OTTAWA — Lawyers for a Canadian Security Intelligence Service employee say his discrimination lawsuit against the spy service should be allowed to proceed because CSIS managers do not take internal grievance and harassment processes seriously.
Counsel for Sameer Ebadi asked a Federal Court judge Wednesday to dismiss a government bid to toss out his suit, saying CSIS management has created and perpetuated a culture of systemic racism, Islamophobia, harassment and reprisal.
"Put simply, Sameer is here because CSIS is broken," said Daniel Kuhlen, co-counsel for Ebadi and a staff lawyer with National Council of Canadian Muslims.
"CSIS is broken because it continually demonstrates a callous pathology of indifference to the vicious harms, including abuse and mental suffering, which it inflicts upon Muslims at CSIS."
A lawyer representing senior CSIS officials said Ebadi's claim must be struck out because he should have followed the internal processes instead of heading to court.
After hearing from both sides, Federal Court Justice Henry Brown reserved judgment on the motion until a later date.
Ebadi, a practising Muslim who fled to Canada from a repressive Middle Eastern country, has worked as an analyst since 2000 in the Prairie region.
Ebadi's statement of claim, filed in January 2020, says 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, who uses a pseudonym due to the sensitive nature of his work, says in an affidavit that CSIS has a history of protecting harassers from responsibility for their religious or racially motivated behaviour.
Internal CSIS processes cannot be trusted to provide him with a fair hearing and to protect him against reprisals for bringing forward concerns, he says. Ebadi is now on long-term disability leave.
In seeking to have the claim tossed out, federal lawyer Sean Gaudet told the court Wednesday that Ebadi is precluded from taking court action due to the grievance and harassment procedures that were available.
"He feels that he can't expect to get fair treatment in the internal grievance process," Gaudet said. "There's nothing unique in that assertion — that is routinely said in cases of this nature. What's needed is evidence."
In a written submission, Ebadi's lawyers say that in order to strike his claim, the court must be satisfied it is "plain and obvious" that it lacks jurisdiction to hear the action.
They argue the court must look at factors including the "acknowledged reality of systemic discrimination against Muslims within CSIS," the lack of oversight of the service's grievance process, the rampant distrust within CSIS of the process, and CSIS’s past record of misleading the Federal Court.
During the court hearing, John Kingman Phillips, co-counsel for Ebadi, highlighted remarks CSIS director David Vigneault made at a December 2020 meeting of the federal National Security Transparency Advisory Group.
Vigneault said he had acknowledged publicly and privately to employees "that, yes, systemic racism does exist here, and yes there is a level of harassment and fear of reprisal within the organization."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2022.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press