Health Canada Riddled with Racism?

by Bob Steele

Earlier this year one of the most prestigious medical journals (The Lancet) reported the findings of The Canadian Human Rights Commission regarding alleged racism at Health Canada:

'The Canadian Human Rights Commission has ordered Health Canada to introduce quotas for the promotion of visible minorities to senior management positions after ruling that "systemic" racial discrimination within the federal department has "bottlenecked" minorities in scientific and professional jobs.

'The human-rights tribunal said Health Canada view minorities as "culturally different" and "not suitable for management positions". There is "significant under-representation" of minorities in senior management jobs that cannot be explained by disinterest or a lack of skills on the part of minorities. The tribunal noted that only four of 167 senior management positions at Health Canada were staffed by minorities, and ordered the department to bolster that total by appointing minorities in the executive/senior management category at a rate of 18% per year for 5 years.

'In making the finding of systemic discrimination, the tribunal said there was no evidence that individual senior managers were racist but that staffing policies had the net effect of being discriminatory, even if that was not the intent of the department. Chief CHRC Commissioner Michelle Falardeau-Ramsay said that the decision also "sends a message to other federally regulated employers. It show that discrimination does not have to be overt and deliberate to have a negative impact on members of minority groups".

'The ruling was issued in response to a 1992 complaint filed by the National Capital Alliance on Race Relations, an Ottawa-based community group. At the time the complaint was filed, only one of 118 people in Health Canada executive-management positions were from visible minority groups. CHRC also ordered Health Canada to develop outreach recruitment of minorities, as well as mandatory training for all senior managers.'

- Wayne Kondro (The Lancet, 1997; Vol 349, p. 931)

Is racism a new trend at Health Canada?

Health reporter Nicholas Regush (Safety Last, 1993, Key Porter Books) sets us straight: "Take Dennis Awang, who was given his walking papers at fifty-four in February 1992. Awang had worked in the drugs sector since 1969; he was let go ostensibly because of budget cuts. Awang is an internationally respected authority on herbal medicine. He was born in Trinidad. He is black. There was a time when Awang was routinely called 'blackie' by a British-born Health department colleague and had to remove adhesive labels from South African imported fruits from his telephone receiver, reading lamp, and office door. Most damaging was the bitterness and hurt inflicted by his white-skinned bosses who did little to find him another job worthy of him in the bureaucracy. Canadian and U.S. scientists wrote letters to the Health department expressing disbelief that a scientist of Awang's calibre would be so casually discarded." (p. 33)

Perhaps discrimination and racism is a thing of the past at Health Canada. No such luck. Which ethnic community depends the most on health giving herbs? The Chinese community. So what does the HPB (Health Protection Branch) want to do to herbs. Many herbs have been banned and many of those that have escaped the ban will be taxed as of July 2, 1997. Hundreds of jobs associated with the Chinese herbal business will be lost within 16 months and prices will likely jump substantially. But taxing HEALTH is the wonderful plan of the Herb Persecution Branch and the Liberal government. Is targeting the Chinese community via the banning and taxing of herbs discriminatory?

If there is a more accurate term, perhaps the Liberal government can 'educate' us on terminology.

Peace with Freedom,
Bob Steele
Vancouver, BC