Feds’ anti-racism work is a thin gruel

There are no real efforts to improve the experiences of Black and racialized people within the IRCC system, or in their policies, programs, and procedures.

by Erica Ifill

Under then-minister Sean Fraser, the anti-racism work within Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada has been minimal and miniscule, and not of a serious nature, writes Erica Ifill.

OTTAWA—Two years ago, I wrote about my own experience with systemic racism in the federal public service in an “Open Letter to Black Federal Employees” in this paper. My story was told by Ashley Burke of CBC News and Radio-Canada also took it seriously. That summer was the murder of George Floyd, and a moment of worldwide protests against police violence and anti-Black racism. Corporations and institutions, which had previously been resistant to the idea that racism—much less systemic racism—is a Canadian pastime, tripped over themselves to present the public with performative “solutions” to combatting racism. I knew they’d fail miserably.

The Aug. 16 edition of Politico Canada’s Playbook newsletter reported that public service anti-racism strategies aren’t all they’re purporting to be, using Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) as a shining example. It is clear that then-minister Sean Fraser failed Black applicants while the Liberals made diversity their political mascot: “Years of tall talk from Ottawa about its anti-racism strategy have translated into easy, make-work projects that have achieved little.” I personally am shocked. The Privy Council clerk’s directives are not taken seriously by the racially remedial and burdensome white senior management of the federal public service? Say it ain’t so.

Politico revealed that in December 2022, consulting firm Pollara Strategic Insights was brought into the department to report on “employees’ experiences of racism at IRCC; views of racism in IRCC policies, programs, or practices; and, ways in which IRCC can make improvements.” The report concludes that, regarding the progress made by the department in its anti-racism strategy, “participants feel that the gains so far are considered to be in areas that were relatively easy to take on.” In other words, the “work” that has been done has been minimal and miniscule, not of a serious nature to fully demonstrate its commitment to anti-racism. Again, we are burdened by unserious people.

This report is a much more genteel version of the research conducted on the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and racialized IRCC employees when the reality is much, much worse.

Pollara’s most recent report is the second of two—the firm conducted an earlier one in 2021 that was much more dastardly. The Hill Times reported on some of its findings in an article by Chelsea Nash: “The report found that within the department, the use of the phrase ‘the dirty 30’ was widely used to refer to certain African nations and that Nigerians in particular were stereotyped as ‘particularly corrupt or untrustworthy.’” Other microaggressions non-racialized (read: white) employees engage in is name-calling, including greeting a Black co-worker with “Salut, ma noire”; a manager greeting a South Asian employee with “namaste”; a Latin American employee was greeted with “andale”; and management openly calling Indigenous people “lazy.” This racism is reflected in perceived opportunities for anyone who works in an area where there are “too many” racialized people. And guess what these areas are called? The ghetto. How original.

The absolute caucasity. Apparently, Fraser and others with decision-making power didn’t connect the racism in the treatment of their employees to the racism of their policies, programs, and procedures.

In March 2022, the House Committee on Immigration and Citizenship studied “Differential Treatment in Recruitment and Acceptance Rates of Foreign Students in Quebec and in the Rest of Canada.” It presented its final report to the House on May 31, 2022. This report specifies the accompanying racist policies that come from IRCC’s racist behaviours: “some of the overt and subtle racism they have witnessed by both employees and decision makers can and probably must impact case processing. Some point[ed] to differences in refusal rates by country as an indicator that some sort of bias must be at play.” And those refusal rates are stark. CBC News reported that for temporary visas, African countries fared the worst: “Visa applicants from Africa have more difficulty securing permission to visit Canada than do travellers from any other continent, and that has some asking whether the system is discriminatory.” A report from the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants on student visa applications, and reported by CBC News, notes that “the only one with an acceptance rate consistently below 25 per cent was Nigeria.”

Probably because they’re from “the dirty 30.”

I have written before about the racism in the immigration system against African students, African professional conference attendees, and African LGBTQ refugees. The rejections of Africans in Canada are distributed with the alacrity of a college basketball point guard. And there are no real efforts either to improve the experiences of Black and racialized people within the IRCC system, or in its policies, programs, and procedures—at least, not one that will stand the test of time.



Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast. See all stories by Erica Ifill.

The article was first published by the Hill Times.

The cover photo was taken by Andrew Meade.



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