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July 20, 2017

Don't confuse privacy and secrecy

Monday I attended a meeting about the upcoming Federal Disability Legislation hosted by the Alliance for an Inclusive and Accessible Canada. One big issue for me is how government at all levels is just clueless about discrimination against people with disabilities.

Since the Mayor was there, I took the opportunity to ask about progress on the diversity and inclusion front for employment.

HRM has only the vaguest policy on this subject, without specific targets of any kind: "The Halifax Regional Municipality strives to create a diverse and inclusive work environment. Its goal of a strong and diverse workforce that accurately represents the communities it serves will capitalize on the strength and talent of those communities."

I believe that some categories, protected under section 15 of the Charter are under-represented in the 4,000 person HRM workforce. Whether this is due to deliberate discrimination or the piling on of external factors is anyone's guess, but the result is the same. Does HRM have few indigenous workers because their access to housing, education and transportation is insufficient or because someone doesn't like them? It doesn't matter - it's all discrimination.

I wrote an unflattering review of a staff report last fall. The diversity and inclusion initiative is two years old and we still have no idea of the number of employees in various categories. There was to be a self-identification survey, but it ran afoul of privacy considerations says Laughie Rutt, HRM Diversity Adviser and wheelchair user. One is tempted to conclude that, like many situations where it doesn't want to be held accountable, government invokes the privacy defense.

Here's the charter:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

If I asked the mayor how many men and how many women worked for HRM, I think he could get his human resources department to provide the answer. Similarly, the age of employees is generally known for pension and salary considerations.

Asking how many 25-year-olds work for HRM doesn't identify individuals. In fact, there are lots of interesting questions that can be answered without impinging on privacy. Rather than throwing up his hands, the mayor should ask each department head for the following employee information:
  • Number of men
  • Number of women
  • Number of visible minorities
  • Number of wheelchair users
  • Number of employees with service animals
  • Number with screen reading software provided by HRM
  • Number with job assistants
Furthermore, In their job application process, HRM asks this question:

*Employment Equity - By voluntarily providing information about yourself in these areas, you will assist Halifax Regional Municipality to more effectively meet its commitment to improve employment opportunities for members of under-represented groups. If you would like to self identify, please choose from the list:

  • Member of Aboriginal Persons of Canada
  • Member of Racially Visible group
  • Persons with Disabilities
  • Women
  • Choose not to Identify

This is where I believe HRM is failing, and it doesn't want you to know. Numbers of applicants and numbers of hires are probably both disappointing. But let the public be the judge. What are the numbers? It's easy to provide the answer, it reflects government policy and doesn't have anything even remotely to do with privacy.

Again, HRM has a policy favoring diversity and inclusion.  It has the means to establish a benchmark and measure progress.  It has an obligation to do so.

It's not a secret.

And a very timely article from Huffington Post Canada..........

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