The federal government's human-rights watchdog has repeatedly admonished the Canadian Security Intelligence Service over a lack of diversity in its upper echelons, according to newly disclosed reports.
Records obtained by The Globe and Mail show that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has conducted two employment equity audits of CSIS over the past decade and, on both occasions, the spy agency was criticized because it had not hired a sufficient number of visible minorities, people with disabilities and indigenous Canadians.
The 2014 and 2011 audits found that none of CSIS's senior managers were indigenous or visible minorities, and only 17 per cent are women, a decrease of 13 per cent since 2009. "Your organization has a lower overall EE [employment equity] result when compared to separate agencies and is therefore considered to be a less successful employer with respect to EE," the commission wrote, urging the agency to close gaps in its hiring practices. One of its main challenges, the commission noted, was to increase the diversity of its managerial staff.
Formed three decades ago from a former RCMP intelligence division, CSIS is a $500-million-a-year organization with 3,000 employees. Many of its staff are intelligence officers who work to identify terrorists and other threats to national security. Such work has sometimes led to tensions with indigenous and Muslim groups, who have accused the agency of racial profiling.
The documents, obtained under Access to Information laws, offer a sober assessment of an agency that has at times struggled to attract recruits from varied backgrounds, and sheds new light on the workplace culture of the country's secretive spy service.
One of the areas in which CSIS exceeded the commission's targets, which are based on the availability of people from different groups in the work force, is gender equity across its departments. According to a 2014 equity report, 48 per cent of CSIS employees are women, a figure that is above the government average.
And over all, 2 per cent of its employees are indigenous, 3.6 per cent have disabilities and 14.4 per cent are visible minorities. Those numbers are generally representative of the country's population, but they are slightly below the commission's targets.
A spokeswoman for CSIS said the agency sees diversity as a "core business strategy," one that allows its agents to "better understand the demographics of the Canadian communities we protect, therefore better equipping us to collect relevant and accurate intelligence." The human-rights commission investigates government departments that are less diverse than their peers. Under federal law, every department and agency with at least 500 employees is subject to a review of its work force every three years. If a group of Canadians is not well represented, an audit is done.
The documents also suggest visible minorities and indigenous people were sometimes undervalued within CSIS. Members of those groups faced "attitudinal barriers" from colleagues and did not always receive the training needed to "advance to a higher level either due to lack of time, funding or management support," a report said.
The spy service was especially keen on courting First Nations, but an outreach campaign assisted by an indigenous RCMP recruiter fell short of expectations. In an internal report, CSIS officials said it was not clear whether those efforts had been effective and blamed a "lack of understanding" of the agency's mission among indigenous communities.
"The Service continue[s] efforts to demystify the Service and to bridge trust barriers with Aboriginal peoples," it said.
The spokeswoman said the agency has had "an increase in its number of aboriginal applicants."
The documents also indicated that the work environment inside CSIS was also sometimes less than ideal.
"Although the Service has been making substantial progress in creating a respectful workplace free of harassment and discrimination, interviews with staff indicated that inappropriate comments and behaviour are still present in Service's work environment," one of the reports said.
The problems have surfaced despite the agency's attempts to introduce its employees to different cultures, such as hosting a "Diversity Week," and having guest speakers address staff. Between 2013 and 2014, more than 90 speakers, ranging from stand-up comics to a Canadian breakdancer visited CSIS offices, and an employee talent show designed to highlight diversity within the agency called "CSIS got talent" is held annually.
Since coming into power in October, the Liberal government has said that it would increase the diversity of the civil service. The party's election platform promised to "build a government as diverse as Canada."