Politics

CBSA, CSC don't do enough to curb workplace harassment and violence, says auditor general

The Canada Border Services Agency and Correctional Service Canada knew about ongoing problems with harassment, discrimination and violence in their workplaces but didn't do enough to address them, says a new report from the Office of the Auditor General.

Workers at both federal agencies said 'they feared reprisal if they made complaints'

Correctional workers and other employees at Nova Scotia's two federal prisons have reported constant bullying, harassment and intimidation by management. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The Canada Border Services Agency and Correctional Service Canada knew about ongoing problems with harassment, discrimination and violence in their workplaces but didn't do enough to address them, says a new report from the Office of the Auditor General.

"More than one third of survey respondents at each organization stated that they feared reprisal if they made complaints of harassment, discrimination or workplace violence," says the report, which was made public on Tuesday. 

"The organizations knew that these problems were present in the workplace, yet neither organization had developed a comprehensive strategy to address them, including a way to measure and report on their progress toward reducing harassment, discrimination and workplace violence."

In 2018, a handful of prison guards at the Edmonton Institution came forward alleging a workplace culture of systematic sexual harassment and abuse that had left them degraded and depressed — and in one case, suicidal.

Employees at Nova Scotia's two federal prisons also have reported widespread bullying, harassment and intimidation at the hands of their own managers, according to workplace assessments obtained by CBC News last year.

Jean-Pierre Fortin, the national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, has called out what he refers to as a "toxic workplace culture" at the border agency. Back in November, he put out a statement saying members have been reporting abuse at work, citing the case of an officer who claimed her superior assaulted her in front of several witnesses without suffering consequences.

The report recommends that both agencies develop comprehensive strategies to address their ongoing problems. Both agencies agreed to do so.

The audit also found shortcomings in the way the organizations managed complaints, pointing to inconsistencies in the way they handed files.

For example, the auditors said they found that both organizations did not always do an initial assessment before deciding whether to accept or dismiss a complaint.

The auditor's office went on to recommend that both agencies do a better job of documenting the results of their work when they make decisions regarding harassment, discrimination and workplace violence complaints. 

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, whose portfolio includes both departments, said he's asked for regular updates on their progress.

"Both organizations have already taken action to address the issues outlined in the audit findings, and while I applaud the work that has already been undertaken, there is clearly more to do," he said in a statement.

"Having reviewed the recommendations, I will work with the CBSA and CSC unions and management as they implement changes and create workplaces where employees feel safe, heard and respected."

As part of its research, the audit team said it reviewed documentation related to respect in the workplace from both agencies and conducted interviews across the country.

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