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Senate ordered to reinstate HR executive who alleged he was fired because of racism

January 4, 2024
The Canadian Press

Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Photo: Adobe Stock
By Dylan Robertson

A federal tribunal has ordered the Senate to restore an executive who said he was fired on the basis of racial discrimination.

Darshan Singh served two years as the Senate’s human resources director, but his lawyer Paul Champsays he has no interest in returning to the role.

“He feels quite vindicated by this resolution,” Champ said Thursday.

Singh was the first person of colour to join the Senate’s executive team of public servants.


But administration officials shuffled upper management in a way that Singh complained left him sidelined by a supervisor he believed was undermining him on the basis of racial prejudice.

The Senate fired Singh without cause in December 2015, but noted in a letter that there had been a “breakdown of confidence and trust which are essential to the viability of your employment,” and referenced Singh’s “attitude and behaviour” toward his supervisor.

Singh alleged he had been subject to unlawful treatment, saying he believed he was fired in retaliation for raising discrimination allegations that the Senate had not adequately probed.

Leo Housakos, a Conservative senator from Quebec who at the time was Speaker of the upper chamber, conducted an informal probe involving discussions with Singh’s supervisor, 12 other senators who had worked with her and various human resource employees.

Housakos concluded that Singh’s allegations of discrimination had no merit.

The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board, a quasi-judicial tribunal that deals with disputes within the federal public service and Parliament, noted the probe did not involve speaking with any person of colour — including Singh himself.

An adjudicator dismissed Singh’s case in 2021, but Federal Court ordered the tribunal to take up the case again, arguing “the most fundamental requirement of even an informal investigation had been ignored” in the Housakos probe.

A spokesperson for Housakos had previously indicated he wouldn’t provide comment while the matter was before the board, and “the case is best made there rather than in the media.”

On Thursday, his office referred a query to Senate administration, which has not provided a comment on the case.

When the tribunal took up the case for a second time, Singh sought two emails Housakos received days before the firing, from Sen. David Wells and then-senator George Furey.

Lawyers for the Senate argued the emails are protected by parliamentary privilege, which refers to certain rights and immunities that parliamentarians enjoy that are intended to help them maintain independence from the executive and judicial branches of government.

The board rejected those claims, saying the Senate had not made a detailed case as to why the emails would be protected from a judicial process aimed at establishing the truth.

Senators were set to vote this fall on a motion to have the chamber’s governance committee “authorize their disclosure” to the board.

Parliamentary experts were keenly watching for how the case might set a precedent in striking the balance between protecting Parliament and allowing people to seek justice.

But the vote was never scheduled, and lawyers reached a confidential agreement last month that the tribunal approved on Dec. 28, which reinstated Singh to his position as the Senate’s human resources director.

Champ said Singh will instead keep a job at the Canadian Coast Guard that he took on during the eight-year period since his firing.

“It was quite a burden on him and his family to deal with this issue for so many years. But as a human resources professional, he thought it was important to follow through,” Champ said.

“Our client is hopeful that the Senate is going to, in future, try to be a model employer.”


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