Canadian Human Rights Commission
Letter on Implementation of the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion

Summer 2021 update

Walking the Talk: An Open Letter on the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s implementation of the Clerk’s Call to Action on Anti‑Racism, Equity and Inclusion

To the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, to our colleagues across the federal public service, to fellow human rights defenders in Canada, and to all people in Canada:

The time for action to address systemic racism and discrimination, and ensure the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all facets of our society is long overdue. As Canada’s human rights watchdog and national human rights institution, the Canadian Human Rights Commission is more determined than ever to not only be a strong voice for human rights in Canada, but also a leader in advancing anti‑racism, equity and inclusion across our various roles — as a human rights advocate, a human rights service provider and regulator, and as a federally regulated employer.

In the past year, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has bolstered our existing work to advance equality for all, because effecting meaningful and lasting change means we must all “walk the talk.” We have been privileged over the past year to be invited to share our progress and lessons learned with other organizations in Canada that are looking for positive models on how to build their own inclusive workplace cultures and create lasting transformation. The key to the success of this work is that it be never‑ending. It must be continuous, it must be evergreen, and it must be sustainable. Ultimately, we want our anti-racism, equity and inclusion efforts to outlast any one leader, any one individual at the Commission.  

With all that in mind, this Open Letter presents a snapshot of the ongoing efforts we are carrying out to meet the highest standards of anti‑racism, equity and inclusion, and is organized under the six key themes you identified in your guidance letter:

  1. Actions: How has our approach to advancing anti-racism, equity and inclusion changed over the past year, and what are we doing differently that is having a practical impact? Of the nine actions presented in the Call to Action, where have we focused the most attention?
  2. Measurement and results: How are we measuring progress, what are the results telling us, and how has this informed our actions?
  3. Challenges and barriers: What setbacks, challenges and barriers to progress have we faced in implementing the Call to Action, and what are we doing to overcome them?
  4. Employee response: How have we partnered with our employees to implement the Call to Action? What have their reactions been to the actions we have taken, and how are we supporting this work in our organization?
  5. Momentum: To sustain momentum and continue our support for public service renewal, how do we plan to focus our work over the coming year, including in a post‑pandemic world? What are our priorities?
  6. Data annex: Relevant data that demonstrate our progress in increasing representation, including of Indigenous peoples, Black and other Racialized employees, and people with disabilities among our workforce.

1. Our actions

Over the past year, Canada has experienced a reckoning on the issue of systemic racism. The impact of COVID‑19 on long‑standing, pre‑existing inequalities and systemic barriers for Indigenous peoples, and Black and other Racialized people in Canada, along with events south of our border and here at home, have led to a nationwide wake‑up call about the effects of systemic racism and discrimination in society.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd just last year, Marie‑Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, did not mince words when asked on live CBC television whether systemic racism and discrimination also exist here in Canada. Chief Commissioner Landry was emphatic that “yes, systemic racism and discrimination exist in Canada, and the belief that there is little to no racism in Canada is itself a barrier to addressing it.”

The events of the past year have prompted organizations across the country, including the Commission, to recommit ourselves to advancing anti‑racism, equity and inclusion. At the Commission, we built upon the work we started several years ago to examine our own processes and operations from an anti‑racism and inclusion perspective. We have taken a closer look at how racism and implicit bias may influence our processes, our decisions and the way we serve people in Canada to position us to “walk the talk” to advance anti‑racism, equity and inclusion within and outside our organization.

To read more about our ongoing anti-racism work, please visit the Anti-Racism Work section of our website, read the first draft of our Anti-Racism Action Plan, or consult the first in a series of Commission Progress Reports on our anti-racism work. The updated version of our Anti-Racism Action Plan will be published in September 2021.

Here are some of the highlights:

Call to Action 1: Appoint Indigenous employees and Black and other Racialized employees to and within the Executive Group through career development and talent management

Call to Action 2: Sponsor high-potential Indigenous employees and Black and other Racialized employees to prepare them for leadership roles

Call to Action 3: Support the participation of Indigenous employees and Black and other Racialized employees in leadership development programs (for example, the Executive Leadership Development Program) and career development services (for example, official language training)

Call to Action 4: Recruit highly qualified candidates from Indigenous communities and Black and other Racialized communities from across all regions of Canada

Call to Action 5: Committing to personally learning about racism, reconciliation, accessibility, equity and inclusion, and fostering a safe, positive environment where these conversations are encouraged throughout our workplaces

Call to Action 6: Combatting all forms of racism, discrimination and other barriers to inclusion in the workplace by taking action on what we have learned, empowering employees to speak up about bias and oppression, and better equipping managers to address these issues

Call to Action 7: Enabling and advancing the work of grassroots networks and communities within the Public Service by providing necessary resources and bringing them into discussions at senior executive tables

Call to Action 8: Including voices from diverse backgrounds in the identification of systemic racism, discrimination and barriers to inclusion, and the design and implementation of actions to address them

Call to Action 9: Measuring progress and driving improvements in the employee workplace experience by monitoring disaggregated survey results and related operational data (for example, promotion and mobility rates, tenure) and acting on what the results are telling us

Our extensive efforts towards this ninth Call to Action are presented in the following Section, “Our measurement and results.”

2. Our measurement and results

The Commission operates with the core principle that measuring progress is the key to driving lasting change. This is why:

The Canadian Human Rights Commission was encouraged in 2020 by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s recognition of the Commission as the only public service organization of its size to meet or exceed the Government of Canada’s targets for representation of all employment equity groups. That said, we are determined to improve even further.

Using the data and conclusions in the final report on the Commission’s independent third‑party employment equity audit, as well as the findings of our upcoming employment systems review in winter 2021, we will continue our ongoing work to adopt measures to identify and remove barriers to full workplace equity for Indigenous, Black and Racialized employees, employees with disabilities, and women. The Commission will then develop and implement an employment equity plan in consultation with unions and our internal Decolonization and Anti‑Racism Consultation Committee.

3. Our challenges and barriers

Organizational and systemic transformation always come with challenges. The Canadian Human Rights Commission is a small organization with a now expanded mandate, operating with limited resources, all during an unprecedented pandemic period.

The passing of three important pieces of human rights legislation, namely the Accessible Canada Act, the Pay Equity Act and the National Housing Strategy Act has significantly increased our workload, and the pandemic has meant that Commission staff — like staff in most organizations — has had to adapt quickly to a drastically changed reality. This combination of a heavier workload and the requirement to work remotely has affected staff across the Commission, especially when it comes to taking on new priorities.

At the same time, we are also entering a period of change around the Commission’s leadership table. These changes bring challenges to momentum and knowledge‑transfer. To overcome these challenges and ensure that the work outlined above continues seamlessly and is treated with priority, the Commission:

Given that the Commission’s mandate is to drive equality forward as it relates to all grounds of discrimination legislated under the Canadian Human Rights Act, focused attention on racism has raised questions about whether promoting the importance of one issue comes at a disadvantage to other issues. Our mindset on this has always been that there is no hierarchy of human rights, and that human rights do not exist in their own vacuums. We hold that to improve the rights of one group is to also improve the rights of so many other intersecting groups. Any change that promotes equality and inclusion ripples outwards and helps create systemic change.

4. Our employee response

As we have told our staff, the Commission’s Anti‑Racism Action Plan belongs to them, and must reflect their voices, their experiences and their input. Our close consultation with staff was essential to the development of the first edition of our Anti‑Racism Action Plan, and has been imperative once again in the development of the second edition, soon to be released. This has included specific consultation with Indigenous, Black and Racialized staff through an external facilitator and our internal Decolonization and Anti‑Racism Consultation Committee.

In addition, the early buy‑in and commitment from the Commission’s executive team has been essential to this process. From day one, our executives have been supportive and passionate about our anti‑racist organizational change, listening and learning, and leading by example when it comes to being closely engaged in the implementation of the Commission’s anti‑racism, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Finally, in recognition that these discussions and issues can often be re-triggering or re-traumatizing for some individuals, we have taken steps to ensure that qualified and appropriate mental health support is available to any employee who experiences stress, trauma or other mental health issues related to the impact of racism, in whatever form it may manifest. A dedicated counsellor has been available to Indigenous, Black and other Racialized Commission employees – and to any employee who has experienced stress or trauma due to their proximity to, or witnessing of, racism – since February 2021 to provide support with regard to racism‑related stress and trauma. This service is in addition to existing support services offered under the Employee Assistance Program, which continues to be available to support all Commission employees.

5. Our momentum

The key to the success of our anti‑racism, equity and inclusion work is that it be never‑ending. It must be continuous, and it must be evergreen. The strong foundation of knowledge and momentum that has been built under our current leadership must be maintained to ensure the successful advancement of our anti‑racism, equity and inclusion efforts. This is why:

In this era of building back better, the principles of anti‑racism, equity and inclusion are paramount. They will continue to guide the Commission’s recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion practices. As we have laid out in all the aforementioned actions we are taking — informed by our Employment Equity Plan, and our Anti‑Racism Action Plan — we will continue striving to ensure that in this new post‑pandemic era, no one is left behind.

6. Our data

The Commission is a small departmental agency whose workforce comprised approximately 260 staff (not including students, casual workers, terms of less than three months and temporary help) at year‑end 2020-21, and 212 staff at year‑end 2019‑20. While disaggregation of demographic data about staff appointed to the Commission is not possible, as that data would be personally identifiable, the Commission is pleased to present the findings of an independent third‑party employment equity audit it commissioned to examine representation within its workforce in 2019‑20, using a GBA+ lens.

The Summary in the Final Audit Report notes that the Commission continues to have a strong representation of members from the groups designated under the Employment Equity Act when compared to the availability in the Canadian workforce. However, when looking at the representation rates by occupational category, special attention is required for women and Indigenous people.

The Management Action Plan outlines concrete recommendations. Among these is the adoption of an Employment Systems Review, and steps are currently being taken to begin this work.

A final word

Canada is living through an historic time. History will judge how we act in this moment. The pandemic has expanded the circle of vulnerability in our society, and exposed long-standing issues of racism, inequity and inequality for many groups, including women, people with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and Black and Racialized people.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission is more committed than ever to being a driver of positive change and an active voice in pushing for a barrier-free Canada, for accessibility and inclusion for all, and for a Canada where equity is woven into the very fabric of our diverse society. We not only make this solemn commitment now, as Canada begins to build back better, but for the decades that will follow this historic crisis.

It is not enough to say that we embrace diversity and human rights as the foundation of our democracy. Our work must now be backed by meaningful and continuous action that is informed by those with lived experience.

We thank you, Madam Clerk, for this important opportunity and powerful initiative.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission

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