THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 2, Season 12
Sunday, September 25, 2022
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine
Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Black Class Action Secretariat
Location: Ottawa, ON
Mercedes Stephenson: Putin’s gamble ratcheting up the war in Ukraine and sounding the alarm on anti-black racism.
I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Welcome to The West Block.
Russia holds sham referendums and mobilizes the reserves to fight for the first time since the Second World War.
Is the war entering a new and dangerous phase? I’ll ask Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine.
And, a multi-billion dollar class action law suit to fight anti-black racism in the federal public service.
As the Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to reclaim Russian held territory, Vladimir Putin is showing no signs of backing down. In fact, there are concerns the conflict might escalate after Putin demanded snap referendums in four occupied areas of Ukraine and has announced he is mobilizing up to 300 thousand Russian reservists to bolster his faltering war efforts.
In an address to the UN General Assembly, the Ukrainian president says it’s time for Russia to pay for its war crimes.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: “A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand just punishment. The crime was committed against our state borders. The crime was committed against the lives of our people. The crime was committed against the dignity of our women and men.”
Mercedes Stephenson: For more on what’s happening right now in Ukraine, I’m joined by Canada’s ambassador in Kyiv, Larisa Galadza. Thank you so much for joining us today, ambassador.
Can you tell us a little bit about what the situation is on the ground right now and what the feeling is with the Ukrainian people?
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: Thanks. Thanks for having me. You know it’s September and in two important ways this is like any other September with kids going back to school and the weather turning. But of course, those things remind us very acutely that the war continues to rage and this country is still suffering very badly. A lot of children have not gone back to school because they don’t have bomb shelters. Every school has to have a shelter. And the winter is turning and millions of people still don’t have homes. I recently drove to Irpin again, the same town we were in with the prime minister back in May, and those bombed out buildings, many of them look exactly as they were back then. So where are their residents? Where are they going to live as it gets colder? So these are urgent matters and all of this is happening against a very, very dynamic security and political backdrop. The air raid sirens continue to wail. The missiles continue to fly. Russia continues to attack. Ukrainians continue to make excellent progress in the Kharkiv region, but as they go into those newly liberated areas, they’re finding new and more examples of the horrors the Russian troops have inflicted on Ukrainians.
And then this week, it’s been you don’t know where to turn for the action. Yes, the war continues in Kharkiv and Donbass and Kherson. There’s Putin’s speech, as you mentioned, the mobilization, the sham referendums, the threats of nuclear war. There’s the release of 215 prisoners of war. That’s huge. There was President Zelenskyy’s incredible speech to the UN General Assembly. The prime minister spoke with the President Zelenskyy this week as well. The exhumation of bodies continues in Izium, 445 bodies. And that’s just—that’s just this week.
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s a reminder of the sharp contrast of the reality of the war in Ukraine that so many here are not seeing in the news every single day, the disruption of daily life, schools, bomb shelters, the incredible cold that you feel in Ukraine in the winter with those winds coming off of the plains. I want to ask you about the threats you mentioned from Vladimir Putin, those nuclear threats in particular. How real do you think that is?
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: Those are not new threats. That is something that we’ve heard from Putin before and consistently. And as the Ukrainians say, they don’t believe them but you have to take them seriously. And the Ukrainians themselves the way to do that is to show strength, so strength in the face of those threats and to not give in and to not stand down.
Mercedes Stephenson: Where do you foresee the war going in the immediate future, because you’ve had this phenomenal success of the Ukrainian offensive, which took back territory much more quickly and successfully than a lot of people were expecting. Now you have Vladimir Putin holding these sham, snap referendums in occupied areas to try to say Oh, look, see, they want us to see we can annex them. It’s completely legal, him calling up 300 thousand reservists. Do you think that there is going to be a real spike in the bloodshed in coming days?
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: I think you’re absolutely right that what Putin has called for and announced is clear evidence that he is desperate. He’s desperate because the Ukrainians have the upper hand in the Kharkiv region and the Russians are hugely degraded in the other parts where they continue to hold territory. So he needs to make a quick move. Where is this going to go? Well, first of all, the international community has already said very strongly it will not recognize these referendums. So if he thinks that’s going to accomplish something, it’s not. The Ukrainians, likewise, have said we don’t care what you do. In fact, they’ve been through it before. They—Russia held a referendum in 2014 in Crimea. They don’t care. They’re going to continue fighting for their territory until every square metre of it is returned to Ukrainian control. Canada and its allies are working very hard in light of these announcements from Putin, first of all, to continue to undermine the lives, the disinformation, the crazy messaging, to isolate Russia with additional sanctions, to support Ukraine in defending its territory and taking it back and then, of course, to ensure that the international community remains steadfast in its support for international law.
Mercedes Stephenson: Speaking of Canada’s support for Ukraine, of course, we’ve sent M777 howitzers which are big artillery guns. The Ukrainians are asking for more of those. They’re also asking for Canadian LAV’s, light armoured vehicles that have a big cannon turret on them. We’ve agreed to send armoured vehicles so far, but not ones that have weapons. Is this something that the Canadian government is looking at? Will we send the Ukrainians more weapons? Do we even have them to be able to send?
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: We’ve got more weapons still on the way. The package that the government announced of $500 million in weapons is still being delivered. It is contracted for. It is on its way. The training is happening and we’re doing this every step of the way, in concert, in tight coordination with the Ukrainians to make sure that we do in fact, deliver what they need. There’s no point giving them things that we happen to have and that they don’t need. So that’s what’s happening right now and we know that what we’re providing goes into service. We will help them use it properly. We will help them maintain it and that is going to make an incredible contribution to this fight that’s going to go on for a while longer still.
Mercedes Stephenson: What are your Ukrainian counterparts asking you for? What would be helpful to them? Because obviously, we’ve announced this package but they’re saying they need more. What more do they need?
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: So, they do need weapons, everyone. You can talk to the most humanitarian of humanitarians and they’ll tell you what they need, but the first thing they say is weapons. They need tanks and I’m sure you are aware that they’re trying to get those from their European—their close European partners. So, number one ask is for weapons.
A number two ask is continued support for their macro financial stability. Here, Canada has provided almost $2 billion in support, to make sure that Ukraine doesn’t fall apart economically. Their export economy, as you know, is hugely curtailed. Their Black Sea is cut-off except for these special corridors that take the grain out so that people don’t starve in other parts of the world. Industry is interrupted. So the economy is in bad shape and Canada and our partners are helping to stabilize that.
The third thing they ask for is support for accountability for holding Putin, holding every soldier, all the way down the line, accountable for the atrocities that have been committed here and in particular, to set up an international tribunal to try Russia for the crime of aggression. So that is a very clear ask of Canada and all our partners.
And the last thing they ask for is help with the recovery. However we can help with the recovery. Recovery is that part of the effort that is required to open schools, make sure they have shelters, and build temporary homes or homes for people that don’t have them. All this has to happen right away. Rebuild some medical clinics. Make sure that the most critical of critical infrastructure is back up and running in newly liberated areas. So those are sort of the four key asks.
Mercedes Stephenson: You, ambassador, of course, are Canada’s ambassador there. You’re in Kyiv. The embassy was formerly “reopened” by the prime minister, but it was very symbolic. When are we expecting the embassy to actually reopen in a way where it will be able to process visas, bring people out of Ukraine and function as a fully capable embassy would?
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: We’ve been here since May 8th with a team and our priority was to reengage in high level diplomatic and political engagement and that’s what we did. And we had a team here and we’ve had a team here steadily since the 8th of May, when the prime minister came to visit President Zelenskyy. It was always meant to be a gradual and rolling reopening. First things first, and then always with top-of-mind is the security and safety of our personnel. We’re now at a point where we have a larger team here. We have more of our local staff engaged. We are working at the chancery, but the embassy has been functioning all the way along. The building, the chancery is open. We’re glad to be back in there and visas continue to be processed online as they always have been. We have been accepting visa applications in the embassy in many years. So we’re serving the priorities as they’ve been given to us by Minister Joly, by the prime minister and we are incredibly active.
Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us today and please do stay safe, along with all of your staff.
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: Thank you very, very much.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, one of the lead plaintiffs in a landmark class action lawsuit, alleging decades of discrimination against black federal civil servants in Canada.
Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Black Class Action Secretariat: “The manager told her we should go back to the good old days where we had slaves. And that manager faced no consequences.”
Mercedes Stephenson: A group of black civil servants says the federal government is resorting to stall tactics to deny them their day in court, nearly two years after they sounded the alarm on anti-black racism in the public service.
More than 15 hundred black federal employees have joined the proposed class action lawsuit, taking aim at what they describe as the government’s wrongful failure to hire and promote black employees in the public service.
The lawsuit alleges decades of discrimination and harassment against tens of thousands of black employees and job applicants, who say they were subjected to racist comments and jokes and passed over for promotions, or just not even hired in the first place.
The effects of that exclusion were debilitating, with employees reporting anxiety, shame and significant financial losses. The lawsuit is seeking $2.5 billion in damages, including compensation for lost income and other benefits.
Joining me now with more on the lawsuit is one of its lead plaintiffs, Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Executive Director of the Black Class Action Secretariat. Thank you so much for joining us today, Nicolas. We appreciate your time.
Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Black Class Action Secretariat: Thank you for having me.
Mercedes Stephenson: Can you tell me a little bit about when you first started to notice a pattern in your own life and in the lives of your black colleagues who are working for the Government of Canada that you went, you know what? This is discrimination. This is racism.
Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Black Class Action Secretariat: Well, when I joined the public service about eight years ago, I immediately noticed that there was a very troubling trend. And that trend was that black employees were in entry level positions, other racialized employees were just above that and the leadership of the public service was reserved for white employees and that I noticed workers working for 15 years, 20 years and they’re in the same position. And that has really culminated in significant psychological injuries for workers, mental health injuries and as well as the financial losses. So—and that’s where really, I decided that we had to do something about it. And I started talking with workers across the public service and they told me the same thing that they were very well qualified and were being denied promotions, were—they experienced racism in the workplace. One worker was told we should go back to the good old days where we had slaves…
Mercedes Stephenson: Where we had slaves?
Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Black Class Action Secretariat: Correct. The manager told her we should go back to the good old days where we had slaves, and that manager faced no consequences. And it is that constant ability of public service leaders to make comments like that and there’s no consequences for it.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s—it’s atrocious. It’s atrocious in that’s very direct and as you’re saying also this insidious systemic racism, where people are not being promoted. They’re staying in the same job their entire career, while their colleagues around them are promoted. People hear the stories and the numbers, but I think it’s powerful when we have some of those examples. Can you share with us some of your story or some of your colleague’s stories that are involved in this lawsuit that have led you to this point?
Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Black Class Action Secretariat: Sure. The public service, black workers make up the largest racialized group in the public service. So that’s 3.8 per cent of the almost 300 thousand public service. And black workers in terms—black workers are the least paid in the public service. Despite being the largest group, it is the least paid group representing approx.—just over 1 per cent in the executive rank. To put that into perspective, the executive ranks of the public service has approximately 8 thousand employees and the black workers make up just about 100 executives in the entire public service that prides itself in being inclusive and diverse and merit-based. But that is not the case for black workers. Many black workers, 70 per cent are women, mothers and grandmothers, who have dedicated their lives to serving Canada and in return, Canada has denied them promotional opportunities, has treated them inhumanely. And all of that results in a denial of basic human rights and it also results in degradation. It also results in humiliation. Workers have told me that they have attempted suicide because they have nowhere to turn to, no recourse in the workplace, lack of support from their unions and just nowhere to turn to. And that they have suicidal ideation. Experts have told us how this discrimination impacts your brain. It actually causes your brain to move in a particular way, which has a direct impact on your parenting, on your social life, on your relationships. So, black workers are in a crisis in Canada’s public service.
Mercedes Stephenson: Canadians like to say we’re not that kind of country. We don’t have that kind of racism here, which is partially exactly why we wanted to sit down and talk to you about the story. What do you say to Canadians who are surprised to be hearing this today?
Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Black Class Action Secretariat: Well, I would say the government’s own data does not—it tells us very clearly and supports what workers have been saying—is that they’re being denied opportunities. They’re asked to train new employees. They’re good enough to train new employees. They’re good enough to act for a temporary period in a higher position, but those positions almost always goes to white employees and some racialized employees. So my message to Canadians is: Black people want to fully participate and they’re being denied that opportunity at the highest level in the largest employer in Canada. So listen. Listen to us. Be an ally, and let’s work together because we want to make Canada a better place and to fully participate in Canada.
Mercedes Stephenson: I imagine a tremendous financial consequence too, because federal government pensions are based on the rank you retire at. So if you’re never promoted, then that’s having a significant impact. How has the government responded so far to your proposed class action lawsuit?
Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Black Class Action Secretariat: Well the government is speaking from the both sides of its mouth. They’re saying one thing publicly and they’re fighting black workers in court. They’ve just brought in an expert from the U.S. to challenge their own data. They continue to bring motions to delay the case. The government has fully acknowledged that this issue exists in all of its institutions and that the pain and damage that it causes is real. And then it shows up in court, fighting black workers, forcing black workers to recount the trauma that they’ve endured at the hands of the government for decades.
Mercedes Stephenson: Nicholas, what needs to happen going forward? How would you like to see the government respond and what changes need to be made?
Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Black Class Action Secretariat: Well firstly, the government needs to come to the table with workers and work with us to create those solutions that are necessary. And that is, the legislative changes, amendments to the Employment Equity Act. We’re seeking to create a separate and distinct category for black workers under the legislation, to ensure that black workers are not left behind when it comes to hiring and promotional opportunities. And we’re also seeking accountability through an accountability commission, to police the public service, to ensure that black workers do not face this discrimination again. And we are presently building a national and international coalition with organizations from across the country and internally as well, to bring attention to this issue that is happening in Canada. We’re scheduled to make a major announcement next week, so stay tuned on that.
Mercedes Stephenson: We will absolutely be tuning in for that announcement. Nicholas, thank you so much for joining us today.
Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Black Class Action Secretariat: Thank you for having me.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, what we’re watching here at The West Block, from protests in Iran after a young woman died in police custody to a state funeral in Japan.
Mercedes Stephenson: More than a dozen people have been killed in nationwide protests rocking Iran, in what’s proving to be the biggest challenge to that country’s regime in years.
The protests were sparked by the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman earlier this month who died in police custody.
Masha Amini was arrested by the country’s notorious morality police for allegedly wearing the regime mandated head scarf too loosely. Her name has become a clarion call for Iranians who want to see the compulsory hijab abolished.
The protests have spread to at least 50 cities, largely driven by Iranian women. Some have removed their hijabs in public, considered a crime in Iran. Others have gone even further, openly burning their head scarves. Authorities have responded with a violent crackdown. Internet and cellular service is down in much of the country. Cutting off access to Instagram and WhatsApp so people can’t post what’s happening.
The United States imposed sanctions last week on Iran’s morality police, holding it responsible for the 22-year-old woman’s death.
Also expected to make news this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Tokyo to attend the state funeral for former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated earlier this year. I’ll be in Japan to cover the prime minister’s visit for Global National and I’ll see you here again next Sunday, right here on The West Block.
I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Thanks for watching.