Human rights commission says staffers linked to workplace racism have been reassigned

Charlotte-Anne Malischewski is the interim commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. She was appointed after employees filed a workplace grievance against the organization. (David Thurton/ CBC - image credit)
Charlotte-Anne Malischewski is the interim commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. She was appointed after employees filed a workplace grievance against the organization. (David Thurton/ CBC - image credit)

The acting head of the Canadian Human Rights Commission told senators Monday the organization took "prompt and appropriate corrective action" against those behind anti-Black racism at the commission.

Interim commissioner Charlotte-Anne Malischewski told senators on the Red Chamber's standing committee on human rights that while she could not go into details because of confidentiality requirements, the sanctioned employees no longer work for the complaint services branch at the CHRC — although they still have their jobs.

"They are no longer in the same positions that they were before," Malischewski told senators.

The Senate committee is holding public hearings on anti-Black racism, sexism and systemic discrimination at the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

In March, the federal government reported that the Canadian Human Rights Commission had discriminated against its Black and racialized employees. The government's human resources arm, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBCS), came to that conclusion after nine employees filed a grievance through their unions in October 2020.

Their grievance alleged that "Black and racialized employees at the CHRC face systemic anti-Black racism, sexism and systemic discrimination."

CBC News obtained the TBCS's March ruling, reviewed associated documents and spoke to a group of current and former commission employees.

They described what they called a hostile and racially charged workplace where Black and racialized employees are excluded from career and training opportunities and are shut out of formal and informal networks.

WATCH | Former employee shares her experience of working at the commission: 

They claim the careers of Black and racialized employees remain stagnant while white colleagues advance and say the ranks of senior management remain predominantly white. The current and former employees who spoke to CBC say their health has suffered as a result of workplace discrimination.

Employees also flagged the high dismissal rate for race-based complaints — an assertion the CHRC's own data backs up — and said all-white teams are typically assigned to investigate them.

The interim commissioner spent most of her appearance before senators on Monday outlining the measures the commission took to address allegations of anti-Black racism long before the TBCS issued its finding.

Before Malischewski testified, one of the commission's employees, Bernadeth Betchi, told senators her experiences of racism at the commission left her "speechless."

"It's the last place where I thought I would discover racism," Betchi told senators.

Betchi called for the resignations of the commission's senior leaders during her testimony. She later told CBC News she was calling specifically for CHRC executive director Ian Fine to step down since much of what's being investigated at the commission happened under his watch.

"If we go and proceed with the structural changes and remove the people that are leading that institution, I think that there's hope that we can bring true and meaningful reform," Betchi said.

Asked about the call for his resignation, Fine told CBC he would not be stepping down.

"I have no intention of resigning. I'm here to finish the job and get this organization responding to the concerns that have been raised," Fine said.

During her testimony, Malischewski committed to ordering an independent third-party workplace assessment, something Betchi and others have demanded. But Malischewski didn't commit to making that report public.

"I want to be very clear — this is something that unions have called for and, therefore, something we would be discussing with the union," Malischewski told CBC News after her testimony.

The commission describes itself as Canada's human rights watchdog. It receives and investigates complaints from federal departments, agencies, Crown corporations and many private sector organizations such as banks, airlines and telecommunication companies. It decides which cases proceed to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

CBC News reported more toxic workplace allegations at the commission. A group of employees wrote a letter in March to the Department of Justice claiming the CHRC's accessibility commissioner behaved in a way that had a "toxic impact" and alleging a "psychologically unsafe and difficult work environment."

The letter does not cite specific examples. The government has ordered an external investigation into claims it mistreated staff.