Appearance before the Senate Committee of Human Rights (RIDR) on the topic of policy grievances filed against the Commission

Speaking Notes

Charlotte Anne Malischewski

Interim Chief Commissioner
Canadian Human Rights Commission

Appearance before the Senate Committee of Human Rights (RIDR) on the topic of policy grievances filed against the Commission

May 8, 2023
5 minutes
5:00 pm

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Good evening honourable Senators,

Thank you for the invitation to appear before your committee.

I am joined today by my colleagues: Ian Fine, our Executive Director, and Holly Holtman, our Senior General Counsel and Director General of Legal Services.

We are humbled to gather on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabè Nation, now known as Ottawa.

As Canada’s National Human Rights Institution, the Commission has long acknowledged that systemic anti-Black racism is real in Canada. No organization is immune and it is up to all of us to uncover and reject all forms of racism and discrimination whenever they arise. And, that is exactly what the Commission is doing and will continue to do.

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.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission sincerely apologizes for any instances in which we fell short of our obligations, whether as an employer or service provider.

The Commission does not tolerate racism of any kind in our workplace. We are committed to providing our employees with a psychologically healthy, safe and respectful environment to do their important work.

We are fully prepared to undergo an independent third party workplace assessment – and we welcome a discussion of reforms to the Canadian Human Rights Act. We also understand that the Treasury Board Secretariat decisions have raised questions about the Commission that cannot go unanswered.

In July 2020, nine Black and racialized employees wrote a letter raising concerns about racism and discrimination in the workplace and how the Commission had been reviewing race-based complaints. This formed the basis of the Policy Grievances the unions filed that same year.

In March 2023, the Treasury Board Secretariat released its decisions regarding the Policy Grievances. They found a breach of the “no discrimination” clauses in the respective collective agreements and no breaches of the other clauses cited.

The Commission fully accepted the Treasury Board decisions and acknowledged, to our staff and the public, the very difficult fact that – employees experienced discrimination in our workplace.

We have, until now, refrained from commenting on specific instances in the workplace, based on our obligations to protect the privacy of all those involved. We now recognize we must go further.

Here’s what I can tell you: there were situations in our Complaints Services Branch in which employees responded in unprofessional and disrespectful ways to the contributions their Black and racialized colleagues made at work. This had a profound, negative impact, which we deeply regret and apologize for.

Let me be clear: When this happened, in 2020, the Commission took prompt and appropriate corrective action to address the misconduct.

But we did not stop there. Over the last nearly three years, we also took Commission-wide action to ensure that we are addressing the full scope of concerns raised. The Treasury Board acknowledged these positive actions in its decisions and did not order us to do more.

On the recommendation of the signatories to the letter, the Commission worked with an external, independent facilitator, Arlene Huggins, to create a confidential forum for employees to share their experiences.

The Commission also developed a comprehensive Anti-Racism Action Plan based on Ms. Huggins’ recommendations and with 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.

  • There are 23 people on the Commission’s executive team.
  • 83% of these executives belong to one or more of the four employment equity groups.
  • 35% of the Commission’s executive team are Black, racialized or Indigenous.

And as part of our Anti-Racism Action Plan:

  • We provided Commission-wide training to increase awareness and discussion around anti-black racism, and the impacts of systemic racism, colonialism, and trauma.
  • We provided psychological supports - including a dedicated trauma-informed counsellor – available to employees.
  • We established the Decolonization and Anti-Racism Committee – made up of Black, racialized, and Indigenous employees – as a forum for ongoing employee engagement, feedback and accountability related to all aspects of our work.
  • We struck a Network for Advancing Racial Equality to engage external Black and racialized stakeholders and rights holders in our work.
  • We worked with a former Vice-Chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to review how we handle race-based complaints and implemented his recommendations, which included revising our tools and approaches.
  • We continue to use non-advertised appointments, acting opportunities, and other flexible approaches to support our Black, racialized and Indigenous employees’ career development and progression.

The Commission has already seen meaningful results:

  • Since 2018, the Commission has reduced the dismissal rate for race-based complaints from 26% to 9%, and increased the rate at which race-based complaints are referred to Tribunal from 6% in 2018 to 21% in 2022.
  • And we are staying involved to make crucial legal arguments and present evidence in 93% of the race-based complaints that are before the Tribunal.

We have also heard the testimony of witnesses about the need to reform the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act. We echo many of those concerns. In fact, for years, we have been advocating for many of the changes they have called for.

In closing, the people who work at the Commission are 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. They are dedicated individuals who care deeply about uncovering and eliminating discrimination and racism in all its forms.

We are coming together to heal and effect change within our organization.

Thank you. We look forward to your questions.

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