Report paints picture of ‘toxic culture of fear, harassment, discrimination and reprisal’ inside civil service

By Alan S. Hale June 7, 2021

Some employees feel the Ontario Public Service is “fundamentally racist,” according to a report produced by INDsight Consulting, which was tasked with investigating the workplace culture and policies at the 63,000-person provincial bureaucracy.

Consultants spoke to civil servants from November 2020 through January 2021, uncovering “a toxic culture of fear, harassment, discrimination and reprisal,” with one employee going as far as to label the OPS a “white supremacist organization.”

“Many employees spoke of either being made victims of or witness to workplace discrimination and harassment, overt racism and/or microaggressions,” reads the report, produced in March and distributed to government workers last week.

In response to the report, Ontario’s top civil servant Steven Davidson apologized to staff members in an email.

“The society we live in – its history, its culture and its institutions – has been shaped by colonialism, slavery, racism and xenophobia,” wrote Davidson.

Queen’s Park Today requested comment regarding the report from the Treasury Board and Cabinet Office on Sunday but did not receive a response.

Bureaucrats expressed that they had lost faith in the mechanisms meant to address their workplace concerns. Human resources is perceived as being on the side of the employer and they feared speaking up would result in ostracization or diminished chances for career advancement.

Racialized employees said they felt a particular disadvantage, with one civil servant saying “those at the top have no real desire to see anything change because it will mean diminished power and control for them.”

Nepotism, cronyism and pressure to fit in
Civil servants also complained hiring processes are rife with both nepotism and cronyism, resulting in minimal diversity. In OPS offices in the north, east and west of the province, some employees detailed workplaces “where everyone was related to the manager.”

Without better whistleblower protections, advised the consultants, these problems will persist. The report also echoed employee recommendations such as implementing clear diversity targets and mandatory progress reports on dealing with harassment.

“‘Like hires like’ was a phrase that came up in multiple discussion groups. Several employees spoke about feeling as though they had to ‘check who they are at the door’ to reach career goals,” reads the report. “Most employees reported that being ‘different’ within the OPS — through culture, sexuality, or even fashion choices — was perceived as negative and disruptive to the workplace culture.”

Managers complained of a lack of training as a driving reason behind persistent discrimination and harassment, saying they were not equipped with the skills needed to address such incidents.