The Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), David Vigneault, has released an internal report detailing a culture of inappropriate behaviour at its Toronto regional office.
While the report highlighted a number of positive changes over the last two years, including mandatory training for all employees, it also revealed a culture of retribution, favouritism and bullying at the spy agency.
The report was commissioned after a $35-million lawsuit was lodged this year by five intelligence officers and analysts in the spy agency.
“Only by putting these kinds of issues on the table, and dealing with them directly, will the Service be able to continue to evolve as a strong, mission focused, and unified organization,” CSIS director David Vigneault wrote in a statement.
He added that the information in the report, while specific to Toronto, would benefit the entire agency and its more than 3,000 employees.
The assessment, which revealed low morale and a possible exodus of employees who said they felt “disillusioned and disheartened,” was conducted at the Toronto office of the CSIS.
The five individuals who filed the lawsuit remain with the agency but are on medical leave.
One of the five, an intelligence officer named Alex, said he had suffered years of homophobic harassment including offensive emails sent by his managers.
One read: “Careful your Muslim in-laws don’t behead you in your sleep for being homo.”
“The place was toxic, and they have finally admitted it after years of denial.”
Another complainant, Muslim intelligence officer Bahira, thanked her colleagues who participated in the assessment for their candour and for risking the wrath of senior management.
While she worked 15 years to advance national security investigations, she also fought racism and bigotry, she said. It was almost unbelievable that the CSIS is finally admitting the truth when they have been harassed and bullied and beaten down for so long.
“Today, I feel somewhat vindicated,” she wrote in an email. “CSIS needs a workforce that is strong, engaged, and diverse at all levels. Canadians deserve that.”
Justice Simon Noël admonished the Department of Justice for not responding to the issue sooner. The government has until Friday to file a statement of defence.
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