The allegations contained in a 54-page statement of claim — filed in Federal Court and obtained by the Toronto Star — provide detailed accusations from inside one of the country’s most secretive organizations.
One of the complainants, a Toronto intelligence officer with more than a decade of service and identified in the claim by the pseudonym “Alex,” is gay and has a Muslim partner.
According to the statement of claim, an October 2015 email sent to him by his manager “Simon” stated: “Careful your Muslim in-laws don’t behead you in your sleep for being homo.” Another boss, given the pseudonym “Joe,” allegedly wrote: “You’re just a fag hiding in your little corner sobbing.”
None of the allegations contained in the claim, which was filed Thursday morning, has been proven in court. CSIS has not yet commented on the claim.
Toronto lawyer John Phillips, who is representing the five employees, said in an email to the Star, “I am not in a position to provide a comment at this time.”
The lawsuit follows three scathing reports on RCMP harassment, including the May federal auditor general report on the police force’s failure to manage the mental health needs of its employees.
While CSIS has come under scrutiny for past intelligence operations, this lawsuit is a rare public airing of internal complaints for an organization that was recognized as one of Canada’s top 100 employers for 2017.
Among the criteria cited by Mediacorp Canada Inc., which manages the competition, is the spy agency’s attempt to “help employees find a balance between work and their personal lives.” CSIS was given a B+ for “work atmosphere and communications,” and commended for “summer golf and softball tournaments, winter hockey tournament (with time off for players and fans) to raise money for the United Way, annual spy BBQ, summer parties across the organization, long service awards celebrations and a special Christmas party for employees’ children.”
The five intelligence officers and analysts are identified by pseudonyms the claim states, “because they have been warned by their employer, CSIS, that they are forbidden from publicly identifying themselves, or any colleagues.” The Star does not know the identity of the complainants, nor have they been interviewed.
Under Canada’s Security of Information Act identifying a spy can be considered an offence. All of the complainants are CSIS employees but are on medical leave due to stress and other mental and physical conditions that they claim were caused by the alleged abuse.
Managers mentioned in the claim are also identified by fake names.
In addition to Alex, the CSIS employees making the allegations are a Muslim analyst with more than 20 years at the agency who alleges he was told he should “complain to Allah;” a multilingual Muslim analyst who was allegedly called a “sand monkey” by his boss; a female intelligence officer, also Muslim and multilingual, who claims she faced constant suspicion after deciding to wear a hijab in 2004; and the service’s first female Black intelligence officer who claims she was told, “it’s people like you the Service likes to promote.”
All five allege in the claim when they tried to report the abuse, their circumstances got worse and their complaints resulted in no action.
“Bahira,” who says she was discriminated against as a Muslim woman, alleges, “CSIS has a culture of secrecy which does not accept whistle-blowing or complaints, regardless of the underlying harm.”
A ‘gay boy who wanted to take gay selfies with VIPs’
Alex, described in the claim as a highly decorated employee who was in an elite management program, alleges that in addition to being called a “fag” or “gay boy,” a manager reportedly joked to the service’s Toronto office during a 2014 Town Hall meeting that Alex “(took) it from behind.”
According to the statement of claim, one email concerning Alex states: “OT for the homo is approved.”
“Simon,” the manager who allegedly wrote some of the most offensive emails, often teased Alex about “getting fat,” and allegedly posted an unflattering photo of him in a staff elevator. When a colleague removed it and complained to her director, she was allegedly told to “mind her own business.”
Alex also allegedly clashed with Simon when he tried to get information about an ongoing operation during a mid-afternoon Christmas party he did not attend. His attempts to reach Simon and others at the Toronto office — calls, texts and emails — were ignored, Alex claims.
The following day, Alex alleges Simon confronted him about being friends with someone who was a terrorist. (They were connected on Facebook). The claim states the accusation was “unfounded and maliciously motivated” and when Alex mentioned that the individual in question was gay, Simon went on a tirade about “gay men always having their shirts off.”
“Alex then used the meeting to complain that Simon had let down the team the day before by refusing to take a call on an operational matter during a party. Simon responded that Alex was just a ‘gay boy who wanted to take gay selfies with VIPs.’”
According to the statement of claim, Alex left the meeting in tears.
‘All Muslims are terrorists’
Bahira is described as an intelligence officer with more than a decade of experience. In 2004, she decided to wear a hijab, which she alleges caused “an uproar, and a stirring of suspicion so intense that it exists today.”
She alleges her managers, “William” and “Charles,” told her to report all activities connected with the Muslim community.
“She reported attending the mosque biweekly, and making donations randomly. Bahira was told that her security clearance could be revoked for associating with organizations or individuals in the Muslim community who could be perceived as antithetical to CSIS.”
During a foreign posting with the service’s counterterrorism unit Bahira claims that she was treated differently due to her faith. “She was embarrassingly underworked relative to her colleagues, who were overburdened. When this circumstance became a matter of contention in her group, Bahira went to her supervisor who admitted to Bahira that he had been instructed not to give her access to any source files due to her involvement with a Muslim organization,” the claim states.
When she complained, she alleges that rather than deal with the issue a director general asked her if she was frustrated being a second-generation Canadian Muslim. “With tears in her eyes, Bahira listened to the Director General explain that he perceived security threats emanating from second and third generation Canadian Muslims — clearly referring to her — despite the fact that she was a CSIS Intelligence Officer and subject to the same rigorous security clearances as non-Muslim officers.”
Bahira claims she remained dedicated to CSIS, but “the loyalty was not returned,” and that she eventually became withdrawn and “began having her lunch in her office and crying in the stairwell.”
By contrast, when Bahira was seconded to help an ally’s intelligence service she was praised for her communication skills and knowledge of Islamic and Arabic culture, according to the statement of claim. She alleges Anne McLellan, one of Canada’s former deputy prime ministers, also received thanks from the foreign government for Bahira’s service. “However, Bahira’s work was not even acknowledged by CSIS,” the statement claims.
Ignorant and discriminating behaviour among managers was not contained to one region, according to the claim. Bahira moved to a different unit and was allegedly goaded by one manager with comments such as, “Muslim women are inferior.” The same boss allegedly “went on at length about how then-President Barack Obama was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“Cemal,” an analyst who has worked for CSIS for more than 20 years, is also Muslim. He claims: “The culture of CSIS is hostile to Muslims, and this is more than just an unfriendly work environment — it is deeply ingrained prejudice of distrust for Muslims which has meant that Muslims are used and managed as needed, but are not part of the team.”
Cemal alleges a poster of the Twin Towers burning on Sept. 11, 2001, with the words “Ninety-Nine Names of Allah” once hung in the Toronto office.
In the claim, Cemal says Alex told him that senior managers would call Cemal “Muslim Brotherhood,” “Sheikh” or “Imam,” when referring to him at social events or “drinking sessions.”
“Through participation in these group sessions, Alex learned that anti-Muslim sentiment was pervasive within the group. There existed a deep-seated distrust and contempt for all Muslims, which manifested in conversations ranging from terrorism to human resources,” the statement of claim alleges.
Alex’s Muslim partner accompanied him to one social event where his boss Simon allegedly declared, “all Muslims are terrorists.” Alex’s partner left the room, uncomfortable, after which Simon reportedly yelled, “All Muslims are terrorists.”
The complainant called “Emran” in the statement of claim is a Canadian citizen who has worked as an analyst for CSIS for more than 10 years. He is fluent in five languages and worked in Canada except for a two-year international posting.
During a training session for that overseas assignment, Emran claims a colleague would single him out as being Muslim, making comments such as “Muslims and armed weapons are a bad mix.”
“The attacks were relentless, and clearly made some participants in the group uncomfortable, but nobody spoke out, including the trainers,” the claim states.
‘It’s people like you the Service likes to promote’
Emran worked abroad for two years, but says the abuse followed. He alleges his boss “Jeff” had a problem with Arabs.
“I want you to take care of the liaison with the ‘Sand Monkeys’ because you are one of theirs and you speak their language,” Jeff allegedly told Emran.
When he returned to Canada in 2013, Emran says he faced a smear campaign where he was called “a sexual deviant” and “dangerous.” He alleges another rumour circulated that he was “being sought by the Arabs and they were out to get him.”
“The threats and rumour-mongering were part of the craft of manipulation and deceit that was stock and trade of CSIS agents, and Emran recognized these techniques being used against him, to undermine his mental well-being and career.”
In its most recent public report, CSIS, with more than 3,000 employees, is described as a “unique workplace” that is “flexible and innovative.” As of March 31, 2016, 52 per cent of the workforce was male and 15 per cent were visible minorities. Although 69 per cent spoke both French and English, only 18 per cent were fluent in another language. Those employees spoke more than 105 languages, the report states.
In 2014, the Canadian Human Rights Commission conducted an “employment equity audit report” of CSIS. The internal report concluded that visible minorities were under-represented in management and “faced barriers to advancement.”
Dina, who joined the service in 2001, seemed to be the exception. She was the first female black intelligence officer at CSIS, according to the claim, and rose through the ranks, becoming a “level 9 Supervisor.”
Yet Dina claims she was often made to feel as a “token black woman (who) was promoted without merit.”
Fed up by the discrimination, which she claims was tolerated by management, she decided in 2016 to bring a harassment complaint against one colleague directly to the Staff Relations chief, the director general and her boss, Simon.
She claims she was given a runaround — told by Staff Relations that Simon had decided to personally investigate. A few weeks later, the director general told her that the complaint was “unfounded.” He assured her that Staff Relations had properly investigated, after she had been told they weren’t. The claim alleges she then went to her boss Simon, who told her “he wasn’t involved.”
‘The public would be shocked about this if they only knew’
All five complainants allege they raised objections and made claims of harassment — formally and informally — to managers and representatives of CSIS’s employee association over the years but say “management was simply indifferent.”
Often colleagues or managers told them to just tolerate the alleged abuse.
“We do what’s asked of us and keep our heads down and don’t cause trouble,” wrote one colleague, according to the claim. Another email to Alex stated that if he complained, “there will be no turning back.”
Alex claims he was “overwhelmed by a sense of betrayal,” and by 2016 could no longer stay quiet.
Two months after he formally complained in April 2016, according to the claim, several colleagues wrote a joint email supporting him, saying the managers often yelled at him for speaking out. “None of these things are professional and this is not how (we) expect managers to act,” the email stated, adding that they can attest Alex “is NOT making any of this up.”
Last summer, a “third-party” investigation was conducted into Alex’s allegations, and according to the statement of claim, concluded that CSIS had an “old boy’s club” culture and there is a general fear of managers’ “reprisal, retribution and punishment,” while complaints made against management are often “dismissed and disregarded.”
“The workplace atmosphere is ‘work-hard, play-hard,’ with regular consumption of alcohol in the office and politically incorrect, off-colour jokes and teasing. It is a loose, locker-room type of environment.”
According to the claim, one witness reportedly commented to the third-party investigator: “The public would be shocked about this if they only knew; we keep our own secrets.”
Alex threatened legal action, at which point he was issued a letter acknowledging that he had been harassed. But the letter “failed to propose any redress or even offer an apology,” the claim states.
Instead, Alex said the situation got worse. He was told to stop coming to weekly management meetings. “Alex was punished,” the claim states, “for exposing management to the scrutiny of an outsider — scrutiny that had never been imposed on this enclave of privileged individuals who considered themselves above the law.”
Author: Metro News