCMP officer in 1988, he was told that the RCMP's uniform policy did not allow him to wear his turban. For Staff Sergeant Dhillon, this meant that if he wanted to join the force, he would have to compromise his religious beliefs.

Staff Sergeant Dhillon's efforts to change the rules sparked a heated debate across Canada. Some felt that Canada's history and traditions were threatened by the country's growing cultural diversity.

In 1990, after consulting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act, Solicitor General Pierre Cadieux ruled that turbans could be worn by uniformed RCMP officers. He said the decision was “not only the correct one in law but also the right decision.”

When the ruling was challenged three years later, the Canadian Human Rights Commission was there to help defend the RCMP's decision to allow turbans. In the end, the 1990 ruling was upheld, and today, officers can choose to wear their Sikh turban while also proudly wearing their RCMP uniform.

The “subtle scent” of racial discrimination

On May 25th, 1984, Mr. Balbir Basi filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging that he, a man of Indian descent, had been denied an employment opportunity with the Canadian National Railway Company (CNR) because of his race, color and national and ethnic origin.

The case eventually went before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The Commission appeared as a party in this matter. At the Tribunal hearing, the CNR attempted to provide alternate explanations for its failure to hire Mr. Basi, but the Tribunal found those explanations inconsistent with the reasons CNR gave for interviewing 5 other candidates.

In its final decision, the Tribunal wrote: “Discrimination is not a practise which one would expect to see displayed overtly. In fact, rarely are there cases where one can show by direct evidence that discrimination is purposely practised.” The Tribunal then famously wrote: “Frankly, the subtle scent of discrimination permeates the entire manner in which the CNR dealt with the Human Rights Commission in attempting to justify their actions regarding Basi. I am left with the conclusion that the rationale for not hiring Mr. Basi, as described by [CNR], was not as innocent, direct nor reasonable as first proposed.”

The idea of the subtle scent of discrimination has since become a widely referenced phrase among human rights lawyers, experts, and anti-racism advocates. It perfectly captures the challenging burden of proof often placed upon those who have experienced racism, and the need for decision-makers to look deeper and beyond direct evidence.

In the end, the Tribunal ruled in Mr. Basi and the Commission's favour — that CNR had not provided a sufficient credible explanation as to why Mr. Basi had not been selected for the job.

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Join the CHRC’s Network for Advancing Racial Equality!

The Canadian Human Rights Commission is committed to advancing racial equality in Canada.

This is why we are eager to cultivate new relationships and nurture existing ones by striking a network for advancing racial equality. This network will be national in scope, and will include intersectional and culturally diverse representation. It will create a forum for ongoing dialogue and engagement with the Commission about grassroots experiences of racialized people from stakeholders, advocacy organizations and individuals that have their fingers on the pulse of these communities.

The Commission would be happy to count you as a member of this new network. To express your interest in joining this network please register by filling out the form below.

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