The Canada Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is making headlines again, defending claims from several employees that its harassment policies are inadequate.
Five employees have claimed the CSIS is beset by a culture of islamophobia, racism and homophobia.
The workers filed a reply to Federal Court Tuesday, reacting to a statement by CSIS that the charges have no merit and had been properly addressed, the Toronto Star reported.
“Management created a workplace rife with discrimination, harassment and bullying through its tone at the top,” the employees said.
“Members of management were well aware that the reality of the workplace bore no resemblance to the policies and procedures gathering dust in human resources.”
The employees, who are all on medical leave, filed the $35 million claim in July. The case is pending and none of the allegations have yet been proven.
When the lawsuit was first reported, CSIS director David Vigneault immediately issued a statement that harassment was not tolerated in the agency.
He later invited the five complainants to his office for a three-hour meeting to hear their allegations.
But in October, Vigneault publicly acknowledged that his agency has had problems with “retribution, favouritism, bullying” and released an executive summary of a “workplace climate assessment” conducted at CSIS’s Toronto office.
Employees said there had been “disrespectful, demeaning, misogynistic, offensive and inappropriate comments and jokes”.
The report added: “Employees feel that management did not show any accountability with regard to this past behaviour, and that they dismissed and minimalized this issue.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told the House of Commons that there must be appropriate consequences for harassment and discrimination. He, however, stopped short of ordering an investigation into workplace culture, The Star reported.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims also called on Goodale to investigate the report. “Canadians need the reassurance that their national intelligence agency can carry out its mandate free of discrimination, racism and Islamophobia,” NCCM executive director Ihsaan Gardee wrote in a statement.
In its statement of defence, CSIS admitted that “inappropriate language” was used, but disputed most of the specific allegations made by the employees, who are listed as Alex, Bahira, Cemal, Emran, and Dina – all pseudonyms.
Other allegations of discrimination, the defence statement claimed, had been resolved internally in a fair, reasonable and timely way.
But the complainants, through their lawyer John Phillips, said this week that they were penalized for stepping forward, and none of their complaints resulted in appropriate actions against the managers.
Spies, bullying and homophobia: inside Canada’s spy agency
Female police officers complain of ‘intolerable’ working conditions