Environmental Injustice in Indigenous Communities

By Sam Padayachee

Canada is recognized for its natural beauty and rich resources, yet it grapples with a hidden crisis: the failure to provide clean drinking water to some rural and Indigenous communities is a stain on the nation’s global standing for human rights and equality.

Ironically, for a country that has the largest number of freshwater lakes in the world, the reality that numerous Indigenous peoples lack access to this basic necessity is beyond unsettling. These communities experience water advisories regularly. These advisories can last for months, even years, becoming fixtures of daily life that highlight the systemic inequalities.

The lack of clean water is not merely an inconvenience but a severe health hazard. It perpetuates socio-economic disparities as it impedes childrens’ ability to learn and adults’ ability to work. Moreover, indifferent access to water reflects a historical pattern of neglect and broken promises, inflicting continual damage on trust between Indigenous communities and the Canadian government.

Some might argue that the geographical challenges of remote areas contribute to the problem. However, while these challenges are undeniable, they should not be challenging for a country with Canada’s wealth and technological resources. The federal government has made commitments, indeed, but the pace of progress is painfully slow, often delayed in bureaucratic red tape and budget constraints that appear lacking when contrasted with the swiftness of response to urban infrastructure needs.

This undermines not only Indigenous rights but casts a long shadow on Canada’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, https://www.undp.org/sustainable-development-goals , especially Goal 6, which ensures availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

With climate change threatening water supplies through contamination and unpredictable supply, the government’s lackluster response jeopardizes not just current, but future generations of Indigenous peoples. It is a glaring example of environmental injustice where the most vulnerable populations bear the most significant ecological risks without comparable gains or protection.

A multi-faceted approach is essential. Investments need to escalate dramatically in infrastructure. But beyond the tangibles, a paradigm shift in governmental attitudes must occur. This isn’t merely an infrastructure issue; it’s about autonomy, respect, and ultimately, honoring treaty rights. Indigenous communities must be considered partners in developing solutions, ensuring that these solutions are culturally appropriate and economically sustainable.

It’s also crucial that Canada commits to a clear timeline for resolving these water crises. Setting and adhering to strict deadlines would signal the government’s acknowledgment of the urgency of the matter and its dedication to resolving it.

For a country that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, Canada’s shortfall in providing clean water to all its peoples is a contradiction that needs immediate and forceful attention. This is a question of human rights, and the government’s actions henceforth will be a testament to its commitment to upholding these not just in principle but in practice.

Resolving this failure is not charity; it is a long-overdue act of justice. As the world watches, it’s critical for Canada to live up to its image by ensuring that every member of its society enjoys the fundamental right to clean water. I’m concerned that today, with so many issues consuming our nation’s attention, the problem of solving water insecurities for Indigenous Communities will fall even lower on the public agenda. We all need to keep pushing forward on this issue, because solving environmental injustice hasn’t lost its urgency for Canada’s Indigenous Communities.

Sam Padayachee is the UNE Regional Representative for Human Rights, Ontario.

UNE Leadership Stands in Solidarity with FSE-CSQ

This week UNE leadership, attending a training and planning session, marched in solidarity with the Syndicat des enseignantes et enseignants des Laurentides (SEEL-CSQ). They are on a 3-day strike this week and will announce an unlimited strike soon if no fair deal is reached.  

“These workers have been offered crumbs while the province has given their parliamentary leaders cakes,” said UNE National President Alisha Campbell. ” We stand in solidarity with our union family members.” 

As a mark of solidarity, UNE will make a donation to SEEL-CSQ.

The members have been offered 10.3% over 5 years, which pales in comparison to the 30% raise Premier Legault gave his elected provincial politicians. 

For more information on this strike, you can read this FSE-CSQ press release (in French).

Bilingualism allowance review: Increase and expand

After the last round of negotiations between PSAC and Treasury Board, a review of the Bilingualism Bonus Directive was launched in October. The bargaining agents of the National Joint Council, of which PSAC is a member, have until April 2024 to provide their input.  

It is time to update and expand the Bilingualism Bonus Directive. Eligibility for the bilingual allowance has not been updated since 1993, and the amount that bilingual employees receive ($800) has not increased since 1977. Workers in the federal public service work hard to improve their language skills; 45 years without an update is insulting to their time and effort. 

PSAC is calling for three main changes: 

  1. A significant increase to the allowance. If the current amount were indexed to inflation, the bonus would now be worth more than $3,000 today.  
  2. A mechanism to increase the bonus on a yearly basis. As costs rise every year, the bonus should reflect that reality. 
  3. If the Official Languages Act (OLA) is updated to include languages other than English and French, for example Indigenous languages, these languages should also be eligible for an allowance. 

Bilingualism is a skill that should be encouraged. The employer must find ways to strengthen the OLA, making it easier for members to work in the language of their choice and improve their second language skills.  

The OLA designates both English and French as languages of work within the federal public service. If the government wants to have a truly dynamic, diverse, and bilingual institution, it must create an environment where employees are not only able to work in the language of their choice but encouraged to do so. 

Important Message for SSO Members Regarding the Impending Transfer to Statistics Canada

The UNE understands the angst and stress our members have faced during the difficult transition to Statistics Canada – Program and Administrative Services (PA).

We have fielded and responded to many of you, and we want to support you.  To this end, we have posted on our website a comprehensive list of Frequently Asked Questions with their corresponding Answers.

Interviewer Appointments – Questions and Answers

Severance Calculation

To further support you and to ensure a positive experience after this transition, the UNE will be organizing ‘Virtual Townhall Meetings’ to determine what is working well and what needs to be improved.

Our ultimate goal will be to listen to your concerns and intercede with the Employer on your behalf – advocating improvements to enhance your workplace experience.

Information regarding the Townhalls will be forthcoming in the coming months.

Please know that you are not on this road alone and UNE will be there for you and all our SSO members.

Parks Canada bargaining: PSAC files unfair labour practice

PSAC has filed an unfair labour practice against Parks Canada Agency for refusing to provide seasonal and term workers the pensionable lump sum payment negotiated as part of the collective agreement signed September 26. 

Parks Canada blamed wildfires for the nearly eight-week delay in signing the collective agreement, causing many of the very PSAC members who were on the frontlines fighting these fires to lose out on receiving the $2,500 lump sum payment. For members to receive the lump sum payment, they must be in the bargaining unit when the collective agreement is signed.  Take Action

The delay means approximately 300 Parks Canada members who are term and seasonal workers will not receive the payment, including firefighters who battled wildfires, members in seasonal term positions at Canada’s historical sites, in the midst of a national housing crisis. Contracts for these workers typically end between late August and early September. 

The Parks Canada bargaining team has made it clear throughout this round of bargaining that this employer’s over-reliance on and abuse of term and seasonal workers is unnacceptable. Now, these same precarious workers will be burned again. 

PSAC will be arguing that members who have completed their contracts since the ratification on August 4 should receive the $2,500 pensionable lump-sum payment that was negotiated in good faith at the table. 

Stay informed  

Keep your contact information updated to date to receive the latest news.

Send a letter to the Minister of the Environment Stephen Guilbeault and President of the Treasury Board Anita Anand to push the employer to honour a collective agreement bargained in good faith.

Victory for northern homeowners receiving housing subsidy

After a successful mobilization campaign by PSAC members across the North, homeowners working for the federal government will continue to receive a housing cost allowance as part of the National joint Council’s (NJC) Shelter Cost Differential (SCD) program.  

When the revised Shelter Cost Differential methodology was announced July 4, the new provisions were expanded to include several new northern communities that were previously ineligible for the housing cost allowance, which meant many more PSAC members would be included as part of the subsidy.  

However, the revised provisions initially specified that the subsidy would only apply to employees renting private accommodations or living in government housing.  

PSAC action led to change 

PSAC and other unions immediately flagged this would mean homeowners currently receiving the subsidy would now be excluded, and Treasury Board agreed to review and discuss the potential impacts to federal public service workers at the Isolated Posts and Government Housing committee meeting October 31.  

Following that meeting, unions and Treasury Board agreed to revise the Shelter Cost Differential to ensure it would be payable to employees renting or owning private accommodations as part of the expanded list of communities in Appendix K-1, as well as to employees renting government housing as part of Appendix K-2. 

Our members played an important role in making this happen. We came together, spoke up, and pushed for change. PSAC engaged with northern MPs while members took action by writing to their MP and federal Ministers to highlight the importance of this subsidy for federal public service workers living and working in the North. The Shelter Cost Differential is vital to help offset the high cost of living in the North for federal public service workers. 

This financial support is also instrumental in recruiting and retaining federal public service workers in northern communities. 

Learn more about the Shelter Cost Differential change 

Additional information about the Shelter Cost Differential and the revised methodology that came into effect August 1, 2023 and the transitional provisions that will take effect December 1, can be found on the National Joint Council’s website and their FAQ about the changes.  

Black Class Action: Government spends millions fighting lawsuit while shortchanging mental health fund for Black workers

The federal government has already spent nearly $8 million fighting to dismiss the Black Class Action lawsuit ten times more (in French only) than it has invested implementing the mental health fund for Black federal public servants promised in the 2022 federal budget. 
The ballooning legal costs underscore how the federal government continues to publicly claim it is addressing racism and discrimination in the federal public service while continuing to deny justice for Black, racialized and Indigenous workers.  

“It’s disheartening to see the government spending millions fighting Black workers in court, despite having harmed them, rather than investing significantly in implementing solutions to combat discrimination,” said Nicholas Marcus Thompson, executive director of the Black Class Action Secretariat. 

The Liberal government set aside $3.7 million over four years in Budget 2022 to develop a Black-led Mental Health Fund for Black federal public service workers, with an additional commitment of $45.9 million in Budget 2023. 

However, order paper documents requested by the NDP show that Treasury Board has so far only spent $787,207 to develop and implement the plan. Black public service workers who face systemic barriers have yet to see actual support provided to them or a concrete plan outlining how the government plans to establish dedicated career development programs, including initiatives to prepare Black public service leaders for executive positions.  

Millions to fight Black workers in court  

Instead, released documents confirm the government spent approximately $7.85 million since 2020 for services by Department of Justice lawyers, notaries, and paralegal professionals to fight the class action lawsuit. 

Those legal costs are likely just a fraction of the cost the government will ultimately spend fighting the lawsuit since the Black Class Action has yet to be certified. A certification hearing date has been set for May 3, 2024. 
“Despite multiple measures announced over the past three years, there’s been no tangible change for these workers; discrimination persists, and the harm continues. We strongly urge the government to come to the table with these workers and cease wasting taxpayers’ money on prolonged legal battles,” said Thompson. 

PSAC has repeatedly called for the government to settle the Black Class Action lawsuit, and directly address decades of anti-Black discrimination in the public service. 

“It is devastating for Black workers to find out that this government – their employer – has spent millions fighting to deny them justice in court while at the same time dragging their feet implementing programs meant to eliminate systemic barriers for Black public service workers,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president.  

As Canada’s largest federal public service union, PSAC represents the largest portion of the nearly 1,500 plaintiffs. PSAC has contributed $80,000 to the Black Class Action and is committed to seeing justice carried out for Black federal public service workers. 

Black Class Action: Auditor General Slams Public Service for Continued Discrimination

OTTAWA – The Auditor General released a scathing report on diversity and inclusion in the federal public service. The report takes serious issue with the failure of leaders in the public service to enforce existing laws, mandates, and requirements relative to diversity, equity, and, inclusion in order to ensure fairness and equality for Black and racialized workers throughout the Federal Public Service.

A major theme emerged from the confidential interviews conducted with racialized employees. They felt there was a lack of commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, and there was a perception that meaningful change was not being achieved. Some employees reported that they did not know the status of initiatives from action plans or what progress toward outcomes had been made. As a result, many believed that equity was an empty word in their organizations, and plans and committees were devoid of the potential to bring about meaningful changes.

The Report found that out of the six organizations reviewed none had established comprehensive reporting mechanisms on progress against specific outcomes relative to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives relative to racialized employees in their organization. As a result, the 6 organizations did not know whether their actions had made or would make a difference in the work lives of racialized employees.

The report further revealed that just 44% of the Black visible minority subgroup felt free to discuss racism without the fear of facing reprisals, in contrast to 55% of its visible minority survey respondents and 67% who felt similarly across the entire organization. This stark disparity underscores the presence of persistent anti-Black racism within the federal public service and highlights the deep-seated mistrust of internal processes by those who have experienced racial discrimination.

A landmark class action brought by Black public service workers against the Government of Canada was launched on December 1, 2020, to address patterns of systemic discrimination and negligence experienced by Black workers within the Federal Public Service and by Applicants who were denied hiring and promotion based on their race.

The claim challenges the visible minority category of the Employment Equity Act as masking disparities contrary to the equality rights and anti-discrimination guarantee to Black people under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The claim further seeks compensation and damages for the significant discrimination, harassment, and barriers experienced by Black applicants and workers throughout the Federal Public Service.

The report of the Auditor General lays clear the truths experienced by Black workers across the Federal Public Service in terms of racist and discriminatory treatment and significant fear of reprisal in circumstances where employees seek to raise these concerns.There is a woeful lack of accountability and measurement of actual outcomes on diversity, equity, and inclusion for Black workers. Despite years of reports and studies rehashing the same concerns, the reality is that Black workers continue to be ghettoised in the lowest levels of the Federal Public Service and excluded from the upper levels of management at consistently higher rates than other workers. This most recent Report is just one in a series that recognises this reality of the experience of Black public service workers. Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Representative Plaintiff

The Black Class Action Secretariat is calling on the Prime Minister, the newly appointed Minister of Justice, and the Court to intervene to ensure that Black Canadians do not continue to experience the same kind of institutional barriers, systemic discrimination, bad faith, and unfair treatment rooted in their race and skin colour, which concerns are validated by the Auditor General’s Report.

These employees deserve better. Canada deserves better, states human rights lawyer Hugh Scher.

Unions representing millions of workers across Canada have united in a collective call for the government to settle the lawsuit on behalf of thousands of Black federal public servants. This united call comes in the wake of findings indicating that the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) discriminated against its Black and racialized employees. We urge the government to consent to certification and engage in meaningful discussions to resolve the landmark class action filed on behalf of Black workers, who continue to face severe and pervasive systemic discrimination and negligence, a matter that is underscored by the Auditor General’s report published today.

For media enquiries, please contact media@blackclassaction.ca

For more information, please visit https://www.blackclassaction.ca/

The Echoes of Injustice: Gaza, Canadian Aboriginal Reservations, and South African Black Townships

By Sam Padayachee

Aboriginal people on reservations in Canada, the hardships faced by Blacks in South African Townships, and the population of Gaza may seem disparate, yet their struggles mirror each other. It’s a harsh truth that humanity has yet to fully conquer its historical inequities; instead, they echo around the world, distinct yet strangely alike.

The historical and present-day social and economic conditions of these communities reveal a common story: one of marginalization, discrimination, poverty, and an alarming lack of basic services. Even though these injustices take place thousands of miles apart, this comparison invites us to consider the global resonance of historical and structural inequality.

Invisible walls confine and encapsulate the people of Gaza, similar to the restrictions Aboriginal people face within the boundaries of Canadian reservations. For the Black populations living in South African Townships, there are unseen divides that permeate every facet of their lives, acute reminders of a socio-political system that for years valued separation and subordination.

While on different continents and born into different cultures, the people of Gaza the Aboriginals on Canadian reservations, and Blacks in South African Townships face unfathomable challenges including inadequate healthcare, lack of quality education, systemic poverty, and enforced isolation.

It is this commonality of adversity that serves as a window into the perseverance, resilience, and determined human spirit of these individuals and communities. Yet, to only highlight their resilience misses the point—it distracts us from the fact that they should not have to be resilient to such conditions in the first place.

There is an urgent need to extend compassion, support, and decisive action across geographical borders to these marginalized communities. They have already endured the brunt of human-made barriers and systems of oppression for so long. It’s time we shed the spotlight on these glaring global inequalities, amplifying the voices of those who have historically been silenced, promoting socioeconomic reforms to eradicate poverty, and fostering a culture of inclusivity and recognition of indigenous rights.

In understanding and highlighting these similarities, we create space for empathy, change, and solidarity. Let us remember that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and it is our collective responsibility to challenge and transform these echoes of inequality.

Sam Padayachee is the UNE Regional Representative for Human Rights, Ontario.

Update on lump sum payment and retro pay for Treasury Board and CRA members

As part of the collective agreement PSAC secured during this round of bargaining, the $2,500 pensionable lump-sum payment will be issued on November 8 for all eligible PSAC members in the PA, SV, TC, and EB Treasury Board bargaining groups and PSAC-UTE members working for Canada Revenue agency.

See our FAQ for full details about eligibility for the lump sum payment.

Processing dates for retroactive pay and wage adjustments vary by bargaining group. Full details for each table are included below.

The employer had 180 days to action payments following the signing of the collective agreements this summer. All non-monetary terms of the collective agreement took effect immediately upon signing.

Program and Administrative Services (PA Group)

  • The new collective agreement was signed on June 27, 2023 and wage adjustments were reflected on the August 2 pay stub.
  • The retroactive pay was processed and issued on the October 25 pay stub, and the $2,500 pensionable lump-sum payment will be issued on November 8.

Operational Services (SV Group)

  • The new collective agreement was signed on July 11, 2023 and wage adjustments were reflected on the August 30 pay stub.
  • Retroactive pay will be processed and issued on the November 22 pay stub, and the $2,500 pensionable lump-sum payment will be issued on November 8.

Technical Services (TC Group)

  • The new collective agreement was signed on June 27, 2023 and wage adjustments were reflected on the August 2 pay stub.
  • The retroactive pay was processed and issued on the August 30 pay stub, and the $2,500 pensionable lump-sum payment will be issued on November 8.

Education and Library Science (EB Group)

  • The new collective agreement was signed on July 11, 2023 and wage adjustments were reflected on the August 30 pay stub.
  • Retroactive pay will be processed and issued on the November 22 pay stub, and the $2,500 pensionable lump-sum payment will be issued on November 8.

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)

  • The new collective agreement was signed on June 27, 2023 and wage adjustments will be effective November 1.
  • The $2,500 pensionable lump-sum payment will be issued on November 8.