A CALL TO ACTION: Supporting the Mental Health Needs of Black Canadian Federal Public Service Workers

by | Oct 30, 2021

July 6, 2021

From: Black Health Alliance; TAIBU Community Health Centre; Federation of Black Canadians; Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada; Black North Initiative et al.

To: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Cc: Prime Minister’s Office; Erin O’Toole; Jagmeet Singh; Yves-François Blanchet; Annamie Paul; Yves Duclos; Greg Fergus; Ahmed Hussein; Bardish Chagger; Patty Hadju; Filomena Tassi; Chrystia Freeland; Marci Ien; Jenica Atwin; Adam Vaughan; Pierre Pollievere; Emanuel Dubourg

Re: Creation of Specific Fund for Black Canadian Public Servants to Access Effective Mental Health and Therapeutic Counseling Support

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Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

We are writing to you today as part of a growing network of organizations concerned with the stories and headlines we have been witnessing in relation to the experiences of Black federal public servants. Listening to and reading about the heartbreaking stories of Black public servants who have been historically denied hiring and promotion opportunities at an alarmingly disproportionate rate within the federal public service has been difficult for many of u=s to bear. We have heard accounts from individuals who have worked for the RCMP, Canadian Human Rights Commission, Canada Revenue Agency, Canada Border Services, Department of National Defense, Service Canada and various ministries and crown agencies across government in different provinces and territories across the country. Some have either retired, are on their way toward retirement or are early and mid-career professionals who are suffering silently at this very moment. Unfortunately, none of what we have heard has been shocking to us. Such stories abound and have long been known within Black Canadian communities. The difference in this regard has been the growing public and media awareness of this situation because of various factors that have begun to shine a much-needed light on the impact of this systemic form of anti-Black racism.

One particular aspect of this ongoing reality, and one that we believe deserves immediate attention, is the psychological and emotional toll that this form of discrimination often results in. Indeed, there is increasing literature and awareness of the deep and debilitating effects of racial trauma as a form of mental injury that mirrors psychopathological symptoms akin to a post-traumatic stress disorder, albeit with very distinctive elements. Left unchecked or undiagnosed over a period of time, race-based trauma can lead to serious bouts of clinical depression, physical disorders, anxiety, bodily fatigue, and even suicidal ideation. Sadly, as we have been learning more about the experiences of Black public service workers within the federal public service, it appears many are battling these very symptoms without recourse to appropriate support.

The need to take swift action can hardly be overstated. At present, the only work-related option for Black public service workers is to obtain counseling and therapeutic support through the Health-Canada facilitated federal Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). These assistance programs are designed to offer short-term referrals to professionals who offer time-limited counseling services to employees for injuries suffered in the workplace or for other challenges that may be impacting their work. However, what we’ve heard from many Black public service workers and health professionals is that these programs are entirely insufficient and simply lack qualified and culturally competent professionals to address their needs. Simply put, current EAP services are ill-equipped to solve this challenge. Rather, what we would like to see your Government take leadership on is the creation of a specialized program or fund above and beyond the currently available options that will utilize the growing capacity of Black Canadian psychologists, social workers and mental health professionals who can help tailor and deliver such services. We are therefore calling on you to do the following:

Introduce a specialized fund or program under the auspices of either the Minister of Health, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, or the appropriate department, for the benefit of previous and current Black Canadian federal public service workers in need of counseling, therapy, and other mental health supports as a result of injuries caused by the pernicious presence of anti-Black racism and discrimination in the workplace. Such a program would signal the seriousness with which your Government is approaching these ongoing challenges and will reflect your commitment to ensuring all employees within the public service are well supported whilst further action is taken to remedy the underlying systemic issues that create unwelcoming and discriminatory workplace environments.

As an ally of Black Canadian communities that have acknowledged the reality of systemic anti-Black racism across our public sector institutions, we know that you understand the importance of adopting meaningful measures to both curtail this challenge and to begin helping victims of discrimination to heal. As you stated recently, “…everyone deserves to have a safe and secure workplace…”. For many Black Canadian public service workers — many of whom are women and have been hit by the compounding effects of the pandemic — that starts with ensuring they have access to appropriate health services that will not only help them heal but will assist them in managing the day to day challenges they confront.

Thank you for your time and we look forward to hearing from you. Any direct inquiries or questions can be directed to Mr. Kofi Achampong at kofi.achampong@gmail.com

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