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Employment Equity in Canada

Employment Equity in Canada: The Legacy of the Abella Report

Foreword by Rosalie Silberman Abella
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 352
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    Employment Equity in Canada
    Book Description:

    In the mid-1980s, the Abella Commission on Equality in Employment and the federal Employment Equity Act made Canada a policy leader in addressing systemic discrimination in the workplace. More than twenty-five years later,Employment Equity in Canadaassembles a distinguished group of experts to examine the state of employment equity in Canada today.

    Examining the evidence of nearly thirty years, the contributors - both scholars and practitioners of employment policy - evaluate the history and influence of the Abella Report, the impact of Canada's employment equity legislation on equality in the workplace, and the future of substantive equality in an environment where the Canadian government is increasingly hostile to intervention in the workplace. They compare Canada's legal and policy choices to those of the United States and to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and examine ways in which the concept of employment equity might be expanded to embrace other vulnerable communities. Their observations will be essential reading for those seeking to understand the past, present, and future of Canadian employment and equity policy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6851-5
    Subjects: Law, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Rosalie Silberman Abella

    It is thirty years since Lloyd Axworthy, then Minister of Employment and Immigration in the Liberal Government of Pierre Trudeau, set up the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment to inquire into – and propose solutions for – barriers to employment faced by women, persons with disabilities, visible minorities, and Aboriginal people. A little over a year later, the completed report was given to Flora MacDonald, the Minister of Employment and Immigration in the newly elected Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney. She implemented the report’s recommendations not long afterward and the result of the one-year, $1-million undertaking was the...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
    Carol Agócs
  5. Introduction: Perspectives on Employment Equity in Canada
    (pp. 3-12)

    The Abella Royal Commission was struck in June 1983 at a time when Canadian society and politics were embroiled in struggles surrounding social justice and inequality. The era of the 1970s through the mid-1980s was marked by activism by advocates for women, racialized groups, persons with disabilities, and Aboriginal peoples who were organizing politically and raising demands that the inequality they experienced be addressed. In 1982 Canada’sCharter of Rights and Freedomswas adopted, influenced by a remarkable grass roots campaign by women across Canada to ensure that gender equality rights would be protected. The three major political parties adopted...

  6. Chapter 1 The Making of the Abella Report: Reflections on the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Report of the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment
    (pp. 13-28)

    Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella was the sole commissioner on the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, whose report was released in 1984.Equality in Employment: A Royal Commission Report(Abella 1984, often called the Abella Report) was a landmark that fundamentally influenced the fields of employment and human rights law, jurisprudence, and public policy. It created the concept of employment equity, a distinctly Canadian policy to address inequality in employment on the basis of gender, visible minority status, disability, and Aboriginal identity. Its analysis and recommendations have shaped contemporary understandings of the roots and impacts of inequality and discrimination, and...

  7. Chapter 2 Employment Equity in Canada: What Do the Data Show about Its Effectiveness?
    (pp. 29-50)

    The Abella Royal Commission (1984) provided the research and analysis for understanding systemic discrimination and the need to redress it proactively. The commission’s mission was to “increase the opportunities of employment of women, native people, disabled persons and visible minorities … [and] to inquire into the most efficient, effective and equitable means of promoting equal employment opportunities, eliminating systemic discrimination and assisting all individuals to compete for employment opportunities on an equal basis” (Abella 1984, ii).

    Two programs emerged from the Abella Report: the Legislated Employment Equity Program (LEEP) and the Federal Contractors Program (FCP). Over time LEEP has come...

  8. Chapter 3 Real Change? Reflections on Employment Equity’s Last Thirty Years
    (pp. 51-70)

    Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella’sEquality in Employment: A Royal Commission Reportwas published in 1984 during a heady time for equality rights. TheCharter of Rights and Freedoms² had been enacted two years before, and constitutional equality rights were to come into effect the next year. The federal government was reviewing its laws for compliance with the new provisions, informed byEquality for All, the report of the Parliamentary Committee on Equality Rights chaired by Patrick Boyer (Canada 1985). These milestones followed the enactment of theCanadian Human Rights Act(CHRA)³ in the late 1970s, which completed the ring of...

  9. Chapter 4 Women, Intersectionality, and Employment Equity
    (pp. 71-98)

    Extensive evidence shows that social practices in the labour market disadvantage women relative to men. Thus, despite the increase in their participation in the labour force, women are still paid less than men and are still more segregated into particular industries and occupations. It is because of such evidence that theEmployment Equity Act(EEA) was passed to cover women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities, groups who historically faced exclusion from, and discrimination in, the labour market and the workplace. The intention of the act is to eliminate barriers to access to jobs for the designated groups,...

  10. Chapter 5 Employment Equity and Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples
    (pp. 99-132)

    In November 1984, the final report of the Commission on Equality in Employment – better known as the Abella Report – was delivered to the Canadian government and released to the public (Abella 1984). Among its central recommendations was the call for the designation of Aboriginal peoples (referred to throughout the report as “native people”) as one of the four groups of Canadians who would benefit through the enactment of employment equity legislation to remedy the significant and historically based barriers that these groups had faced in the national labour market. In unsparing terms, the report described the prevailing employment...

  11. Chapter 6 Employment Equity and Disability: Moving Forward to Achieve Employment Integration and Fulfil Promises of Inclusion and Participation
    (pp. 133-155)

    Disability policy and the rights of persons with disabilities in Canada have evolved over decades, in the context of changing conceptualizations of disability. During the latter half of the last century in particular, momentum to increase participation and integration initiated legal and policy changes aimed at universal accessibility to the community. The energy and commitment of disability rights groups drove government actions to include disability as a protected ground from discrimination in human rights codes (Etherington 2001),² and theCharter of Rights and Freedomsand equality of result or “substantive equality” developed as a means of achieving equity (Rioux 1994).³...

  12. Chapter 7 The Equity Landscape for Sexual Minorities in Canada
    (pp. 156-175)

    It is only in the last couple of decades that sexual orientation and gender identity have surfaced on the employment equity agenda in Canada. As a result, it is not surprising that sexual minorities (gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered) were excluded from theEmployment Equity Act¹ when it was passed in 1986. At the time, basic individual rights for gays and lesbians were still being hotly contested, and rights for transgendered people were not even on the radar screen. Ontario had only just included sexual orientation in itsHuman Rights Code² in 1986 after a high-profile struggle; Quebec had...

  13. Chapter 8 Remedying the Experiences of Vulnerable Workers: Links with Employment Equity
    (pp. 176-194)

    Since coined by Rosalie Abella thirty years ago,¹employment equityhas entered the common parlance as a home-grown Canadian concept, one that reflects the underlying principles of Canadian equality-oriented culture. It is intended to convey recognition of the importance of proactive responses to the evolving redefinition of our pluralist society and allows for a flexibility of boundaries and growth. Employment equity has become part of equality rights discourse.

    The governing principle of human rights and fairness in the workplace and elsewhere is threaded throughout “how we do things,” not only in institutions and programs such as human rights legislation and...

  14. Chapter 9 Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service: A Union Perspective
    (pp. 195-216)

    Employment¹ equity is about creating workplaces that are fair and accessible, where all workers have the opportunity to participate and contribute in a way that reflects their skills and abilities. These values of equality and equity in the workplace are consistent with the goals of labour unions, which have fought for workplaces where staffing processes are transparent, fair, and free from favouritism and nepotism, and where systems can be put in place to ensure equality of access.

    Unions are sometimes cited by employers as barriers to employment equity, and while the relationship between unions and employment equity has had its...

  15. Chapter 10 Securing Employment Equity by Enforcing Human Rights Laws
    (pp. 217-241)

    Employment equity means having a workplace free of discrimination. Yet disadvantaged workers across Canada routinely face systemic barriers that exclude them from full and equal workforce participation. With a weakly enforced federalEmployment Equity Act, and with the provinces lacking similar specialized employment equity laws, Justice Rosalie Abella’s urgent call in 1984 for effective employment equity enforcement remains largely unanswered (Abella 1984, 8). Equality-seeking groups such as Ontario’s Colour of Poverty Campaign have been urging provincial governments to pass specialized laws and have been calling on the federal government to strengthen – not weaken – federal employment equity obligations.


  16. Chapter 11 The Employment Equity Mandate of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Some Preliminary Observations for Canada
    (pp. 242-258)

    TheUnited Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(United Nations General Assembly,CRPD2007) entered into force on 3 May 2008, becoming the first human rights treaty of the twenty-first century as well as the first legally enforceable international instrument specifically directed at persons with disabilities (United Nations Enable 2011). This chapter provides background on theCRPDand its employment equity mandates – including Canadian contributions – then briefly assesses Canada’s progress and prospects towards achieving theCRPD’s requirements. It starts by setting out a brief overview of what motivated enactment and adoption of theCRPD. The...

  17. Chapter 12 New Narratives, Same Old Problems: The Risk of Diversity-Centred Workplace Decision-Making in a “Post-Racial” America
    (pp. 259-283)

    Achieving employment equity in the American workplace remains an enduring quandary. Barriers to entry, at least in their most blatant forms, have diminished appreciably for women, people of colour, and other marginalized individuals. Notwithstanding the important gains over the years in dismantling impediments to access, efforts to harness the valuable contributions from a blended workforce have not attained this ideal. The prevalence of societal discrimination in education, housing, transportation, consumer markets, and employment is simply undeniable (Shuford 2009). A country with a complex labour history, the United States continues to struggle with reconciling its past atrocities, including slavery and Jim...

  18. Chapter 13 Employment Equity: The Next Thirty Years
    (pp. 284-305)

    Twenty-five years ago, Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella (then a judge in the Family Division of the Ontario Provincial Court) took on the daunting task of exploring how to promote equality in employment for four historically underrepresented groups: women, Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities. What resulted proved to be a comprehensive blueprint to address systemic discrimination in Canadian workplaces. Within two years the federal government enacted theEmployment Equity Act, the first legislation of its kind in the country.

    Since then, employment equity legislation in Canada has travelled something of an uneven road. The legislation enacted by the...

  19. Conclusion Looking Forward: The Unfinished Business of Employment Equity
    (pp. 306-324)

    Why has Canada’s progress for designated groups under employment equity stalled and not lived up to its potential? As suggested in the introduction and several chapters in this book, part of the explanation lies in Canada’s failure to implement several important recommendations of the Abella Report. As Sandra Burt suggested, “Public policy consists of actions that governments choose to take, as well as actions that they choose not to take” (Burt 1995, 357).

    Four problem areas stand out as elements of the unfinished business of effective employment equity policy:

    1 meaningful enforcement and sanctions;

    2 creating a role for representatives...

  20. Contributors
    (pp. 325-330)
  21. Index
    (pp. 331-335)