A $35-million lawsuit filed by five employees at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service alleges a toxic workplace “rife with discrimination” including managers who openly espouse homophobic, racist and anti-Muslim views.
The allegations were made by veteran intelligence officers and analysts with Canada’s spy agency in a Federal Court document obtained by Global News. None of the allegations made in the 54-page statement of claim have been proven in court.
“CSIS 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,” reads the statement of claim filed July 13 in a Toronto court.
“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.”
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, identified using the pseudonym “Alex.” is a Toronto intelligence officer who is gay and has a Muslim partner. He has worked for CSIS for 15 years, according to the document.
According to the statement of claim, he alleges several members of management made multiple homophobic and Islamophobic comments.
“Careful your Muslim in-laws don’t behead you in your sleep for being homo,” read one email sent to him in October 2015 by his manager “Simon.” Another email stated: “You’re just a fag hiding in your little corner sobbing.”
Members of management also regularly addressed Alex using terms such as “gay boy”, “fag boy”, “homo” or “tappette” (the French equivalent to “fag”), according to the statement of claim. A manager also allegedly joked in front of colleagues that the plaintiff “took it from behind.”
All employees and management personnel are identified by pseudonym “because they have been warned by their employer, CSIS, that they are forbidden from publicly identifying themselves, or any colleagues,” according to the statement of claim.
Another plaintiff, a Moroccan-born analyst with 12 years of service, identified as Emran, was allegedly called a “sand monkey” by his boss “Jeff”
“I want you to take care of the liaison with the ‘Sand Monkeys’ because you are one of theirs and you speak their language,” Jeff allegedly told Emran. He also claims a colleague called Muslims “bloodthirsty murderers” and “terrorists.”
Other CSIS employees included in the lawsuit include a Muslim analyst with 22 years at the agency who alleges a manager told him he should “complain to Allah” and heard a supervisor say she was rejecting job candidates with Muslim-sounding names.
Another Muslim female intelligence officer with 15 years’ experience claims she was questioned and faced suspicion after wearing a hijab and that colleague displayed a cartoon that read “Prophet Mohammed is a dog and Jerusalem is ours.”
According to the document, another woman, identified as Dina, who joined the agency in 2001 claims she faced “snide remarks that she was only promoted because she is a black woman.”
CSIS director David Vigneault issued a statement Friday stating the agency takes any allegation of inappropriate behaviour very seriously and that “CSIS does not tolerate harassment, discrimination or bullying under any circumstances.”
“I believe strongly in leading an organization where every employee promotes a work environment which is free from harassment and conducive to the equitable treatment of all individuals,” he said. “CSIS employees are proud to be entrusted to carry out the very important work that we do. The Service prides itself on being a top employer and creating a healthy and respectful workplace of inclusion, where diversity is representative of our strength.”
A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the minister would not comment as the matter is before courts but stands by the statement made by CSIS director Vigneault.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) said the allegations of pervasive discrimination, racism and Islamophobia within the spy agency are “deeply disturbing and should be investigated immediately.”
“For several years, concerns have been frequently raised about racial profiling and discrimination by CSIS against Canadian Muslim communities, and against other minorities,” said NCCM executive director Ihsaan Gardee in a statement. “If proven, these allegations point to a poisonous culture within the Service and raise questions about its ability to carry out its mandate for the benefit of all Canadians without discrimination.”
The five plaintiffs say they have lost income and suffered damage to their professional reputations as a result of mistreatment from management. The employees also say the discrimination and bullying in the workplace resulted in medical illness including anxiety, depression, panic attacks and Post-Traumatic Stress disorder
“The public would be shocked about this if they only knew; we keep our own secrets,” said one employee stated, according to the document, in a comment to a third-party investigator who looked into Alex’s allegations in 2016.
“The workplace atmosphere is ‘work-hard, play-hard,’ with regular consumption of alcohol in the office and politically incorrect, off-colour jokes and teasing,” according to the claim. “It is a loose, locker-room type of environment.”