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Recourse of black civil servants: Ottawa spent $7.85M

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The legal costs incurred by the federal government include the retention of documents from 99 departments and agencies. (Archive photo)

  • Estelle Côté-Sroka (View profile)Estelle Côté-Sroka

Almost three years after the filing of a collective action request by black civil servants claiming to be victims discrimination, the federal government spent more than $7.8 million in legal fees.

The Black Federal Employees Class Action Secretariat is seeking $2.5 billion in compensation for the approximately 30,000 public employees and retirees it represents. They claim they have lost advancement opportunities and benefits since 1970.

Since the filing in Federal Court in December 2020, the total amount of actual and notional legal costs related to the class action […] is approximately $7.85 million, said Justice Minister Arif Virani in response to a written question from an MP.

[The total cost of the litigation] includes, but not limited to, legal services to support document retention covering 99 ministries and agencies, certification application, expungement application, interrogatories as well as various other measures to defend the litigation, the minister added.

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Federal Minister of Justice, Arif Virani

The total sum also takes into account the total number of hours recorded in admissible files for the period concerned [multiplied] by the hourly rates of internal legal services.

The federal government's bill in this case is likely higher because the amount takes into account information contained in Justice Department systems as of July 5, 2023.

It's absurd to see the astronomical sums that the government has spent to combat the anti-black racism that it itself has admitted, thunders Alain Babineau, the director of activities for Quebec for the Secretariat of the collective action of black federal employees.

[The government] speaks out of both sides of its mouth; [these are] unnecessary expenses to combat an established fact.

A quote from Alain Babineau, director of activities for Quebec for the Secretariat of the collective action of black federal employees

The class action request has still not been certified. A Federal Court judge could consider the matter next May.

Meanwhile, in the coming weeks, the Federal Court will examine the request that Amnesty International Canada filed to obtain intervener status in the matter.

The organization's motion specifies that it wishes to make submissions to the court on Canada's obligations regarding the right to non-discrimination under international law.

In her statement, Amnesty International Canada Secretary General, Ketty Nivyaband, mentions that the organization has the credibility and experience necessary to transmit its findings, since it has already testified in numerous cases, including that of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen unjustly imprisoned and tortured in Syria.

The Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada and the Director General of the Black Class Action organization , Nicholas Marcus Thompson, are in Geneva this week to participate in the universal periodic review of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Mr. Thompson testified to the international community about the experiences of black federal civil servants in the country. He also mentioned the problems faced by public servants who attempt, unsuccessfully, to file complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

It is very important that the international community is aware of what is happening in Canada and that Canada is held to its human rights obligations.

A quote from Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Director General of Black Class ActionWhen we go internationally and talk about the issues of discrimination and racism, people are speechless because they think that Canada is this country of racial color blindness where everyone gets along, [and there] is no problem, but that's not the truth, adds Alain Babineau.

Nicholas Marcus Thompson hopes that by attracting the attention of the international community, the Canadian government will take more concrete measures to tackle the systemic racism experienced by black people in the public service. It is also with this logic that his group filed a complaint with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in September 2022.

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Nicolas Marcus Thompson, general director of the Black Class Action organization

The official from the Canada Revenue Agency is, however, sorry to have to go so far to assert the rights of his colleagues.

The Federal Crown intends to oppose Amnesty International Canada having a say in the matter. She has until the end of December to submit her arguments.

The holders of the request for collective action deplore the fact that the government is engaging in double talk and suggesting before the court that there is no systemic racism in the federal public service.

For example, under cross-examination last April, Mary Anne Stevens, senior director of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, claimed to have no knowledge of obstacles encountered by black employees in regarding their advancement.

Q. Can you identify any barriers to career advancement for Black employees that you have encountered during your career?

A. I don't know about it.

Q. Are you not aware of any obstacles faced by black employees in terms of advancement?

A. Correct.

Source : Excerpt from the cross-examination of Mary Anne Stevens, Senior Director for the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, before the Federal Court

It’s very curious, analyzes Alain Babineau. The former civil servant emphasizes that this testimony comes from the same department which recognized the racism shown by the Canadian Human Rights Commission towards its own employees.

So, this [what is Canada's position], it is what do you see in public? Or is that what [is said] under oath in court?

A quote from Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Executive Director of Black Class Action

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly acknowledged the presence of systemic racism in Canada. Following the broadcast of a Radio-Canada report on the discrimination experienced by black civil servants, the Prime Minister attested to the House of Commons that there was still a lot of work to be done to ensure better management practices. 'hiring.

Despite the length of the legal proceedings and the position of the federal Crown before the courts, the leaders of the class action hope that the government will reach an agreement out of court. They want the federal government to compensate public servants who have suffered racism, in the same way as it did with First Nations children harmed by the underfunded child protection system.

A regulation would be preferable, because it prevents people from reliving the things they experienced by asking them to testify, explains Alain Babineau, who himself suffered racism during his long career in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ( RCMP).

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Alain Babineau, director of activities for Quebec for the Secretariat of the collective action of black federal employees< /p>

Testifying, going back to the past, reliving these things, it's terrible, said Mr. Babineau, alluding to a form of revictimization.

Settling the case amicably would also, according to him, minimize unnecessary expenses and waste [of public funds].

In October 2022, Ottawa attempted to prevent the trial from starting by asking a judge to dismiss the class action request. The government maintains that the courts are not the appropriate forum for matters that can or could have been the subject of a grievance, said Martin Potvin, spokesperson for the Treasury Board Secretariat, in an email.

We know there is still much work to be done.

A quote from Martin Potvin, spokesperson for the Treasury Board Secretariat

The work of eradicating racism, bias, barriers and discrimination, which have taken root over generations, requires relentless effort and systemic change , adds Mr. Potvin.

The government claims to have taken several measures to ensure it has a diverse and inclusive public service, including the review complaints handling systems.

  • Estelle Côté-Sroka (View profile)Estelle Côté-SrokaFollow
Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116