Senate turns to Federal Court in racial discrimination dispute

By on August 25, 2017


OTTAWA — The Senate is asking the Federal Court to block the release of documents in a labour dispute where one of its top officials faces racism allegations.

The allegations come from Darshan Singh, who was fired as the Senate’s director of human resources in early December, days after he leveled the accusations of racial discrimination against his boss that form the basis of his employment grievance.

Singh was the first executive of colour in the Senate’s history and served in his job for two-and-a-half years before his firing, which senators were told was for insubordination.

A grievance panel reviewing Singh’s case ordered the Senate earlier this month to hand over minutes and attendance records from closed-door meetings and a review of Singh’s department, all of which Singh and his lawyer argue will prove his discrimination allegations.

The due date to hand over the documents is Friday.

The Senate’s request to the court, filed Wednesday, argues the upper chamber will suffer irreparable harm if it surrenders documents subject to parliamentary privilege.

The Senate’s interim law clerk, Jacqueline Kuehl, said the Senate’s position is that the labour board is overstepping its jurisdiction.

“Parliament’s privilege as it pertains to in-camera meetings is well established. The Senate is merely exercising that privilege,” she said.

“To do otherwise would have catastrophic repercussions to our parliamentary system not only here, but in legislatures across the country. “

Singh started working at the Senate in October 2013. Among other tasks, he reported publicly to senators about the Senate’s bid to attract a more diverse workforce.

But changes in the upper echelon of the Senate’s non-partisan administration shortly thereafter led to Singh being excluded from staffing decisions in which he was supposed to be involved.

Singh asked the Senate to release the attendance records because he argues they will show he was, as the only visible minority director, regularly excluded from meetings attended by his white colleagues.

His lawyer, Paul Champ, said the departmental review, ordered after Singh’s firing, would also support arguments before the labour board that he was fired for his discrimination complaint and not because he had been doing a bad job.

Champ said heading to court in the middle of a labour board hearing is “rare and exceptional” in his experience. He said it is part of the Senate’s “scorched earth approach in this case.”

“This kind of strategy sends a terrible message to other visible minority employees in the Senate: don’t speak up or we will crush you,” Champ said.