Opening remarks at CHRC Employee Town Hall
Interim Chief Commissioner
Canadian Human Rights Commission
Opening remarks at CHRC Employee Town Hall
March 22, 2023
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Good afternoon, everyone.
I would like to thank all you for being here today.
Ramadan Mubarek to all those who are celebrating.
Like Melanie, I am speaking to you from Ottawa, the traditional homeland of the Anishinabe. And since many of you are joining me virtually from other parts of the country, I also want to acknowledge and honour that from coast to coast, we are meeting on the ancestral lands of many Indigenous people whose culture and presence have nurtured and continue to nurture this land.
At the Commission, we have a particular responsibility related to addressing colonial legacy and systemic racism. We must approach our duty toward reconciliation with humility and openness.
For those of you who can’t see me, I am a white women with dark brown hair, rounded glasses, and I am wearing a red and white blouse and a black blazer.
The conversation we are about to have is not an easy one and it doesn’t help that you are all still getting to know me.
Since November, when Marie-Claude’s term ended and I was asked to take on the role of Chief Commissioner on an interim basis, I have had the pleasure of meeting and working directly many of you. I look forward to continuing to get to know and learn from you all.
I know that trust takes time and demonstrable action. Please know that I am committed to giving you both.
We have the benefit of simultaneous translation at today’s town hall. That said, there are things I want you to hear from me, directly. So, at times, I may repeat myself in the other language.
We are gathered today to talk about a decision rendered by the Treasury Board – specifically, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, or “OCHRO”.
On Thursday afternoon, articles citing parts of OCHRO’s decision – as well as parts of the grievances and union submissions – began to circulate, and were quickly picked up by outlets across the country.
While the management team and I mobilized quickly to engage in a dialogue with all of you, we decided to postpone our planned meeting from Friday to today, because there was interest in attending from union representatives, whom we have invited to observe today.
As I mentioned in my email to you on Friday afternoon, the values of transparency, openess, and humility are paramount to me and to all senior management.
So I'm grateful that you made yourself available to meet with us on such short notice last Friday, and for doing so again by being here today.
This conversation is deeply important.
The decisions rendered by OCHRO are in response to what are called “policy grievances” that were filed in 2020 by:
- the Association of Justice Counsel – AJC,
- the Public Service Alliance of Canada – P-SAC, and
- the Canadian Association of Professional Employees – “CAPE.”
A “policy grievance” is a grievance that seeks to address systemic matters. It is brought by Bargaining Agents, rather than individual employees.
In this case, the policy grievances alleged that “policies, procedures, practices and attitudes” at the Commission had a negative impact on Black and racialized employees, and that there were “barriers to their advancement, health, safety and overall well-being.”
On March 6, OCHRO released their responses to these grievances. Due to the confidential nature of the decisions, we could not and did not share them with you when we received them.
Policy grievances, like individual grievances are confidential processes between unions and employers – and it is up to the unions who file them to decide what to do with these decisions, including whether and with whom they share them.
It was important for us to allow time for unions to provide information related to the decisions with its members, and to discuss next steps.
That being said, given that some parts of the policy grievances decisions were shared in the media and that certain documents related have been published online, Ian and I felt it was important for us to talk to you.
For anyone who doesn’t already know, in its decisions:
- OCHRO found that the Commission breached the ‘no-discrimination’ clauses of the respective collective agreements between Treasury Board and AJC, P-S-A-C, and CAPE.
- OCHRO also found that the Commission did not violate the other clauses invoked in their grievances.
- OCHRO further noted in its decision that the Commission had already been taking proactive steps to address the matters raised in the grievances and has encouraged the Commission and the bargaining agents to engage in mediation.
As we communicated to you by email on Thursday and confirmed to the media, we accept the findings. We recognize that employees experienced discrimination in our workplace.
Ian and I take this matter very seriously. So does the entire management team.
As leaders who strive to ensure a diverse, respectful and inclusive working environment for all employees, we take full accountability for the findings, and are devastated by the impact they are having on each of you.
Your well-being is top of mind for me.
Ian and I recognize that all of this is hardest on those of you who are Black, Indigenous, and racialized.
And we appreciate that the decisions and media coverage may be distressing and triggering.
We also understand that when things are moving quickly, but we are missing information, it can make the whole situation feel even more overwhelming.
When we say that this process is ongoing, it is because we hope to work with the bargaining agents and OCHRO to find meaningful and respectful resolutions to any outstanding issues.
And while that process is ongoing, we continue to do the work we must do to bring about meaningful change in our workplace.
Our Anti-Racism Action Plan charts our path forward.
This Action Plan was developed with input from you, as well as unions and experts, like Charles Smith, with whom we continue to collaborate regularly. It outlines 49 commitments towards action to transform our workplace.
While we are making progress, we are also learning new things along the way, and are therefore eager to continue to strengthen our anti-racist actions to ensure they are effective and responsive in addressing systemic racism and discrimination.
But we know we cannot do this alone. We all have a role to play in ensuring its success.
Ian and I are therefore eager to continue engaging with you, with our Decolonization and Anti-Racism Consultation Committee, with stakeholders and rights holders, with allies and with external experts to advance this important work.
And as leaders of this organization, you have our commitment that we will remain vigilant in addressing concerns that are raised with us about your experiences in the workplace, and in ensuring an inclusive and welcoming work environment that promotes a sense of value, belonging, and well-being for all.
Thank you for your time and attention. Ian, I will pass the floor to you.
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