Halifax releases report on workplace racism and harassment amid calls for inquiry

The Halifax Regional Municipality has released a progress report on racism in its workplace, amidst calls from current and former employees for an independent inquiry.

High-profile cases highlight discrimination in hiring and employment practices at HRM

African Nova Scotians employed by the city of Halifax say they deal with racial discrimination on the job and are consistently passed over for promotions. (Steve Berry/CBC)

The Halifax Regional Municipality has released a progress report on discrimination and racism in the workplace, amidst calls from current and former employees for an independent inquiry into bullying and harassment.

The city's chief administrative officer released the update Monday afternoon, days after a promised deadline, looking at the progress on 90 recommendations from a 2016 report on employment policies and practices.

"I made it very clear to those who report to me...that racial discrimination and harassment in this workplace is not acceptable. And we will take action each and every time," said CAO Jacques Dubé.

In recent months, a number of public protests and human rights rulings have highlighted the levels of discrimination in a number of city departments, including Metro Transit, the fire service and the public works department.

61% of recommendations completed

Of the 90 recommendations, the progress report says 61 per cent have been completed.

"We're making good progress," Dubé said.

Some of the items that are 'at risk' of not being completed include creating an employment equity policy and program which would collect and analyze workforce data and address under-representation.

Halifax CAO Jacques Dubé says the city is making progress. (Pam Berman/CBC)

The city also hasn't provided a guide to managers and staff to ensure they aren't discriminating in their hiring practices.

HRM also hasn't changed the way reference checks are being conducted. The 2016 report recommended the city clearly outline the number of references that need to be checked for internal and external candidates.

City plans to hire external consultant, start confidential hotline

For its part, the city says it plans to pay an external consultant in the next 75 days to review its human resources practices and processes to prevent racial discrimination and harassment.

"Recommendations from that report will be used to inform an action plan that we will share with the mayor, regional council, and all employees," Dubé said.

Dubé also promised a confidential employee hotline will be up and running by mid-July.

"We need to make sure every time there's an investigation that involves workplace rights... that [staff] will be asked to respond to what they've done to stop and prevent harassment and discrimination alleged in any complaint. And that report needs to come to me."

Former city councillor says independent inquiry needed

Former Halifax councillor Jackie Barkhouse says at this point, an independent inquiry is needed to root out racism and abuse in the workplaces with the HRM. 

"It was my opinion then and it is still my opinion that we're dealing with a systemic problem. I was aware of it and it was real. It wasn't gossip," she said.

Barkhouse was a municipal councillor ten years ago, and says she tried to deal with problems of bullying and harassment.

"I always believed that people would eventually make public some of the concerns that I was hearing about," she said. "It really was just a matter of time before Halifax was on the radar."

Former Halifax councillor Jackie Barkhouse says at this point, apologies are not enough. (Allison Devereaux/CBC)

Barkhouse recently helped create Equity Watch, a non-profit organization set up to fight discrimination.

"We know what we need. We need an independent review that's done outside of HRM — not something that's done in house," she said.

"And we need it to be made public."

Dube said he's not convinced an inquiry is necessary at this time.

"I think if we can get some independent advice with a strong mandate to get to the  truth, to get to the facts and come back with some recommendations that will be helpful," he said.  

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg

Journalist

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Halifax. She previously worked for CBC Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von. stackelberg@cbc.ca

With files from Pam Berman