February 23rd, 2024

CSIS to hire impartial reviewer as part of human rights settlement with Black officer

By Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press on December 14, 2023.

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – Canada’s spy service has agreed to hire an independent human rights specialist to review its diversity strategy as part of the settlement of a complaint from a Black woman who worked as an intelligence officer.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service say the intelligence agency will also publish an executive summary of the specialist’s findings and recommendations.

In addition, CSIS has committed to sharing its responses to the recommendations with the human rights commission, a federal watchdog with a broad mandate to protect people from discrimination.

In a joint statement this week announcing the settlement, the commission and CSIS said the spy agency affirms its ongoing commitment to address systemic discrimination and racism, and increase diversity and inclusion in its workplace.

A CSIS spokesman said the agency is determined to identify and resolve potential barriers to a safe, healthy and respectful workplace.

Word of the settlement comes shortly after CSIS director David Vigneault apologized to staff for his response to rape and harassment allegations in the agency’s British Columbia office.

In a town hall last week, Vigneault told staff about new anti-harassment measures, including creation of an ombudsperson’s office to handle workplace problems.

The human rights commission and CSIS provided few details about the complaint filed by the intelligence officer, but said resolution of the matter avoided the need for a planned tribunal hearing.

Although the parties “do not necessarily agree on all of the matters raised in the complaint,” they have agreed to a series of public interest remedies, the statement said.

It noted that last year CSIS published a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategy, co-developed by the intelligence service with employees at all levels.

The statement said CSIS reaffirms its commitment, spelled out in the strategy, to:

– review and validate its policy and approach to a “right fit” approach to hiring based on the strength of candidates’ qualifications relative to requirements, as well as the need for more varied representation;

– promote greater diversity on selection panels, with the goal of including at least one representative from an employment equity group on all panels when possible;

– run an executive recruitment process for employees from employment equity groups and prioritize the placement of qualified participants;

– give employees training on unconscious bias and anti-racism;

– and integrate discrimination as an explicit ground for appealing staffing decisions and review personnel assessment tools to reduce the possibility of bias.

In addition, CSIS agreed to receive input from the commission as part of the review of its “right fit” policy, and to retain the promised independent human rights specialist within 18 months to review the overall strategy and public interest commitments in the settlement.

“These commitments will foster CSIS’s goal of building a healthy and respectful workplace comprised of highly skilled employees who are truly representative of the diversity of Canadians,” the joint statement said.

“The Commission looks forward to further collaboration with CSIS, and successful implementation of the settlement terms.”

CSIS spokesman Eric Balsam said the intelligence service “has publicly declared on many occasions our commitment to addressing head on this very important issue of racial discrimination.”

“While the work of making CSIS more diverse and inclusive is ongoing, we have made significant strides in recent years and credit employees in helping drive that change.”

Balsam cited statistics to indicate the agency’s strategy has already resulted in greater racial diversity in its ranks, including executive positions.

CSIS provides training to employees related to respect, diversity, bias-awareness and effective communications, he said.

“CSIS leadership is actively engaging employees through open and honest conversations.”

The intelligence service looks forward to the review by the independent specialist “and will adapt our action plans as appropriate,” Balsam added. “While we have made important progress, we also recognize that we have work to do.”

In his town hall statement last week, Vigneault said the officer accused in the B.C. complaints, details of which were made public in an investigation by The Canadian Press, is no longer employed by the agency, as of Dec. 4.

Vigneault said he had ordered the “urgent” creation of an ombudsperson’s office to handle workplace difficulties “without fear or reprisal.”

He also said the agency would release annual public reports on harassment and wrongdoing in the agency.

The moves come after The Canadian Press reported on what officers called a “toxic workplace” in the agency’s B.C. surveillance unit.

One officer said she was raped nine times by a senior colleague while in surveillance vehicles on missions in 2019 and 2020.

A second officer said she was later sexually assaulted by the same man despite bosses being told he should not be partnered with young women.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2023.

– With files from Darryl Greer in Vancouver

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