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Groups bring allegations of racism at Canadian Human Rights Commission to global body

February 27, 2024
The Canadian Press

Nicholas Marcus Thompson is shown in Toronto on Thursday, April 29, 2021. A coalition of Black organizations have filed for a special review of the Canadian Human Rights Commissions' accreditation status, saying the body continues to violate international human rights law in its treatment of Black people. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
By Alessia Passafiume in Ottawa

A coalition of federal unions and organizations representing Black workers has filed an international complaint against the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The eight organizations say the body that handles human-rights complaints against the federal government is violating global law because of its treatment of Black employees.

“The Canadian Human Rights Commission, which should be at the forefront of promoting and protecting human rights, advocating for change as Canada’s human-rights protector, has itself been discriminatory,” said Nicholas Marcus Thompson, executive director of the Black Class Action Secretariat.

“Today, we demand accountability.”


The groups are requesting that the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions review the commission’s accreditation.

They say their effort underlines the urgent need for reform. The alliance is headquartered in Geneva and works closely with the United Nations.

A December Senate report on anti-Black racism in the commission found a “crisis of confidence” in the body and questioned its ability to respond to human-rights complaints in a “fair and equitable manner.”

The study was prompted by grievances against the commission about its treatment of Black and racialized employees.

Senators found some employees were harmed by their employer, and the report noted that workplace discrimination can have significant and lasting effects.

“It is never acceptable, yet it is a daily fact of life for many Black and racialized people in Canada,” the report said.

Thompson said the coalition, which represents some 700,000 employees, is relying on the commission to “play a role in the fight to dismantle systemic discrimination, not to be the perpetrator in all of this.”

The commission said in a statement Monday it is in the process of reviewing the coalition’s complaint, but noted it underwent a periodic re-accreditation last year.

It was found to be in “full compliance,” based on a “comprehensive review of all of the commission’s work in promoting human rights between 2016 and 2022,” the statement said.

“We are confident that we continue to operate in full compliance and look forward to providing (the global alliance) with all the information it requires.”

The coalition seeking a review of the commission’s status includes Thompson’s organization, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the National Union of Public and General Employees, the Canadian Black Nurses Alliance, the Red Coalition, the Federation of Black Canadians and the Black Canadians Civil Society Coalition.

They want Canada to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to create a direct access model in which complainants can go directly to the human-rights tribunal rather than through the commission.

They also seek amendments to the Employment Equity Act to include specific mention of Black people.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, who released the Employment Equity Act Review Task Force’s final report late last year, said his government would work toward recognizing Black and LGBTQ+ people in two new designated groups under the act.

Legislation to that effect has not yet been tabled.

The coalition also wants to see an appointment for a Black equity commissioner to serve as an independent officer of Parliament and work toward preventing future instances of anti-Black racism and discrimination.

Treasury Board President Anita Anand announced a plan to support Black public servants last week, including with mental-health supports and career development opportunities.

The coalition said it was not consulted on the initiative, and called for that approach to change.

Anand, speaking outside the House of Commons Monday, pushed back on that assertion by saying she and her team consulted with “a number of Black public servants” and were in contact with the task force that recommended changes.

She said the government will continue to engage with communities and stakeholders.

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said.

“In terms of building trust with public servants from the Black community, and beyond, who feel that the federal government has not underscored and supported the work that needs to be done to move to a world in a public service where discrimination is not the reality.”

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