More than 600 come forward in class-action lawsuit alleging systemic discrimination against Black public servants

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One of the 12 representative plaintiffs says blacks are living with the damage they have sustained in their daily lives in their workplaces.

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Joanne Laucius Bernadeth Betchi is one of 12 representative plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit alleging that black civil servants were the subject of systemic racism. Bernadeth Betchi is one of 12 representative plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit alleging that black civil servants were the subject of systemic racism. Photo by Julie Oliver /.Postmedia

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More than 600 black officials have joined a class action lawsuit alleging systematic discrimination in federal workplaces.

The lawsuit, which was not certified, was filed in the Federal Court of Canada on December 2, originally seeking a $ 900 million refund for approximately 30,000 past and present black employees who have been in the public sector since 1970.

Hugh Scher, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, said a court conference was scheduled for April 1 before the deputy chief justice of the Toronto federal court to discuss the planning. Plaintiffs’ attorneys plan to increase the refund to $ 2.5 billion.

In a statement, the Secretariat of the Treasury Board of Canada confirmed that the parties to the case management conference had agreed to set a timetable for the first steps in the litigation.

The Canadian Attorney General has retained Fasken LLP, one of Canada’s largest corporate law firms, based on his expertise and experience in class litigation and labor law. The firm’s lawyers will work closely with the Justice Department’s legal team, said Alain Belle-Isle, spokesman for the Treasury Department’s secretariat.

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“As it is early in the process, it is premature to comment on how the next steps will develop,” said Belle-Isle. “As with such matters, however, the government will consider all options, including alternative dispute resolution, to address the concerns raised.”

Twelve representative plaintiffs were named in the December 2 complaint. However, the class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of all black federal civil service workers who have faced systemic discriminatory hiring and promotion obstacles since 1970.

Despite numerous studies, reports, commissions and recommendations aimed at eliminating the dire systemic inequalities black public workers face, the reality of equal opportunities for black Canadians in both unionized and non-union workplaces remains elusive, it says the assertion.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The claim statement alleges that “there has been a de facto practice of excluding black workers throughout the public service because systematic discrimination permeates Canada’s institutional structure”.

Legislation to prevent discrimination has masked the exclusion and marginalization of Black Canadians from equal access to opportunities and benefits, the lawsuit said.

Black employees face a unique invisible and systemic racism compared to other disadvantaged groups because the Employment Equity Act failed to break down the category of “visible minorities” and ignored the unique racism black employees face, the claim said.

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People have presented “terrible” stories of microaggression and denied opportunities for advancement, Scher said.

Bernadeth Betchi, one of the 12 representative plaintiffs, says blacks live with the damage they have sustained in their daily lives in their workplaces.

“Hopefully we can dismantle what is anchored in the system. Those who do everything in their power to maintain the status quo are killing us mentally and physically, ”she said.

Betchi said she started working in the public sector as a college student in 2008 and continued to work for the Canada Revenue Agency after graduating.

While many of her coworkers got permanent jobs, Betchi said she lived on a contract-to-contract basis.

“Within a year, I saw that I was locked out of certain conversations that had to do with advertising opportunities. It becomes very evident when white people climb the ladder and we are left behind. “

Betchi went on maternity leave in 2013 and was afraid to return to work. She decided to stay at home with her son and completed a master’s degree. She later worked in the Prime Minister’s office – a job she enjoyed – and then returned to the civil service of Canada’s Human Rights Commission.

Betchi said she felt isolated and alienated in her civil service career, and her ideas while working with teams were only validated when supported by a white coworker.

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“Although these things are subtle, the harm is great,” she said. “In some places it’s worse. It depends on your manager and whether he is doing this on purpose or whether it is part of the system. The system is designed in such a way that a certain population group is preferred. And that population group is not black. “

Most class action lawsuits go unseen and either dismissed or settled out of court, said Jasminka Kalajdzic, associate professor of law at the University of Windsor and director of the class action clinic at the university’s law school. Unlike private lawsuits, when an agreement is negotiated in a class action lawsuit, the terms and awards approved by a judge must be made public, she said.

Class actions have been used as a tool to protect employment rights and to correct historical errors. In March last year, the Federal Court of Canada approved a $ 100 million class action lawsuit for women exposed to gender discrimination in non-police roles with the RCMP between 1974 and 2019. A settlement in 2016 via RCMP for women officers paid out more than $ 125 million.

Class actions have both advantages and disadvantages, Kalajdzic said. “There is power in numbers and it is a great advantage to be able to sue as a collective.” On the other hand, eligible persons might not know about the class action or they might not be able to apply in time to receive compensation, she said.

People in the class can opt out of a class action within a specified period of time. However, if they do not opt ​​out, they will automatically be considered members of the class and will not be able to bring their own private lawsuits. Betchi said she joined the class action as a representative plaintiff because she wanted to highlight her experience.

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“We fight for the collective. Yes, my experience is valid, but my experience is not unique, ”she said.

“I see the next generation coming. And when I sit with them, I hope they say their voices have been heard. “

The Treasury Board spokesman, Belle-Isle, said diversity and inclusion are core values ​​in public service.

“Canadians deserve to be represented in the government that serves them,” he said in a statement.

“The public service is intended to be a model for the treatment of Black Canadians, indigenous peoples and others who are exposed to racist and other forms of discrimination and barriers in the workplace and who, unfortunately, may be underrepresented at the highest levels. Although progress has been made, too many officials continue to face obstacles. “

The government has taken steps to fill the representation gaps and remove remaining barriers, including tackling racism against blacks and systemic discrimination across the country and in the public service, Belle-Isle said.

In the fall economic statement, $ 12 million was allocated over a three-year period to a special center for diversity and inclusion in the federal public service. “This will accelerate the government’s commitment to representative and inclusive public service.”

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