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Global Affairs Canada | Employees denounce a toxic work environment



(Ottawa) There was the Department of National Defence, and then Rideau Hall. Should Global Affairs Canada (GAC) be added to the list of toxic workplaces? According to a series of testimonies and an internal report, a shift is needed within the Ministry, where a “culture of fear” and omerta reign.

“There are plenty of Julie Payettes at AMC. It’s the same kind of work climate, “slices Patrick*, referring to the former Governor General of Canada who left in disgrace after a report concluded that there was a culture of abuse under her crook.

“But it’s so hermetic; people protect each other. There are a lot of people who said to me, “You better not report anything, just cash in, and at least it won’t hurt your career.” That’s what people at the Ministry have been told for years, and it’s a culture that continues,” he says.

Recently, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner blamed the Department for a “serious instance of mismanagement”. Latifa Belmahdi, an executive who slapped an employee and told a Jewish employee that he would be like in “a concentration camp” in a training session, was tolerated, even promoted.

“It’s a small fish, Latifa Belmahdi”, launches Patrick.

“Terrified” employees and managers

It may also be the tip of an iceberg that seems to want to emerge, according to a report published on April 29 by the firm ParriagGroup about the work climate in the commercial division of AMC.

The culture of fear is the basis of the functioning of the Ministry; even the management are terrified […] So you can imagine how people are treated there.

An employee quoted in the internal document sent to The Press

“We have all these managers who have enormous power […] and tend to use it to keep the system in place and go after employees who dare to complain instead of those who cause the problems,” testified another.

It was not the first time that the mood of employees in this sector had been surveyed.

The Department received in 2020-2021 some recommendations to clean up the workplace through an action plan published after public servants expressed various complaints in surveys conducted in 2018-2019.

Among other things, they expressed their perception that “acceptance and tolerance of ‘disrespectful’ behavior were considered ‘normal’, especially coming from a ‘high performing’ employee”, reads the document consulted by The Press.

“Sometimes the culture of fear is very explicit, but sometimes it’s also sneaky. I’ve heard myself: ‘Be careful what you say, because you don’t know who I know here,’” says David*, an employee of the division.

“Everyone is aware of this toxic culture […] Me, what I want is for the employees to no longer be afraid, for us to be believed and protected, and for the aggressor not to be promoted, ”he continues.

The culture of performance

Senior manager at AMC, Mathieu* abounds: “There is clearly a problem of culture. It seems that everything is done to protect [des gens comme Latifa Belmahdi]. But the victims! It seems to me that at a minimum, the person should be suspended. »

He considers that performance management at the Department explains these damages. “We value the “what” at the expense of the “how”. You have to deliver, and if you do it leaving a troll of corpses behind you, we will accept it, ”he illustrates.

The how, “they don’t care a bit”, and “often, when we have executives who have behavior problems, we move them”, specifies the one who has been in the Ministry for about 20 years, and according to whom “the things are starting to change,” despite everything.

Leaving last February after 25 years of service at AMC, Louise Blais says she was aware of “troubling situations, some well managed, others less so”. She doesn’t go so far as to suggest that the Ministry “is filled with tyrannical managers”.

The one who was notably Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations concedes all the same that it is necessary to “improve the morale” within the Ministry, a rather particular beast within the government apparatus, she agrees.

“An organization like AMC has additional challenges given that it is fragmented, with positions all over the world […] It is a particularly difficult issue for senior management to have eyes everywhere, ”argues Mme Blais.


Mélanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mélanie Joly wants to act

At the Ministry, we did not want to reveal whether Latifa Belmahdi had been subject to disciplinary sanctions “in order to respect [les] privacy obligations,” spokeswoman Anabel Lindblad wrote Thursday.

Steps aimed at improving the working environment have already been initiated, noted Adrien Blanchard, spokesperson for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, last Thursday. “Ministry employees are consulted and a committee of independent experts has been set up to seek out best practices around the world and share them with the Ministry. », he wrote.

Minister Joly met with this committee last Thursday to “address the challenges related to the culture in place” at GAC, and she “raised the importance of building inclusive workplaces during her first meeting with the new deputy minister, David Morrison,” he concluded.

* The Press agreed to assign pseudonyms to current AMC employees to protect them from professional retaliation.

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