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News Culture Sexual Harassment
Workplace expert says conditions at Canada’s spy agency ripe for harassment

December 5, 2023
The Canadian Press

Elizabeth Hirsh, University of British Columbia.

A University of British Columbia expert on employment discrimination says toxic workplace claims against Canada’s spy agency point to a “perfect storm” of conditions that allow harassment to occur.

Beth Hirsh, a sociology professor who studies discrimination and the effect of legal claims on organizations, says lawsuits against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service contain “egregious” allegations.

Hirsh commented after CSIS announced last week it had launched a workplace climate assessment in its British Columbia office over claims made public in an investigation by The Canadian Press.

Two covert officers who are suing the federal government said they were sexually assaulted at work by the same senior colleague, that bullying and harassment went unchecked and they were failed by the internal investigation mechanism at CSIS.

Hirsh says organizations like CSIS, where people work in physical and social isolation, can create “textbook” conditions for harassment and discrimination.

She says the agency’s clandestine nature and conditions of confidentiality also make transparency and accountability challenging, allowing cultures of harassment to “flourish.”

Hirsh says organizations like CSIS are susceptible to toxic workplace cultures, and reforming them requires structural and cultural change rather than “rooting out a single so-called bad apple or single offender.”

Officers in the B.C. office of CSIS said they had been invited to take part in interviews for the workplace assessment this week.

The Canadian Press is not naming the officers because of a law prohibiting the identification of covert officers that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The Canadian Press also does not name alleged victims of sexual assault unless they publicly identify themselves.

A B.C. lawsuit by an officer who said she was raped nine times in CSIS surveillance vehicles was dismissed on the grounds she hadn’t exhausted the agency’s internal complaint process. She plans to appeal.

The second officer’s lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court has not received a response from the service.

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