Black federal employees said senior colleagues praised “we had a good time with slaves”
After a senior colleague in the Toronto office of the Immigration and Refugee Commission reportedly praised “we had a good time with slaves,” a federal employee broke the silence about her experience of being black in public service.
In an interview with CBC News, Monica Agard stated that the board failed to take action or acknowledge the psychological harm that racist remarks caused to her as a black woman even after she filed a formal notice of the matter.
To make matters worse, she said, just a few months after the so-called comment was posted, the same employee continued to be Agard’s direct supervisor until she objected, and he was reassigned about a week later.
“In my heart, I believe there is some potential racial tone in this, because why do you want to make such a comment?” Agard told CBC News.
“These comments themselves are clearly racist.”
Questions raised when a colleague becomes a supervisor
Her experience is just one of more and more stories of black civil servants who say they have been silently facing discrimination in their ranks for decades, whether it is poor treatment or promotion.
Agard said that apart from the comments themselves, the lack of action by the immigration committee “doubted the damage”.
Watch | Federal employees speak out about their experience of becoming black in public service:
She said: “I saw that they didn’t see me as a person. It’s not enough to say’I will deal with this because it’s serious’.”
She said that in November 2019, when a more senior employee passed by and broke into the conversation, Agard had worked in the public service for 30 years and she had been talking about their workload with a colleague at her desk.
“We need to go back to the good times when we had slaves,” she claimed the senior employee said.
“I feel like I’m about to collapse,” Agad wrote in an official notice this spring, adding that she asked the employee to stop or she would appeal to him.
“Your man is not the only slave,” she said, and walked away.
Agard did not file a complaint at the time of the incident-she said that after the earlier complaint against the same person was closed for no reason, she lost confidence in the system and she did not raise the issue to become her superior until he was ready.
Fight for Mental Health Funds for Black Federal Employees
In December last year, more than a dozen current and former federal employees filed a class-action lawsuit with the federal government, naming more than 50 departments and agencies, and demanding compensation of approximately US$900 million. The lawsuit has not yet been certified, but Agad has signed up as a member.
When the lawsuit was filed, the Secretariat of the Canadian Ministry of Finance, which used the Federal Public Service, stated that it could not comment on these allegations because the lawsuit has been submitted to the court for trial.
Earlier this month, the claim was updated: a motion was filed in federal court to provide current and former black employees with a temporary mental health fund of at least $100 million, and the plaintiff said they needed immediate trauma support. I once faced a job in the public service sector.
Nicholas Marcus Thompson said: “The damage that black workers have faced and will continue to face is real and continuing… We can’t wait, you know, the four-year lawsuit will be resolved. “
Racial justice advocate Thompson was one of 12 current and former federal employees who filed a class action lawsuit last year. If certified, it can cover thousands of black employees, and its federal services can be traced back to 1970.
“Some of our class members shared that they had had suicide attempts. They considered ending their lives because it became very challenging and it was very difficult to go to work every day,” Thompson told CBC News.
Federal employees have access to the Employee Assistance Program and the Public Service Health Care Program, which provide workers and their families with subsidies of up to $2,000 per year. But Thompson said these resources are insufficient—usually short-term, and counselors lack the life experience of specifically addressing the trauma faced by black employees.
“Like all organizations, the board has more work to do”
The Immigration and Refugee Commission stated in an email to CBC News that it “takes allegations of this nature very seriously.” The board stated that it was aware of Agad’s allegations and that her case was “under review” but could not comment on the specific details of “protecting the integrity of the procedure.”
IRB spokesperson Line-Alice Guibert-Wolff said: “Racism and discrimination in any form are unacceptable and fundamentally incompatible with IRB’s core values ??of civilization, fairness and respect, and our commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion. An ongoing commitment to work culture.”
A manager so daring to make such comments… It shows the privileges white people enjoy in public service.–Nicholas Marcus Thompson
Guibert-Wolff said: “Like all organizations, the board has more work to do to ensure that the experience of all its employees is consistent with the organization’s values,” adding that it has established a new office of ombudsman and a new office in 2020. Mandatory training, and it is continuing to develop a diversity and inclusion strategy.
In an email to CBC News, the Canadian Treasury Secretariat stated that the amendments to the Public Service Employment Act received Royal Assent on June 29-just before the motion filed earlier this month. day. The board stated that the amendment reaffirmed the importance of a diverse and inclusive workforce and strengthened regulations to address potential biases and obstacles in staffing.
The Secretariat also stated that it is studying the motions raised in the lawsuit and hopes to resolve the concerns raised through further discussions with the plaintiff.
“The Canadian government is committed to creating a healthy, supportive and respectful workplace. A healthy workplace is essential to the physical and mental health of all public service personnel because it enables them to fully utilize their diverse talents, skills and energy. They provide services to Canadians,” spokesperson Martin Potvin said.
Activists say signs of bigger problems
Thompson said that although Agad’s experience was heartbreaking, it was a sign of greater problems within the service.
He said: “For a manager to make such a comment not only in front of an employee but also in front of another employee, it shows the privileges white people enjoy in public service.”
At the same time, Agad, who is still an employee of the Immigration and Refugee Commission, said it is important for her to speak out for the benefit of other black employees who may be struggling.
“All these people from different fields of service have similar stories. They have not progressed, been respected, and deprived you of your dignity and self-worth.
“Sometimes when you suffer, you think you are suffering alone,” she said in tears. “Together is always stronger.”
For more stories about the experience of black Canadians—from anti-black racism to success stories in the black community—check out Becoming Black in Canada, a CBC project that Canadian blacks can be proud of. You can read more stories here.