CSIS asks court to throw out claim, accuser says treatment from colleagues left him with ‘unbearable levels of dread’
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has endured a chastening month, capped yesterday by the organization asking a court to throw out an employee’s claim he endured racial discrimination and physical abuse from colleagues.
Earlier this month, the spy service confirmed director David Vigneault had contracted COVID-19, while it also emerged that a fractious debate had been taking place within the service over workplace safety during the pandemic.
On Wednesday, the CSIS said Sameer Ebadi should have turned to internal grievance and harassment processes instead of filing a suit in Federal Court.
According to a report by The Canadian Press, Ebadi, who uses a pseudonym due to the sensitive nature of his work, said he pursued his claim in court because he has no faith the spy service's internal procedures will provide anything close to a fair and impartial hearing.
“I have tried on multiple occasions, with varying levels of CSIS management, to address my well-founded issues of workplace harassment and discrimination,” Ebadi said in an affidavit filed with the court.
“With each effort, I was met with resistance and, what is worse, faced increased discriminatory treatment for blowing the whistle on my fellow employees and managers.”
Ebadi is a practising Muslim who fled to Canada from a repressive Middle Eastern country. He has worked as an analyst since 2000 in the Prairie region. His statement of claim, filed in January of last year, said he was passed over for promotion despite an excellent work record, and that he suffered bullying, discrimination, emotional and physical abuse, and religious persecution from fellow employees.
Ebadi also believes CSIS put him under surveillance following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, even though he worked for the agency. He recounts being covertly followed and discovering a GPS tracking device in his car.
The discrimination and harassment caused severe stress and led to the breakdown of his marriage, he added. Ebadi is on permanent sick leave.
"Knowing what I would face going back to the workplace leaves me with unbearable levels of dread.''
CSIS spokesman John Townsend, while stressing he could not comment on specifics of the case, said CSIS takes any allegation of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace very seriously.
"Our employees are always encouraged to report incidents of harassment, discrimination or bullying without fear of reprisal and all of our managers are required to act promptly on any issues brought to their attention, and if necessary, request a formal investigation,'' he said.
"Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is at the core of CSIS. We make every effort to ensure that all employees feel respected and valued. It is our diversity that allows us to better understand all the Canadian communities we protect.''
The case represents more unwanted headlines for the service around their alleged treatment of employees. Global News reported that a significant number of CSIS staff have complained to managers that while other federal agencies have let people work from home during the pandemic, intelligence employees have been forced to keep working at headquarters.
This has fuelled concerns and complaints about the safety of CSIS employees in Ottawa, and fears that the insistence on working at the physical site puts staff at risk. Almost 200 CSIS employees signed a mass grievance over the issue in February, sources said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, employees described a lack of physical distancing at headquarters, as well as a lack of strict policies regarding wearing masks in the workplace.