Amnesty International Canada decries anti-Black racism in federal public service in letter to UN Special Rapporteur

Amnesty International Canada (English-Speaking) announced Wednesday its support for the Black Class Action Secretariat’s (BCAS) complaint to the United Nations condemning anti-Black hate, anti-Black racism, and systemic discrimination faced by Black workers in the federal public service.

On Tuesday, the BCAS sent a formal complaint to the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. Amnesty International Canada has submitted a letter supporting the BCAS’s complaint and elaborating on how the treatment of Black workers in the federal public service contravenes Canada’s international obligations to uphold human rights. The letter pays special attention to the gender-based dimensions of racial discrimination in the federal public service, including unequal job opportunities, hiring and promotional practices, and instances of racism, sexism, and sexual harassment.

‘These experiences are not only an affront to the inherent dignity of the people who uphold the government’s functions daily. They are contrary to Canada’s obligation under international law to eliminate discrimination in employment.’

Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

“Black women make up 70 per cent of federal employees who have come forward with allegations of discrimination in the public service,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada (English-Speaking) on Wednesday. “These experiences are not only an affront to the inherent dignity of the people who uphold the government’s functions daily. They are contrary to Canada’s obligation under international law to eliminate discrimination in employment. We unequivocally support the Black Class Action’s call for justice and urge the government not to wait for the UN’s response to start enacting much-needed change. Federal workers, and millions of Canadians who rely on their efforts, cannot wait.”

The complaint to the UN is the latest in a series of measures advanced by the BCAS to underscore and eliminate anti-Black racism and sexism in the federal public service. Since the launch of the Black Class Action in December 2020, 1,500 Black employees have courageously shared deeply personal stories of their experiences working for the Canadian government. They describe how they were denied promotions, mentorship, and other opportunities that were available to non-Black colleagues and were confined to low-level positions.

These dehumanizing experiences send the message that Black employees are not fit for public service in Canada and perpetuate stereotypes and biases about Black people’s worth and capabilities. As a result, current and former employees continue to suffer deeply painful and significant harms. For Black employees who are members of other marginalized groups, such as Black women, Black people with disabilities, and Black LGBTQ2S+ individuals, the impacts of discrimination are even greater.

“On behalf of all Black workers we are elevating Canada’s past and ongoing failures to the United Nations,” Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Executive Director of the BCAS, said on Wednesday. “Black Canadians are suffering, and we will be relentless in our pursuit of justice on their behalf.”

Amnesty International Canada notes the importance of recognizing the distinct and intersecting forms of racism and discrimination that Black employees are subject to. For example, while all “visible minorities” are underrepresented at the executive level, Black employees are disproportionately underrepresented, reflecting 3.8% of federal public service workers but only 1.9% of those at the executive level.

Despite calls to address anti-Black racism from Black employees, the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and the Prime Minister, discrimination persists across the federal public service. Black employees continue to face denials of their rights under Canadian and international human rights law, including the right to be free from discrimination and the right to have equal promotion opportunities based only upon seniority and competence.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International Canada reiterated its support for the efforts of the Black Class Action Secretariat in pressing the Government of Canada to implement long-term solutions that address systemic racism and discrimination in Canada’s public service. This includes the establishment of a fund to compensate Black employees for the harms experienced because of workplace discrimination; the establishment of a Black Equity Commission to investigate and address systemic barriers and to create a framework for Black employees to be heard; and the establishment of a designated category for Black employees under the Employment Equity Act. It also includes the immediate establishment of culturally sensitive, trauma-informed counselling and mental-health supports for current, former, and future Black employees.

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