Canada’s public safety agencies told to stamp out institutional racism and discrimination

By on 01/06/2022 | Updated on 01/06/2022
Jamie McCaffrey

Canada’s public safety minister Marco Mendicino has set four federal government agencies mandates to quash institutional racism, misogyny, and unconscious bias.

Mendicino emphasised the need for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to tackle systemic discrimination in all its forms.

The mandates are part of “key reforms to ensure that [the agencies] continue to fulfil their obligations to Canadians,” Mendicino said in a statement, adding: “This involves a wide array of actions, including new programmes and legislation, and building on important progress already made.”

Under the mandates, RCMP chief Brenda Lucki, CBSA president John Ossowski, CSC commissioner Anne Kelly and CSIS director David Vigneault have been tasked with setting benchmarks for their respective agencies.

The news comes as the federal government faces a multi-billion dollar class-action lawsuit on behalf of over 1,000 black federal workers who say it is institutionally racist. The case is expected to be brought before a judge later this year.

To the letter

In a mandate letter to Vigneault, Mendicino set out demands for Canada’s spy agency to rid itself of systemic racism and unconscious bias, starting with measures to ensure the agency provided a “healthy and inclusive workplace for all employees”.

“Externally, [the task] includes addressing instances where racialised Canadians and newcomers have faced additional barriers and ensuring that minority communities are not subject to unfair scrutiny in the name of national security,” he said.

Read more: Confronted with Canada’s grim history, we must strive to do better on inclusion

Commissioner Kelly has been tasked with putting time and resource into making more CSC’s services “Indigenous-centred”. Such services include correctional facilities known as ‘healing lodges’ which seek to reintegrate Indigenous offenders into society using culturally sensitive counselling and teaching programmes.

As for the RCMP, Mendicino said in his letter to Lucki that the agency had “like all Canadians… been forced to grapple with unprecedented challenges in recent years”.

Citing the agency’s Vision150 and Beyond, a strategic plan published in 2018 to modernise the agency and boost inclusivity and citizens’ trust, he said RCMP had made marked progress towards its key social targets.

Read more: The growing friction between bilingualism and other forms of inclusion in Canada

These include the roll-out of its first ever Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, along with efforts to modernise its recruitment programme, advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and provide early intervention support services to mental health challenges among staff.

“I am incredibly proud of the women and men of the RCMP, and the work they do every day across the country and around the world. Their presence is crucial to both community safety and national security,” Mendicino said.

However, he requested that RCMP do more to tackle incidents of domestic violence, including incidents where individuals with access to firearms posed a danger to the public.

Read more: Institutional racism: a global government problem?

“Victims of intimate partner violence deserve our protection. To that end, I am asking you to work with chief firearms officers across Canada so that they respond without delay to calls from Canadians who have safety concerns about an individual who has access to firearms, and to work with police of jurisdiction to remove firearms quickly as needed,” he said.

The agency has been tasked to submit annual reports on its progress.

Finally, Mendicino told Ossowski that the CBSA would be expected to further upgrade Canada’s ports-of-entry so as to reduce illegal immigration as well as drug and firearm smuggling.

Doing better

Writing for Global Government Forum last year, former deputy minister for Indigenous affairs and clerk of the Privy Council for Canada, Michael Wernick, said diversity remained core to the country’s self-image. However, he said that after the discovery of four sites containing the unmarked graves of Indigenous children made to attend residential schools between 1831 and 1996, the country had been forced to revaluate its social inclusion efforts.

“As a practitioner who spent many years in Indigenous policy – including eight as deputy minister of the federal department responsible for Indigenous and northern affairs – it seems to me that there may be a window, however long or brief, to channel this energy into real structural reforms,” Wernick said in his column.

He added that Canada’s government would need to confront “the tough questions around effective governance”, and communicate “respectfully and openly… about the difficulties around ensuring effective, accountable and transparent governance at Indigenous governments and institutions”.

Michael Wernick features in the next episode of Global Government Forum’s Leading Questions podcast, to be launched later this month.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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