1st Session, 43rd Parliament
Volume 151, Issue 23

Wednesday, June 17, 2020
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Systemic Racism

Hon. Frances Lankin: My question is to the Government Representative and I ask this on behalf of Senator Jaffer, who is unable to be here due to COVID restrictions.

Senator Gold, the question is with respect to systemic discrimination in the federal government. I want to read you a definition of systemic discrimination: “A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity.”

I looked at many sources for these definitions. Whether it was from human rights commissions or civil liberties groups, they’re all very similar and they certainly convey the same understanding.

Senator, despite statements by very senior leaders in the federal public service of late, which have indicated a lack of understanding of systemic racism, we assume there is an official definition of systemic racism in use and that has been implemented by the Government of Canada. Specifically, the question from Senator Jaffer is: What has the government done to socialize such an understanding and to ensure that public service leadership addresses these issues, which are the scourge of systemic racism within our federal institutions?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you very much for that important question. As your question implies, the definition is a very important matter in these discussions because the definition may either include or exclude certain elements that need to be addressed.

Now, I’ve been advised that along with Canada’s anti-racism strategy, which was launched in 2019, the government adopted the definition of systemic racism used by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. I will read it into the record. It’s as follows:

Systemic or institutional racism consists of patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the social or administrative structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate a position of relative disadvantage for racialized persons. These appear neutral on the surface but, nevertheless, have an exclusionary impact on racialized persons.

With regard to your second question, I note that the anti-racism strategy was also accompanied by a $45-million infusion of funds and a new anti-racism secretariat within the Department of Heritage Canada, which is intended to lead a whole-of-government approach to addressing racism and discrimination. It builds upon other works of the government, such as the Joint Union/Management Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion in the Public Service, which was created in September 2016, and so on.

I have been assured that the government is committed to continuing to build a diverse public service that reflects the Canadian population and serves as a model of inclusion. And I should add that this government has made significant progress in increasing the numbers of visible minorities within the public service.

Senator Lankin: Thank you, representative. Senator Gold, I think all of us were shocked to hear senior federal public service leaders being unable to discuss systemic discrimination, and, in fact, expressing that they have a lack of understanding. They don’t really understand it.

While I have no doubt that there has been a commitment made, and I have no doubt there’s progress — we all see there has been some progress — there is so much more to do. If our federal public service leadership can’t, in fact, articulate what it is they’re in charge of trying to eradicate within the public service, we’ve got a long way to go. I think people would acknowledge that.

Given the context of what we’re living with right now, what will the government do on an urgent basis to start to move, through all levels of the public service, a systematic approach to eradicating racism and the painful expression of what it now seems our fellow Canadians are living through and experiencing daily?

Senator Gold: Thank you again for the question. I cannot pretend to list what the government is intending to do, as you’ve described, save to repeat that it is committed to doing more. The government knows more needs to be done. The government is, as we say in French, à l’écoute, whether it’s statements and representations from the Parliamentary Black Caucus or others. There is much to work with and the government is committed to doing what it can.