Canada to face multiculturalism backlash on "equal opportunity"

15:13, July 31, 2010      

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The Canadian government is considering amending a 24-year-old legislation, the Employment Equity Act ("The Act") and related federal affirmative action policies, in a bid to attain the goal of equal opportunity to all citizens.

"The legislations and practices will be reviewed quickly to guarantee that public service hires are on the basis of merit, instead of gender, race or ethnicity," Stockwell Day, president of the Treasury Board and minister for the Asia-Pacific gateway, told the local media last week.

Jason Kenney, minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism admitted to reporters that apparently one percent of the current positions offered in the federal governments have been "exclusionary on the basis of race."


The Employment Equity Act, introduced in 1986, requires federal level organizations to file annual reports to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), and document processes of hiring, promotion, termination and salaries for the four designated "employment equity groups"of women, visible minorities, persons with disabilities and aboriginal peoples, explained Margaret Yap, director of Diversity Institute in Management & Technology, at Ryerson University.

She told Xinhua in a recent interview that organizations which received government contracts for over 200,000 Canadian dollars ( about 194,000 U.S. dollars), even though they are not federally regulated, are also involved in similar requirements.

The Public Service Commission of Canada, which oversees more than 20,000 federal government hires, mentioned on its website that while most positions are open to all applicants, "from time to tome" certain positions may be limited to applicants from members of equity groups like women, visible minorities, persons with disabilities and aboriginal peoples.

Margaret Yap pointed out that The Act was designed to require employers to be proactive in removing barriers to equitable work experiences and intends to achieve fair employment policies and practices, improved representation and a supportive working environment.

However, it is also controversial "from time to time" when people not in the equity groups believe that the government does not see their rights as equal, even though they are traditionally listed as "mainstream."


Sara Landriault made her personal story a high profile case extensively covered by the local and national media in Canada last week. The stay-at-home mother from Kemptville was trying to re- enter the workforce after nine years away.

While surfing on the federal government job website, Landriault found an administrative position at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. She felt she was qualified for the job, but she was blocked from submitting her resume because she was not an aboriginal or visible minority.

The application required Landriault to indicate if she was white, aboriginal or a visible minority. When she indicated that she was white, she could not proceed any further. "It stopped dead. 'You do not meet the criteria,' and it gave me a list of what the criteria was, if you were non-white Latino, if you were non-white this, or if you were visible minority or aboriginal you could apply." Landriault said in a TV interview. "An equal opportunity employer does not stop one race from applying," she said.

Landriault's extensively covered story prompted the quick responds by the cabinet ministers. "She was not allowed to even apply because she was not one of the identified group ... she was excluded from the competition because she was not aboriginal Canadian,"Jason Kenney told media.

"This brought to light the fact that apparently in a small number of cases, these public service commission and certain ministries have been opening up competitions for public service jobs on an exclusionary basis," said the minister.

"We must be sure we do not exclude people. It must be based on the principle of equality of opportunity, not exclusion on the basis of racial and ethnic grounds," he reiterated.

Kenney said there are all sorts of tools, other than discriminating certain Canadians, to achieve and promote greater diversity in public service. He reaffirmed that diversity in the public service reflecting the demographics of Canadian populations still on top agenda, yet the goal should be reached in "reasonable and fair ways".


"In general, I don't think any group should be given legislative privileges to enable them to compete in the job market here in Canada or anywhere else," said Margaret Yap, also co- author of "DiverseCity Counts", an annual research report on the progress of diverse leadership in the Great Toronto Area (GTA).

"For example, do we want to set aside one percent of government jobs in China for foreigners in China? " she asked.

Margaret told Xinhua that from a business standpoint, hiring should be done based on merit and the skills and competencies required for the job. "As a manager, you want employees who can help you do the work and achieve the organization's objectives."

However, she emphasized that there are a number of policies, programs and practices that governments/organizations/individuals can do to foster inclusive, fair and equitable workplaces, though it takes a great deal of efforts from various stakeholder groups.

What the public and private sector employers can do is to review their human resources processes to ensure they are transparent and bias-free. If this is properly done, it will not only benefit visible minorities but all workers irrespective of their ethnicity, race, gender, etc.

According to Statistics Canada, the classifications for visible minorities as defined in July 1998 include Chinese, South Asian, Black, Arab/West Asian, Filipino, South East Asian, Latin American, Japanese, and Korean.

In general, visible minorities' representation level in the private sector is better than in the public sector in Canada. According to the latest Employment Equity reports, total visible minority representation in private sector is at 15.9 percent versus 7.8 percent in the public sector.

However, representation levels of visible minorities in senior management roles in both the private and public sectors remain very low.

"The challenge is whether all groups have the will to make it happen. If there's a will, there's a way", commented the scholar.

Source: Xinhua


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