|‘Discrimination, harassment, bullying’: Canada’s spy agents file C$35mn lawsuit against bosses
Five agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) have filed a lawsuit against management, accusing them of homophobia, racism, and Islamophobia, as well as humiliation and abuse.
The employees are asking for CAN$35 million ($US27.7 million) from the CSIS, saying that the agency is “a workplace rife with discrimination, harassment, bullying and abuse of authority, in which the tone set by management, namely to mock, abuse, humiliate and threaten employees, has permeated the workforce,” the statement of the claim reads.
The document says that CSIS management “has not only allowed this culture to thrive, it has actively inculcated this culture, openly rejecting and mocking respectful workplace norms. This tone and approach has been dictated from the top, and adopted throughout the organization, resulting in an environment in which employees recognize that upward mobility and career success can be achieved through rejecting respectful workplace conduct and visibly aligning with the misconduct of management,” as cited by CTV News.
Three employees who are suing the agency are Muslim, one is gay, and one is black.
The allegations are contained in a 54-page statement of claim filed in Federal Court on July 13 and obtained by local media.
All the plaintiffs and their bosses and colleagues referenced in the lawsuit are identified only by pseudonyms.
A Toronto intelligence officer who has served for 15 years, identified in the claim as ‘Alex,’ is gay and has a Muslim partner. In the claim, he alleges that his manager had sent him an email in October 2015 that said, “Careful your Muslim in-laws don’t behead you in your sleep for being homo.”
Another boss, indicated as ‘Joe,’ allegedly wrote: “You’re just a fag hiding in your little corner sobbing.”
Alex also pointed out that he was warned by supervisors and colleagues that pursuing a formal complaint would only make it harder on himself. Nevertheless, he complained in 2016 and was told not to come to management meetings anymore, and was also dismissed from a promotional board to which he had been appointed. When Alex took sick leave in June 2016, the agency’s management allegedly started a “whisper campaign” about Alex “losing his marbles.” As a result, Alex claims he suffered from “severe panic attacks, low mood and depression, weight loss, insomnia and symptoms of PTSD.”
Another employee, identified as Bahira, is a Muslim woman of African descent with 15 years’ service. After starting to wear a hijab, she was allegedly asked about how she could continue with her duties. She had to undergo a polygraph test and a 10-hour interrogation about her Muslim activities and contacts, which was not part of a routine check for intel officers. Since January, Bahira has been on sick leave due to major depressive disorder and major anxiety disorder.
A manager reportedly told a third employee, referred to as ‘Cemal,’ to “complain to Allah.” The man says he heard a supervisor say that he does not hire people with Muslim-sounding names, and was allegedly blocked from promotion. Cemal has been on stress leave since January.
“The culture of CSIS is hostile to Muslims, and this is more than just an unfriendly work environment – it is a deeply ingrained prejudice of distrust for Muslims, which has meant that Muslims are used and managed as needed, but are not part of the team,” he said.
The fourth complainant, a Moroccan-born man, says he was accused of being a Moroccan spy and adds that the toxic environment at work led to the failure of his marriage. He claims he experienced numerous threats and rumor-mongering to “undermine his mental well-being and career.” He has been on sick leave for almost a year.
The fifth complainant is reportedly the first black woman at CSIS and has been working for the agency for 16 years. The woman alleges that she regularly heard “snide remarks that she was only promoted because she is a black woman,” was “isolated and ostracized, ridiculed and shamed, all without foundation.” She, too, has been on sick leave since January, with symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
The claimants also said that the managers regularly made derogatory comments about the employees, calling Muslims “blood thirsty murderers” or “terrorists.”
An unidentified witness mentioned in the claim that “The public would be shocked about this if they only knew; we keep our own secrets.”
CSIS head David Vigneault responded to the situation, declining, however, to comment on the specific claims.
“The Canadian Security Intelligence Service takes any allegation of inappropriate behaviour very seriously,” he said. “CSIS does not tolerate harassment, discrimination or bullying under any circumstances,” he said in a statement on Friday.
There are 3,300 employees at CSIS, which was created in 1984.