A settlement reached a year and a half ago in a human rights complaint over the Canada Research Chairs program is stalled, frustrating the complainants and both the spirit and letter of the agreement.
Despite accepting a mediated settlement in November 2006 and agreeing that changes to the program must be made to avoid discrimination in future appointments, the CRC secretariat has fallen far behind the agreement’s timeline schedule and has failed to develop an effective mechanism to address allocation inequities as required by the agreement.
The result is that continuing appointments to the prestigious program, which was launched seven years ago by Industry Canada, are being made in much the same manner as they were before the agreement. About $900 million was originally earmarked to establish 2,000 university research professorships. The government-sponsored program aims to strengthen Canadian research and development excellence.
“It’s extraordinarily frustrating,” said Marjorie Griffen Cohen, one of eight academics from universities across Canada who brought forward the complaint alleging systemic discrimination (in chair determinations), contrary to s.10 of the Human Rights Act.
Cohen, a professor of political science at Simon Fraser University, says she’s disheartened by the process and length of time it’s taking to initiate change. “We thought we had an agreement. But there seems to be no way to ensure compliance by Industry Canada.”
The academics, assisted by CAUT legal counsel Rosemary Morgan, filed complaints with the federal human rights commission in May 2004 over the underrepresentation of equity-seeking groups in CRC appointments, citing allegations of discrimination in the chair nomination process, access to the process and in the appointment process and results.
The cornerstone of the agreement reached in 2006 rested on the chairs program undertaking to develop a methodology for the establishment of targets in the designated groups of women, Aboriginal Peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities.
Yet, no methodology has been publicly released, and the complainants say the chairs secretariat has consulted only minimally with them in attempting to develop an appropriate plan. The original 2,000 chairs were all appointed by 2007, but new appointments will continue indefinitely as terms and renewals expire, as will research and salary support for the researchers, according to program representatives.
“The chairs were awarded under practices that enabled inequity,” says University of Manitoba sociology professor Susan Prentice, another of the complainants. “We did everything according to the law, followed due process and yet these systemic practices of discrimination continue. Something is very wrong with that outcome.”
Since the settlement, the CRC nomination form has been altered to allow voluntary self-identification in any of the four equity groups and the chairs program is asking existing chair holders to self-identify on a voluntary basis.
“We will continue to watch closely over the settlement implementation,” said CAUT executive director James Turk. “But the unacceptable delays and lack of follow-through on the major agreed obligation regarding methodology are disturbing for all fair-minded people, for the complainants and for anyone belonging to the four equity groups.”
He said CAUT’s legal counsel has been assigned to monitor the situation and follow up with both the program and with the human rights commission to encourage the settlement’s realization.