TORONTO – Nicholas Marcus Thompson worked as a taxpayer services agent in 2016 at the Canada Revenue Agency, answering questions about corporate taxes, payroll and related matters.
After he became sick, his doctor recommended he be given accommodations at his workplace. What ensued was something Nicholas could not have imagined.
“They failed to properly accommodate me by providing me with meaningful work at my level. Instead, they asked me to clean out all those closets and those sorts of janitorial duties,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he was also denied other jobs within the organization based on this “lack of productivity,” which was no fault of his own.
His personal experience, Thompson said, made him realize the existence of systemic racism and Black employee exclusion at different public service jobs.
On Dec. 1, Thompson and 11 other current and former civil servants filed a lawsuit alleging the federal government discriminates against Black employees.
Nicholas Marcus Thompson is one of the 12 plaintiff in the proposed lawsuit against the federal government for alleged discrimination against Black public service employees. (Photo provided by Sara Fonseca)
According to the statement of claim filed in federal court and posted on a website about the the action, “From the late 1960s onward, the policies followed by Canada to seek employment equity and freedom from discrimination have failed Black employees in the public service due to an institutional framework built on systemic racism and racial inequality.”
The statement of claim describes the government’s “reliance on the Employment Equity Act and related measures” to achieve equity in the public service as subjecting Black employees to “the systemic and pervasive and unlawful practice of Black employee exclusion.”
The allegations have not yet been tested in court.
The statement of claim alleges in part that Thompson was “made a target for his efforts to assist other Black employees and to improve hiring and promotion practices” at the Canada Revenue Agency.
“From the late 1960s onward, the policies followed by Canada to seek employment equity and freedom from discrimination have failed Black employees in the public service due to an institutional framework built on systemic racism and racial inequality.”
– Quote from the statement of claim filed by Thompson co-plaintiffs
The agency did not respond to questions about the lawsuit, Friday.
The statement of claim also includes an employee’s description of working at the Canadian Human Rights Commission as working in a “poisoned work environment.” Bernadeth Betchi took a leave of absence in 2020. According to the statement of claim, she experienced “mistreatment and Black employee exclusion.”
The Canadian Human Rights Commission shared a statement Friday: “More than two years ago, we began a commission-wide process of internal reflection to strengthen the commission and its processes. Like many organizations, we recognize that there is much work to do to fully achieve equality and inclusion. That is why the commission has been examining how racism may manifest itself within our organization and what steps might be needed to address it.”
On Friday, Public Service Alliance of Canada’s national president Chris Aylward called on the federal government to “do what is necessary to right these wrongs and ensure that these injustices do not continue.”
Aylward said the public service presents itself as a merit-based organization that represents and serves all Canadians. “While laudable as a principle, many Canadians, particularly Black Canadians, have experienced a different reality.”
Thompson called this lawsuit a battle in the history of Black people in Canada, where, he said, people who are Black are treated as second-class citizens.
“We’re seeking real change throughout the entire system – solutions to address this. And we’re also seeking an apology from the prime minister, the head of the government for this issue,” Thompson added.