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The Reality of Discrimination & Harassment in Canada’s Public Service | Op-Ed

Disclaimer: This article addresses matters of harassment and discrimination and may be triggering for some. If needed, click here for support services.

By The Friends of Canada’s Public Service

We are a group of five with representation from all employment equity groups. We are federal public servants, private sector business and financial analysts, and human resources specialists. We choose to publish anonymously, fearing reprisal from our employers.

What’s the Story?

The 2020 Public Service Employee Survey (PSES), conducted between November 2020 and January 2021, exposes the concerning realities for underrepresented groups inside Canada’s public service.

Nearly 190,000 federal public servants from 87 federal departments responded to the annual survey aimed at measuring their options on their workplaces.

Having worked within the federal public service we were aware that harassment and discrimination was a widespread issue. Some of the writers continue to face discrimination across multiple federal departments.

Curious to know which departments harassed and discriminated against persons like ourselves from underrepresented groups to the greatest degree, we analyzed responses from other federal public servants. We ranked responses of those that indicated “yes” they had experienced harassment or discrimination in 2020. We focused primarily on results from Women, Indigenous Peoples, Persons with Disabilities, Visible Minorities and Gay and Lesbian identifying persons.

Overall, 11% of survey respondents reported facing harassment, and 7% reported facing discrimination. We found that women collectively equally experienced the same rates. All remaining employee groups studied, particularly Persons with Disabilities, faced higher rates.

Using the results, a comparative ranking of harassment and ranking of discrimination among all participating departments was developed. We listed the highest to lowest instances of harassment and discrimination respectively per employment group.

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Who Were the Worst Offenders?

The most toxic workplace in the federal public service targeting staff from underrepresented communities is the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). CSC harasses Women, Indigenous Peoples, Visible Minorities and Gay or Lesbian identifying persons to the greatest degree in the public service. They are also in the top three most discriminatory public service organizations for every demographic group studied.

CSC is not the only federal law enforcement organization demonstrating a deep-seated culture of harassment and discrimination towards marginalized and racialized peoples. Every legal and law enforcement organization within the federal public service has high rates of harassment and discrimination towards underrepresented groups.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) also has a notable systemic culture of discrimination in the workplace. They are among the top five most discriminatory federal organizations towards Gay and Lesbian identifying people (top 2), Indigenous Peoples (top 3), Persons with Disabilities (top 4), and Women (top 5). As DFO provides marine enforcement for Canada’s waters via the Canadian Coast Guard, DFO is following suit with other federal law enforcement organizations.

Given how federal law enforcement organizations treat their staff, it is no wonder that racialized and marginalized Canadians are being over-policed and over incarcerated by them. The heightened rates of harassment and discrimination in federal law enforcement organizations point to the larger systemic issue that Canadian law enforcement is discriminatory by design. Greater structural analysis will be needed from both government and non-governmental organizations to address this ongoing issue. 

The Friends of Canada’s Public Service

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with Disabilities experience the highest levels of harassment and discrimination in the federal public service. They report experiencing harassment more than double and discrimination nearly three times the public service average.

All Public Servants11%7%
Persons with Disabilities23%

Almost half (49%) of Persons with Disabilities recorded they encountered harassment at Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) and the Office of the Secretary to the Governor-General (OSGG).

These results highlight the lack of cultural competence and structural unwillingness inside Canada’s public service to operate in any inclusive way. There is a more significant role for executive leaders and middle managers to adopt strategies to ensure all barriers to inclusion, especially ongoing harassment, and discrimination, are addressed.

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*CBSA= Canada Border Services Agency, CRTC= Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
 **OSGG= Office of the Secretary to the Governor-General, WAGE= Women and Gender Equality
***CED= Canada Economic Development for Quebec, GAC= Global Affairs
****CBSA= Canada Border Services Agency, CSC= Correctional Service

Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples in the public service reported tremendously high percentages of harassment and discrimination. 52% of Indigenous respondents indicated that they were victims of discrimination at the Canada Energy Regulator. This is the highest discrimination rate reported, nearly five times the public service average.

Survey questions used and data released by various departments still need to be more consistent for comparative purposes. Thirty-six organizations did not publish information on discrimination towards Indigenous employees.

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Visible Minorities

Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) is the federal organization with the highest reported discrimination rate towards Visible Minorities. Through the 2020 PSES, 27% of Visible Minority respondents from WAGE indicated that they experienced discrimination.

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Women and Gender

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada tops the list as the most discriminatory towards women. 16% of women participating in the PSES from that department were victims of discrimination in 2020.

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Data on genders outside of “men” and “women” are sparsely found in the survey results. The PSES has much work to do to include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE) data in the survey. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and the Department of National Defence (DND) were the only organizations to use “gender diverse” as an identification option. Many departments did not consistently provide the option to use “another gender.”

Gay/Lesbian Identifying Persons

Consistent, publicly reported, and disaggregated demographic data is a critical tool to measuring both persistent problems and the success of efforts to change. However, 38 federal organizations did not provide sufficient data to support a comparative ranking for Gay and Lesbian identifying persons.

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The Bottom Line

The federal public service can’t claim they are able to deliver for all Canadians in any meaningful way while actively harassing and discriminating against those most underrepresented in Canada within their own organization.

The Friends of Canada’s Public Service recommend that federal organizations must act with great urgency to address structural inequalities within their operating structures. Canada’s integrity and the trust of all Canadians is at stake.

The Treasury Board Secretariat commissioned The 2020 Public Service Employee Survey (PSES). Nouvelle reached out to them for comment, but did not receive one in time for publication.