Two Years After the Persaud Case, Justice Canada is Before Tribunal for Discrimination in Employment
Montreal, May 15, 2010 — Two years after the case of Mark Persaud, a Toronto lawyer who publicly denounced the Ministry of Justice’s racist work climate, the department is facing allegations of systemic discrimination in employment in a case that could dramatically transform the hiring system at the Ministry and in the federal public service as a whole.
In Yacine Agnaou v. Deputy Minister of Justice , to be heard by the Public Service Staffing Tribunal (PSST) next week, a Montreal lawyer is contesting a hiring criterion that excluded him from the selection process for three management positions at Justice Canada. The criterion, â€œhaving recent human resources management experience in the federal public serviceâ€ has a discriminatory effect on members of disadvantaged groups such as visible minorities, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities and women, he claims.
A lawyer of Moroccan-Lebanese descent, Mr. Agnaou graduated from the University of Montreal in 2001 with distinction. In 2000 he began his career at Justice Canada in Montreal and has been a Crown Prosecutor since 2003 for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (formerly the Federal Prosecution Service). Aside from his law degree, Mr. Agnaou also holds a Master of Advanced Studies, Management Specialty, with distinction, from Montreal’s prestigious management school, HEC (2004), where he is currently completing an MBA with distinction. For his achievements as Chair of the Quebec Chapter of the National Council of Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service (NCVM), an NGO, Mr. Agnaou received the Quebec Federal Council’s Award of Distinction in 2007 and the Public Service Award of Excellence in 2008.
In 2008, Mr. Agnaou applied for the following management positions: (i) Associate Senior Regional Director, (ii) Director of the Immigration Directorate, (iii) Director of the Tax Litigation Directorate. His application was rejected at the pre-selection stage due to the criterion at issue. According to Justice Canada, Mr. Agnaou’s experience in human resources management at the NCVM, among others, does not fulfill the required criterion as it was not acquired through a supervisory role in a federal public service position.
Given the serious under-representation of members of visible minorities in federal public service supervision positions, Mr. Agnaou wants to create a jurisprudence recognizing that the criterion constitutes systemic discrimination (meaning it is not intentionally discriminatory but disproportionately and negatively impacts visible minorities). Similarly, the criterion discriminates against the other disadvantaged groups identified in the Employment Equity Act (EEA). The EEA requires the Government of Canada to take necessary measures to ensure equitable representation by the four designated groups, in all levels of employment.
According to the 2008 Public Service Employee Survey, of the 386 Legal Advisor category supervisory positions in the federal public service, only 19 are staffed by visible minorities (4.9%). Disabled people also hold only 19 positions. No statistics were available on Aboriginal people.
Overall, in 2008, visible minorities represented 11.7% of all Justice Canada employees. They represented 10% of the LA category. Although the EEA requires detailed statistical monitoring, the Canadian government does not divulge regional statistics by department in its annual parliamentary reports. Nonetheless, it is well-known that visible minorities in the federal public service in Quebec are particularly under-represented. Visible minorities account for 16.2% of the Canadian population, according to Statistics Canada, and this proportion could double by 2031.
Along with his allegation of systemic discrimination, Mr. Agnaou is raising a second point. He claims that the management at Justice Canada’s Quebec regional office ignored their legal employment equity obligations in the way they conceived of and applied the hiring process. Mr. Agnaou holds that members of disadvantaged groups will remain ghettoized in non-management positions so long as recruitment and management and human resources keep brushing aside the EEA.
â€œIt’s well-known that public service employment equity measures at the federal, provincial and municipal levels are inadequately implemented. As a result, these groups are drastically excluded from public service jobs and the movement to renew the public service. If Mr. Agnaou wins, it will be a huge victory for employment equity for all designated groups,â€ commented CRARR’s Executive Director, Fo Niemi.
â€œThe purpose of my complaint is to move from words to actions on diversity in the federal public service. Canadians expect federal services, programs and policies to meet their needs, concerns and interests. Ensuring all Canadians, without discrimination, can access the higher ranks of federal public service jobs is thus an important issue in our democracy,â€ the Montreal lawyer stated.
â€œThis is not a personal battle, not at all. If I win, it will be a victory for all Canadian society, and not only minorities of today but of tomorrow. We should never forget that the greatness of our country depends on how we treat our minorities, regardless of who they are,â€ Mr. Agnaou added.
Hearings before the PSST will be held on May 17, 18 and 19, 2010 at the Montreal Federal Court, 30 McGill Street (in Old Montreal), from at 9:30 AM each day. The hearings are open to the public.
The following organizations have added their support for the principle of employment equity that Mr. Agnaou is fighting to have recognized:the Confederation of Organizations of Disabled People of Quebec (COPHAN), the Coalition of Quebec Agencies serving Refugees and Immigrants (TCRI), the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism (Regina) and the Centre for Race and Culture (Edmonton).