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Immigration Canada to set up new office to address staff racism complaints by this fall

After multiple workforce surveys probing racism and discrimination toward employees, the federal Immigration Department says it is in the process of setting up an independent ombudsperson’s office, expected to be up and running by this fall. 

“As with any effort toward real, lasting, and systemic change, we are not going to fix things overnight,” a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) wrote to CBC News in a statement.

The department said it would be creating an equity secretariat that will support “safe and independent channels for reporting racism and discrimination,” more accountability for senior managers, and also include an ombudsperson’s office available to all of its employees. 

However, two unions representing IRCC employees say the department has not formally spoken to them about the steps involved in creating the secretariat or the ombudsperson’s office. 

“We have not been formally consulted,” said Pamela Isfeld, the president of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, which represents IRCC employees posted abroad. “We are aware that they are doing some of this work, but I haven’t seen a specific plan.” 

She was also unaware of a projected timeline when interviewed by CBC News on Thursday. 

“I’m hoping it won’t be years, but I haven’t seen a date,” Isfeld said.

A politician stands with trees in the background.
Marc Miller arrives for a cabinet swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall last week. He is now the immigration minister, as his department promises to improve on anti-racism initiatives. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Earlier this week, IRCC published a summary report of a survey conducted among 62 employees, with the chief complaints of many linked to racist micro-aggressions, harassment and professional marginalization during postings abroad. 

“I had heard a few anecdotal reports of those kinds of issues from our members,” Isfeld said. She added she was surprised at the number of complaints.

The union representing IRCC employees who work in Canada also said it had not been consulted on the creation of an ombudsperson’s office.

“They have an obligation to consult with bargaining agent unions,” said Crystal Warner, executive vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union. 

Some work underway at IRCC

In its statement to CBC News, IRCC pointed out it has created anti-racism sector commitments for all staff, an internal advisory board and programs to support career development for underrepresented groups.

The department also said it is making unconscious bias training mandatory for all employees, managers and executives.

The summary report it published this week did note that employees say work has been done to address racism complaints since the last time IRCC surveyed them in 2021.

The Immigration Department also said it has consulted with the unions and “will continue to do so.” It said it engages with a variety of external stakeholders as it implements its anti-racism work. 

A man in a gray suit answers reporters' questions outside the House of Commons.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill earlier this year, accompanied by his immigration critic, Jenny Kwan. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he expects the federal government to quickly address the issues raised by employees in the latest survey. “No one should be discriminated against because of the way they speak, the language background that they have,” he said.

“Ongoing concerns raised about IRCC mean that there needs to be some real concrete action taken,” he added. 

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