A group of African Nova Scotian employees of Halifax Regional Municipality gathered for a protest in front of city hall in May 2018. The group was calling on the municipality to implement the recommendations of a 2016 report that found racial discrimination within the municipality. Photo: Zane Woodford

The city drastically overstated its progress in implementing the recommendations from a 2016 report that found rampant anti-Black racism in the municipal workforce, leaving one councillor wondering whether the city has done anything since to address discrimination.

Last year, the department reported that 87.9% (79) of the 90 recommendations from the Employment Systems Review, or ESR, were complete. On Tuesday, human resources director Caroline Blair-Smith told councillors that in fact, only 40% (36) are complete.

The originally confidential 139-page ESR, conducted by Turner Consulting Group, was publicly released in 2018 after Black city workers protested a lack of action on the recommendations in front of Halifax City Hall.

The review looked into the since-dissolved Municipal Operations Programs (MOPS) department, which mainly included transportation and public works employees. It was tabled in January 2016 after the consultants reviewed city policies, conducted an online survey of employees and interviewed supervisors and human resources staff between September and November 2015.

The review found anti-Black racism within the department.

“The overwhelming opinion of the African Nova Scotian employees with whom we spoke is that they have experienced incidents of harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” the report said.

“While all African Nova Scotian employees may not experience interpersonal harassment themselves, the climate created by the incidents that occur and are not immediately addressed, coupled with the glass ceiling they experience and negative attitudes expressed about their ambition and aptitude to advance, serves to reinforce anti-Black racism within MOPS.”

A few months after the public release of the report, municipal staff told council that more than 60% of its recommendations had been implemented. The most recent progress report said 87.9% were complete.

Neither update was true.

On Tuesday, regional council debated and passed recommendations from a new confidential human resources processes and practices review by KPMG. Buried in the staff report was an admission:

While reviewing the above external review, it was decided that an internal audit of the progress reported on the Employment Systems Review (ESR) should be completed. The percentage of completed recommendations was found to be significantly lower than was previously understood, and currently stands at 40% complete with 60% of the recommendations outstanding. As a result, this work will be incorporated with the recommendations above to create a workplan that encompasses both external reviews. The combined workplan is expected to take up to 24 months for completion.

Coun. Lindell Smith said Tuesday’s revelation confirmed his suspicions about the progress reports tabled over the last few years.

“There’s no way we could complete that many recommendations in that amount of time,” he told the Examiner.

“I had a feeling that we might’ve been overstating our completion, but not to the extent that it said 80-something per cent when we had 40.”

Smith said to have that feeling confirmed was “disappointing” and “concerning.”

“These are serious issues when it comes to racism and discrimination, and have we just not done anything? I don’t know,” he said.

The incorrect numbers were still published on the municipality’s website Tuesday night.

Smith noted there’s a new director in charge of human resources, Blair-Smith, and the fact she admitted the mistake is promising. He also thinks the recommendations passed on Tuesday could make a difference in addressing diversity and inclusion issues across the municipal workforce.

Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. The city’s Human Resources Dept put the BOOTS to the Kathy Symington’s human rights case. She was the female firefighter who suffered sex discrimination and discrimination based on illness over a period of many years. Two years ago, a Human RIghts complaint by former firefighter LIANE TESSIER was resolved by the City, and the Fire Dept, admitting there was SYSTEMIC discrimination against women in the Fire service, and by extension in HRM. How can it be that the Symington case, which followed 1.5 yrs after Tessier was thrown out by the Human Rights Commission. Doesn’t SYSTEMIC mean it affects women thoughout the organisation? Symington lost her human rights case — and the Human Resources staff was absolutely the biggest part of the problem.

  2. So, who WAS the HR Director at the time? I worked with Caroline Blair-Smith for a time and found her to be very open, frank, and honest. I hope she is given the latitude to do her job properly.

  3. More excellent news re: race relations for the Atlantic Schooners hoping to bring a CFL team (chockablock with BROTHERS) to HALISSIPPI.

  4. Calling 65% 70% is an overstatement. Calling 40% 87.9% is simply a lie. I think if most of us were to do that at work, our boss would be more than concerned. But hey, it’s the City so no problem, carry on.

    1. Yeah council should figure out how “that happened” if they want to meaningfully address the recommendations.

  5. There is much that can be hidden in the bureaucracy and in camera meetings. Would like to think this is a step toward transparency.

    1. I think someone closed the window Peter Kelly opened to let the fresh air of transparency into City Hall.