Pat Armstrong: Hello everyone, my name is Pat Armstrong and I co-chair the Equity Committee at the CAUT. To start, I want to begin with our territorial acknowledgement. I'd like to take this moment to remind you that although the meeting is virtual, we all do our work on specific Indigenous territories. Some of these territories are governed by treaties, but some are still unceded. I would ask that you reflect on the conditions under which we occupy these spaces today and always.
36 years ago, Rosalie Abella was appointed by the federal government to "inquire into the most efficient, effective, and equitable means of promoting employment opportunities and eliminating systemic discrimination against four designated groups, women, Native people, disabled persons, and visible minorities." Today, of course, we would say equity-seeking groups inclusive of women, Indigenous people, racialized minorities, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ+. 25 years ago today, the current Employment Equity Act was passed and just recently, government announced plans to modernize the Act.
Three speakers today bring their ideas on the legacy of the Employment Equity Act, where we need to go from here and how we should take up this new opportunity.
I would like to introduce the three speakers.
Carol Agócs, PhD, is a Professor Emerita in the Department of Political Science at Western University in London, Ontario. Her research and publications address issues of racial and gender inequality and discrimination in employment and employment equity policy and its implementation. Her publications include Employment Equity in Canada: The Legacy of the Abella Report and Workplace Equality: International Perspectives on Legislation, Policy and Practice.
Larry Rousseau is the Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress. Previously, he served in leadership roles with the Public Service Alliance of Canada. His public service career was at Statistics Canada, to which he remains. He has a Certificate in Civil Law from the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section, and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the École nationale d’administration publique in Quebec.
Malinda Smith is a political science professor and the inaugural Vice Provost (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) at the University of Calgary. She is a former Vice President Equity Issues for the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and currently serves as Chair of its Advisory Committee on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Decolonization. She serves on the Statistics Canada Working Group on Black communities in Canada, the Canada Research Chairs Advisory Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Policy, and the Inter-Institutional Advisory Committee for National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities.
We will go first to Carol.
Carol Agócs: Thanks, Pat Armstrong, for your introduction and to all of you for being with us today to talk about Canada's Employment Equity Act. Today's climate of activism on issues of systemic racism, sexism, and disability, on the need for action on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and on recognition of LGBTQ+ identities, reminds me of the political climate in Canada in the mid-1980s, when the Abella report was commissioned and published.
Judge Rosalie Silberman Abella, now the Supreme Court of Canada Justice, was the sole author of the report on the Royal Commission on Equality and Employment, published in 1984, at a time of grassroots activism and hope that progress towards social justice was possible. Her mandate and the focus of her report was to inquire into systemic discrimination in employment and its impacts on four groups, then referred to as women, visible minorities, Aboriginal people, and persons with disabilities. Shepherded by Flora MacDonald, Minister of Employment and Immigration, the Employment Equity Act was passed in 1986 by the Mulroney government, and it took effect in 1987.
The 1995 Employment Equity Act replaced the 1986 Act, amended it, and covered the federal public service, the Canadian Forces and the RCMP under its purview. The 1995 Act both strengthened and weakened elements of the 1986 Act enforcement regime. Reflecting on her work on the Royal Commission Report, Abella noted that understanding the meaning of equality was of central importance. She concluded that respect for differences allows people to be treated as equals. Ignoring differences creates inequality. That proposition remains the key to understanding what is involved in implementing the Employment Equity Act.
The 1986 Act met with a mixed reception. While some equality seekers and human rights advocates celebrated its potential to remove systemic barriers to economic and employment opportunity for women, racialized communities, persons with disabilities, and Indigenous peoples, others pointed to its flaws and limitations. The Employment Equity Act was proactive in that was intended to prevent discrimination, rather than to deal with discrimination after it occurred, as the human rights process does. It addresses systemic issues, not just individual complaints of discrimination.
It was mandatory for employers in the federal jurisdiction, and it was distinctly Canadian, rather than a copy of affirmative action policy in the United States. However, the Employment Equity Act was limited in scope, and restricted to a specific set of requirements for employers. Justice Abella's report called attention to the need for a variety of institutional changes and supports to make equality of employment opportunity a reality. These changes in supports are beyond the scope of a federal law about equity in the workplace, but they are needed to address systemic discrimination more broadly.
We're still waiting for the national public child care system which her report advocated, and there remain weaknesses in systems for evaluating foreign credentials and work experience. Indigenous communities continue to lack the educational opportunities and healthy living conditions required to support successful employment. Despite specific legislation addressing accommodation for persons with disabilities, they continue to face workplace barriers and lack of employment opportunities. The provinces, which laws cover the vast majority of Canadian workers, have yet to enact and retain employment equity legislation.
Ontario adopted a leading edge employment equity law in the early 1990s, under Bob Ray's NDP government, but it was repealed as one of the first Acts of the Harris Conservative government in 1995. Today, less than 13% of Canada's workforce is covered by employment equity requirements in the federal jurisdiction. The Act is also limited by other weaknesses. Since its origin, the Act’s enforcement and sanctions for non-compliance with the requirements have been ineffective. Employers face fines for failing to file accurate annual reports with the government, but no sanctions for failing to develop and implement employment equity plans, and goals.
Collecting and reporting workforce data has too often become a numbers game with little impact on real change toward greater equity in the workplace. Some employers are taking employment equity seriously and showing sustained commitment and improvements. However, others have been seduced by competing narratives about voluntary diversity and inclusion strategies that enhance corporate images without making corporations accountable for taking action to reduce systemic barriers and demonstrate gains and equity for their employees. Without legal consequences, employers may find it easy to let employment equity take a backseat to other priorities. A number of inherent and other weaknesses had limited the Employment Equity Act's effectiveness in getting the results it was meant to achieve.
There has been a gap between policy and practice, between the theory and Abella's policy vision for employment equity as a remedy for systemic discrimination in the workplace and the reality that many employers tend to do the minimum required to comply with the Act. Employers are implementing the Act as written, not the policy of employment equity, as envisioned by Abella.
It has been 33 years since the original Employment Equity Act came into force. There's research evidence that despite its weaknesses, the Act has left a significant legacy and accomplished much. Data reported by employers covered by the Legislated Employment Equity Program (LEEP) has shown gains in the representation of women and members of racialized groups in the private and public sectors and Indigenous people in the public sector.
Women have made notable gains in access and career development under employment equity, though all four equity groups are still underrepresented in leadership positions. Research in 2010, comparing large firms covered by the LEEP and the Federal Contractors Program (FCP), comparing them with Financial Post 500 companies that were not covered by those programs, found a greater number of diversity management practices in the LEEP firms, followed by the FCP firms as compared with the other Fortune 500 companies. Differences were significant on recruitment, training and development and accountability for employment equity goals.
The researchers at Enron Burke concluded that, and I quote, "The employment equity legislation remains the most effective tool at promoting equity and diversity in Canadian organizations." Today's workplace is quite different from the ones that the 1986 or the 1995 Employment Equity Act were designed for. A growing proportion of jobs are non-standard and precarious. Many do not offer careers, security or coverage by benefits plans or even employment standards.
Fewer private-sector workplaces are covered by collective agreements. Employees must look out for their own employment future, but a growing proportion are working in jobs for which they are overqualified or working part-time and voluntarily or are unemployed. Many face discriminatory barriers because they are immigrants or Indigenous or members of racialized groups.
COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of essential service workers, predominantly members of racialized groups and women who have been over-represented among those who have contracted the virus and those who have died because of their work with ill or elderly patients, and their overcrowded working and living conditions. Their plight should surely alert Canadians and our government to the need for more equitable working conditions for those we depend on to care for all of us and for every Canadian.
33 years after the first Employment Equity Act came into force as part of its fall economic update, the Government of Canada announced funding to support a taskforce on modernizing the Employment Equity Act, and additional funds to expand the workplace opportunities and barriers to equity program, and to support anti-racism initiatives and Black-owned businesses.
These announcements engender hope. The Act has not been reviewed since 2002, although the Act prescribes a legislative review over five years, changes to regulations by the Harper government weakened the Federal Contractors Program, and its omnibus budget bill reduced funding to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which is responsible for compliance reviews and enforcement for the Legislated Employment Equity Program.
At times in the past, government reviews of the Act or its regulations have delivered bad news to equality seekers. However, the best-case scenario, the newly announced Task Force to modernize the Employment Equity Act might address some of the weaknesses built into the Act and recommend adequate funding to support the proper implementation by the employers and the auditing and enforcement functions of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
My vision for a stronger Employment Equity Act would include the following changes. First, following meaningful consultations with representatives of the equity-seeking groups, update the language used to refer to them in the Act, the term visible minorities is not acceptable, and the term Aboriginal peoples should be supplanted by Indigenous peoples. Second, broaden the coverage of the Act to include the LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirited population as an equity-seeking group.
Three, amend the regulations under the Act to require collection, analysis and reporting of employers’ data to recognize the reality of intersectionality or multiple identities of individuals. This would allow, for example, analysis of gender inequality within the racialized, Indigenous and disabled populations, as well as inequality on the basis of racial group, Indigeneity and disability within the population of women.
Four, strengthen the Act to require employers covered by the LEEP to demonstrate that they actually implement their employment equity plans and attain the goals they have set in order to close the gap between representation of the equity-seeking groups and their workplace and in the labor market. Institute robust penalties for failure to implement employment equity, not just for failure to report their numbers.
Five, increase the coverage of the FCP by lowering the million-dollar contracts threshold, perhaps to $50,000 as in the US, and by lowering the size threshold from 100 employees to perhaps 50. Improve contractors’ accountability by requiring them to publicly report on their employment equity systems reviews, and their employment equity plans, goals and results on a regular basis.
Six, require both LEEP and FCP employers to consult meaningfully with their unions and to establish employment equity committees comprised of representatives of the equity-seeking groups, as well as corporate leaders, union reps and human resources specialists. These committees should play leading roles in implementing the required employment systems review, and in scrutinizing the employers’ employment equity plans, goals and implementation efforts while retaining the corporate executives responsibility.
Finally, seven, provide for continuing budgetary support for the auditing and enforcement roles of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Employment Equity Tribunal, as well as for the Labour Program or other entity that provides ongoing consultation and support to employers’ unions, equity-seeking groups and other stakeholders involved in implementing employment equity requirements.
Pat Armstrong: Thank you very much, Carol. What a comprehensive take on the report and the two equity legislations. Now, Larry, you get to pick up and follow that.
Larry: Hello and thank you for having me.
It has been thirty-five years since the first Employment Equity Act was passed and 25 since its most recent major legislative overhaul. Yet our workplaces still do not reflect the diversity of Canada's population. The CLC welcomed the Federal government’s commitment in the Fall Economic Statement to a Task Force on “modernizing the Employment Equity Act”. Canada’s unions have been calling for a review for quite some time, as we recognize that progress has been agonizingly slow.
Clearly, more needs to be done to break down systemic barriers that are preventing women, Black workers, Indigenous and racialized workers, and workers with disabilities from getting access to federal jobs and from rising in the ranks. The last time there was talk of a review of the Act was when Stockwell Day and Jason Kenny announced the Conservative government’s intention to review employment equity in the federal public service. It was a knee-jerk reaction to news reports that some job competitions in the federal public sector had been designated for qualified workers from equity groups who have traditionally been under-represented in government jobs. In reality, it was less than two per cent of competitions, which was probably why the review never went anywhere – and the government's progress toward equity in federal employment practices has maintained the same glacial pace.
To get ready, the labour movement will need to have to have a serious conversation about what “modernizing” the Act should look like. We’re going to need to hear your ideas and your priorities. I’m hoping that today’s conversation will help kickstart that process.
Here are some things we’d like to consider:
Any efforts to modernize the Act should consider other groups who also face systemic discrimination but are currently not covered, such as workers who face discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
Will LGBTQ2SI folk become a fifth designated group?
The term “visible minorities” has been a subject of much criticism, as by lumping a number of quite different groups together it obliterates the distinct forms of racism and discrimination faced by Black workers, or workers who are visibly Muslim or Sikh, for example (on the basis of religious practices and dress). Black workers in the federal public service have been particularly vocal, to the point that a class action lawsuit is now in the works.
Do we also need to consider older workers, young workers, workers with caregiving responsibilities, or other categories?
We’ll need to examine not just the representation of members of equity-seeking groups in workplaces overall, but where they are working, in what jobs, and what is their representation at different levels of the workforce.
- Are they gaining access to promotions, do they have opportunities to develop and further their careers?
- What are the measures taken to effect change?
- What works?
- Will the Act impose the teeth needed to achieve Employment Equity targets and objectives?
- What measures are needed to require and achieve accountability?
- How do we bring our developing understanding of intersectionality into the evaluation of the Act’s success?
- Will the Act provide for the collection and the administrative use of data, proper disaggregated data, in order to better understand where barriers might continue to pose challenges to equity-seeking workers?
- Will the new Act compare the outcomes of the different parts of the program – the public service, the private sector, and the Federal Contractors Program?
- What supports and resources could be developed to encourage meaningful progress and bring about the kind of cultural change required to build workplaces that are truly inclusive?
We hear a lot of management types speak the language of “diversity and inclusion” – it is becoming a key corporate value, with a whole industry of specialists and consultants growing by leaps and bounds. While I don’t doubt the good intentions of employers who want to be seen to be supporting a more diverse workforce, the benefit of proactive legislation is the requirement to take active steps and get results – not just put nice things on the company website.Ultimately, we recognize that employment equity is not a silver bullet in our effort to remove systemic barriers – it’s one tool in the tool box. To really see change, we need to also address things like the lack of universal child care and other care services, access to training and education, violence and harassment at work, lack of access to mental health supports and treatment, and so much more.
Of course, this is why unions do what we do, and why human rights is at the core of so much of our efforts. We need to put human rights and equity at the centre now, more than ever.
Our Forward Together campaign seeks to do just that. We have weathered one of the greatest public health and economic crises in modern history. But we need to continue moving forward together. And we do this by strengthening our social safety. We must disaster-proof economy so that when disaster hits, we’re ready. So, it is critical that Canada’s COVID-19 recovery efforts tackle the human rights failures that have been exposed by the pandemic.
This is our opportunity not just to get “back to normal”.
Normal wasn’t working for so many of us.
This is our chance to forge a new normal, and a renewed commitment to employment equity is an important part of the process. A review of two decades (1987 – 2009) of employment equity suggests that it has not been uniformly effective for the four designated groups. The Indigenous population is expected to continue growing and will be a significant source of labour for Canada. However, Indigenous peoples continue to face challenges in their participation in the labour force. Therefore, employment equity efforts must be directed at ensuring they are proportionately represented in various occupations and organizational levels.
Persons with disabilities also face very similar challenges, in that, they are under- represented in the workplace. Moreover, workers with disabilities are also underemployed, and they are often concentrated in entry#level and part-time work.Workers with disabilities can and want to work, and they can be an important source of skilled labour. On this basis, policy makers should ensure stronger enforcement of employment equity as employers are quick to cite ‘bona fide occupational requirement’ and ‘undue hardship’ for refusing to accommodate workers with disabilities. Visible minorities and women are considered to be success stories of employment equity, and they face very similar trends and employment patterns. For the most part, their representation rates are tracking closely to their availability in the labour market (except for women in recent years), and they are proportionately represented in professional and managerial jobs.
However, glass ceilings exist for both visible minorities and women at senior management levels, and they are also disproportionately employed and ghettoized in lower-paying fields. While employment equity has been partially effective, efforts must be directed at breaking the glass ceiling and including visible minorities and women in the ‘white male’ domain. One such effort may be found in Quebec’s universal child care and parental leave policy. The Act was put in place to eliminate barriers in the workplace so that no person is denied employment opportunities for reasons unrelated to ability. Employment equity requires organizations to undertake special measures and to institute positive policies and practices to ensure designated group members achieve proportionate representation in the workplace. Thus, employers are required to take proactive measures to eliminate employment barriers and to ensure members of designated groups are proportionately represented and distributed in their workforces. Cases of non-compliance referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal – how often did this happen and were interventions effective?
One key measure of the success of employment equity in Canada is the achievement of proportionate representation for designated group members’ relative to their availability rates in the labour market. Against this backdrop, the present study seeks to examine the effectiveness of employment equity in Canada using data from the Act’s annual reports.
Pat Armstrong: Excellent timing, you have certainly raised important questions about groups that are missing and figuring out how do we include them in this process. Malinda Smith.
Malinda Smith: Good afternoon and thank you very much. I want to make four points focusing primarily on the Federal Contractors Program and the implications with Canadian universities, colleges, and CEGEPs. As has been noted in the previous presentations, the Federal Contractors Program was the route by which universities, colleges, CEGEPs entered into much of this conversation.
I want to just simply say that here we are, we just passed the 50th anniversary of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. We are now marking the 25th anniversary of the second iteration of the Employment Equity Act. We are in the fifth anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with its 94 Calls to Action with regards to Indigenous peoples, including the role of post-secondary sector.
Yet we have very weak, in my view, employment equity and EDI infrastructures in Canadian universities. I want to stress the word, infrastructure, because that is actually fundamental, that's not the language that was used in the Federal Contractors Program, but that's actually what they were calling for with the call for senior leadership, with the call for data collection and accountability mechanisms.
This is 2020, and most institutions do not have this infrastructure except for, and this is an important caveat, except for the research ecosystem where such infrastructure comes in for the Canada Research Chairs programs or the CERC program or the New Frontiers in Research program for new scholars. The second point I want to make then is that as soon as the Federal Contractors Program were introduced into Canadian universities, many of the universities themselves shifted the infrastructure from four equity seeking groups to one.
That is, we focus on the status of women. I actually think that was informed by the earlier work on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women but the second thing was there was a women's movement that actually pushed accountability for those of us women who were in the academy, women's studies programs. We had a community check on that activity so the accountability wasn't institutional, it was actually the infrastructure of the women's movement outside of university.
Universities did not develop a racial equity program and most still don't have one. They have no anti-racism initiatives and/or they're only introducing it now in 2020. Few had disability initiatives, visible or invisible, except through benefits and/or for students. By in large, we are still-- this is still a gap, a persistent gap. The fourth point I want to make then is most of the changes we've seen around Indigenous peoples in universities, colleges, CEGEPs have come via the Truth and Reconciliation Commission not employment equity per se, not EDI, per se.
I want to differentiate employment equity and EDI. The way of employment equity is it's rooted in human rights and equality struggles. Now, either the Abella report and the Royal Commission and Equality in Employment, or the Employment Equity Act, or Section 15 of the Charter which called for special measures. Employment equity has that backdrop to it, EDI does not. Equity, diversity, and inclusion is voluntary, ad hoc, can be seen as a luxury for good times. What it does add though, that the employment equity didn't add, is it allows us to engage with students. So, whereas employment equity focuses primarily on faculty and staff of the university employees or employment, so to speak, EDI does extend to the students, undergraduate and graduate and post-doc, and talks about the student experience, curriculum and other kinds of areas. So that's key.
The other point I want to make then is that we have to be mindful of, and I think these points have been raised so I didn't want to go over them too long, is that under the Federal Contractors Program, I still think that the strength of those programs, ironically, what was argued for still persists and actually shape what's happening in Canadian universities, where it is happening. For example, the Federal Contractors Program called for 12 things.
One is to adopt accountability mechanisms and we know that they don't exist. Assign a senior official. Universities are now hiring people like me or assistant deans EDI, only now. Communicate to employees. Most universities it's top-down rather than requiring students, faculty and staff or the stakeholders to be participating in them. This is actually a weaker accountability mechanism today, than they thought was called for earlier.
Collect for workforce data. Universities have gender data but not necessarily through EDI. It's because it's on all the forms that we have on universities and also through the UCASS system. There is no comparable data for visible/racialized minorities, Indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities or LGBTQ. There's a patchwork of uneven data collection, which we must address. Few are doing workforce analysis, few will be able to tell you the barriers and biases that face universities, face each of the equity seeking group. In fact, it's a one size fits all approach.
If you are not identifying the barriers and biases, that means you are unable to talk about removing those barriers. So, I would argue that the initiative we are seeing in the aftermath of the anti-racism mobilization, the policies and processes these are, I would say, as bold as some of them look, they are still ad hoc because they're not necessarily informed by a workforce data analysis.
We don't know whether they will actually address the nature of the problem, the systemic problems. We don't know what monitoring system exists. This is back to Carol's point that any renovation of the Employment Equity Act must have stronger accountability mechanism. The third point I want to make again very briefly is with the changes in the Federal Contractors’ Program under the Harper government.
What we had in that scenario was that we had still a very small percentage of universities, colleges, CEJEPs that were subjected to the Federal Contractors Program. Something like 59, 60 of them. Most of the U15 universities were subject to them. After the changes brought in by the Harper government, only about five U15 were subject to the program and I think now most aren't.
In other words, most universities that are engaged in EDI are doing so in a voluntary basis and there's actually no accountability mechanism left. So paradoxically though, where universities are dealing with EDI in a more robust mechanism or approach, they are doing it through the research ecosystem. That is through the tri-agencies, the Canada Research Chairs and the Dimensions EDI strategy.
They are calling for exactly the same kind of mechanisms that the federal contract this program called for, but they have actually stronger mechanisms, including the push for disaggregated data. They are in fact sharing data on student awards, on research chairs and so on, including masters and PhD data. The final point that I want to make is, I think there are five or six things that we need to do in order to strengthen, modernize the Employment Equity Act.
One is, we need to change the language. Many universities are already dealing with LGBTQ and so this needs to be updated. Second, while I know, I hear that people say we need to renovate the language of visible racialized minorities. I am reticent about that, and I have said so to Stats Can people, because it's actually rooted in legislation. There's a whole kind of genealogy that you can attach to that but I think that data needs to be disaggregated by Black, South Asian, Chinese, Filipino, and racialized. Third, we need to change to Indigenous but also disaggregate to focus on First Nations, Metis and Inuit and we need to do gender identity and gender expression. Yes, with nuances and intersections, Stats Can already doing this as well. The third thing that I think we need, with disaggregated data, is we need an accountability mechanism. There needs to be consequences for universities who do not comply. I know Carol said we should have $50,000 contract threshold as the funding basis for those universities, and I would say that any university that gets research funding undergraduate, graduate, master's, PhD should have to have an equity plan.
Any funding at any level should be part of it, not just contracts. Then, finally, as I said, there needs to be consequences, strong consequences, something like you're not eligible to apply for any of this funding without a robust employment equity plan with accountability mechanisms. Again, I'm happy again to take the time to talk more about the disaggregated data, because the data clearly shows including Universities Canada data and CAUT’s Underrepresented and Underpaid data, that we have far to go from meeting equitable representation, which is the floor in Canadian universities, thanks.
Pat Armstrong: Thank you, Malinda, for raising some really important strategies for change and I must say-- and thank you all actually for nicely non-overlapping but reinforcing presentations. We certainly have seen some important ways forward that's one of the consistent questions that's been coming up in the chat is questions around movements, social movements and all of you have raised this to some extent. Unions and other social movements how can they work together to achieve this, to be intersectional in their own processes in terms of moving forward? That's one of the questions we have, does anyone want to take that up, Malinda?
Malinda Smith: Thanks. I strongly believe that any movement we have had on equity in Canadian universities and colleges has been a result of community mobilization. I said, I credit the women's movement for any gains, including women's based programs and so on. If you think about the LGBTQ movement, that was pushing also, that was mobilizing change around representation, around gay, straight alliances, around these kinds of things, independent of what was happening in universities and they continue to be supported by external actors. In fact, then similarly around the recent anti-racism movements, which have spurred changes for anti-black racism initiatives, all the TRC and I don't know more that spur changes on Indigenization. My view is an intersectional kind of social movement is vital, indispensable to actually, maintaining the pressure on universities who are reluctant internally, it seems, to mobilize around advancing equity, diversity and inclusion, so yes, social movements are vital.
Pat Armstrong: Thank you, Malinda. Carol, have you something you want to say about this question of social movements and other organizations outside the university that can contribute to the changes you are advocating?
Carol Agócs: Yes, I think we have employment equity at all because of the activism of social movements and I think Abella recognized that at the time that she wrote her report. I think at this stage where we are today, social movements are critical to getting the changes that we want in the federal Employment Equity Act but they also are really important as a possible vehicle for us to get provincial level employment equity, which is so badly needed. As it is, the federal Employment Equity Act only covers a small proportion, say somewhere around 10 to 12% of the workforce of Canada and most people that work are covered by provincial employment regulations and legislation. At the provincial level, groups like Color of Change have advocated that we work together on getting employment equity legislation for Ontario or for other provinces. I think if we could possibly mobilize people at the provincial level toward that end, we would really accomplish something major for change.
Pat Armstrong: Larry?
Larry Rousseau: Yes, I believe the provincial aspect is the greater challenge, it is the great frontier but then again, the mobilization is to bring it to the fore, whether it's at Queens Park or any of the other legislatures to make sure that not only are we mobilizing but we are bringing the data as well to the fore, to the attention of our politicians so that it becomes very apparent how they have so much to make up for in this field. We're not going to get anywhere if we don't have behind us a solid movement that represents all the inter-sectionalities that we're talking about and it is through the recognition of all these inter-sectionalities that we will get that solidarity where everyone will say yes at every level, whether it's federal, whether it's provincial or whether it's municipal everywhere, where employment is concerned, we need to have these policies and we need to have accountability and responsibility at the same time.
Pat Armstrong: Thank you. There are two other questions, one of them raised by, in fact, much of what you said Larry, about who is missing from the legislation? Like should this be extended, beyond LGBTQ to family status, age and that's been raised in the questions, I wonder if Carol and Malinda would like to comment on that perhaps we'll go with you first, Malinda?
Malinda Smith: There's a lot of push in this direction to use the human rights code list of things. I am inclined to differentiate between human rights legislation and its broad list of enumerated grounds and then employment equity. I believe that the human rights aspects are already protected and that what Abella did was look at those human rights grounds and say, among these groups, here are the five that are facing systemic and sustained and self-perpetuating discrimination. I don't think that has changed. I think in universities, for example, we have to address age, somewhat, because removing mandatory retirement. But that's not quite what I see there. I think different family forms are also being taken up in terms of benefit packages. Where I do see some space requirements, shifts is around the precarious workers. The question is how to reincorporate that group of faculty, the teaching professoriat into the agreement? I would say most university statements already say the five equity seeking groups, including but not limited to. Thanks.
Pat Armstrong: Okay, thank you. It's interesting that you raised the precarious faculty members, because that was one of the questions that was raised as well in the chat. Carol, do you want to comment on this?
Carol Agócs: Yes, I guess, my sense right now is that the Employment Equity Act is not a piece of legislation that can change the world and if we put that on it, we probably are not going to end up with the results that we're looking for, for the groups as Malinda said that have been most discriminated against in the workplace. I think we need to reinforce our commitment to employment equity for those groups plus the LGBTQ+ population which has not previously been covered, mainly because the data to make a case for that has more recently been provided to decision-makers.
I think we need to look at other means of addressing the needs of older workers, vulnerable workers of all kinds. We have to remember, too, that the human rights system has been quite vigorous in pursuing complaints of discrimination and at times, making employers do things differently as part of a settlement in a case of discrimination. That's another route that we have available to us. I would reinforce Malinda's suggestion that the human rights process remains important to address these issues.
Pat Armstrong: Thank you. Larry, when you were talking about who is missing, I was also wondering about what employers are missing. Carol and Malinda have talked about the contractor’s program, but are there other employers that are missing from this legislation?
Larry Rousseau: Are you talking about the federal level or just generally?
Pat Armstrong: Generally. Well, both.
Larry Rousseau: Certainly, it begs the question, why shouldn't all employers be subjected to it? Why should we have just one category of employers? If we're really going to give credence and weight to the principles of employment equity, then as soon as you are working in the field of personnel, and I hate the term human resources. I hated it in the 1980s, and '90s, when all of a sudden, personnel became human resources. We're not a bunch of assets that you're extracting and making profits on, although that's the way many, many employers see it. I want to say that if we do apply the principles of employment equity, then why should anybody be left out?
Carol Agócs: I guess that was exactly my point in advocating for something to be done at the provincial level, because in our federal system, there's the federal domain, jurisdiction, for employment and there's the provincial jurisdiction for employment and whoever isn't working in the federal jurisdiction is working in the provincial jurisdiction. We can't have more employers covered under federal law than exist in the federal jurisdiction. If we want more employers covered, we have to have legislation at the provincial level, which is an awkward fact of the Canadian system but it is a fact.
Larry Rousseau: It also doesn't allow for the kind of loopholes where you see people say, "Well, you know what, we're going to incorporate provincially so that we don't have to be subject to the federal requirements." That's something that we see a lot of as well.
Malinda Smith: Sorry. This is why I think any institution, college, university, CEGEP otherwise, that gets any federal research funding, my view is, they had to have an employment equity plan that would cover all of them because then you don't get into this federal-provincial, education is provincial, dilemma. Also, in terms of data collection, we have to attend to the ways in which the Human Rights Commissions have also been weakened in some places, where they have different requirements around data collection, race-based data, for example. Some universities wiggle around collecting data using that mechanism. There needs to be another mechanism other than the provincial though, to enable universities, colleges, and CEGEPs to be compliant.
Pat Armstrong: Thank you. Perhaps I'll give you each a last word. We are running out of time. I'm sure we could go on especially when we have lots of comments and questions, but we'll start with Larry.
Larry Rousseau: Thank you. I'm thinking just to pick up on the last couple of points that we were talking about expanding employment equity to cover the groups that are not named. I think that once again if we apply the principles, the principles that are involved, we're going to catch a lot of the rest because the principles, we're trying to remove the barriers, especially the systemic barriers that exist. We're also trying to get rid of those ceilings. When we have a culture in employment, that immediately reacts to say, what is equality here? How are we going to achieve it? Then we will be asking the questions about ageism. We will be asking the questions about precariousness. We will be asking all those questions to make sure that nobody gets left behind.
Carol Agócs: I would agree with Larry on those points. I guess, just that, at this point, we have an opportunity to influence the federal government to recognize the value of a renewed Employment Equity Act, that could then be a model for other equity transformation initiatives after that. Let's make the Employment Equity Act once again, the landmark leading piece of legislation that it was considered back in 1986, when it first came on board and countries in Europe and Australia and New Zealand and others were looking to Canada for leadership on this particularly important issue. I don't think they're looking to us anymore. We need to up our game and make ourselves leaders in working toward equity.
Malinda Smith: Thanks. I think we need to hold university bodies accountable. I think we need to do that through institutions like Universities Canada. I know CAUT is doing it work. I think Universities Canada, organization of presidents. I know that the 2019 survey only 60% of presidents responded to it. I think that's important. I want to give a shout out to the granting agencies actually because I think equity has been sustained and mobilized precisely because they have been pushing it.
I want to give a shout out to the eight women who launched the human rights case around the CRC. People like, Audrey Kobayashi, people like the late Wendy Robbins, and others who did that. That was actually really, really important. I again, think, it's the activism of those eight women that have energized employment equity and even talking about in universities today, because of that kind of push. Kudos to the granting agencies, and to the eight women, famous eight.
Pat Armstrong: Kudos to all three of you for excellent presentations, too. I would say, I heard you say that the Commissions were important, that the legislation is important, but none of them would have been possible without social action and pressure from social movements. Not just in getting the legislation, but getting the legislation applied. In order to do that, we need data that actually gets out what we want to get out and we need enforcement mechanisms that are tough and clear. I hope I am not misrepresenting anybody. That would be my summary of the many, many things that we heard. Thank you all for an excellent presentation.