Interview with the Jewish Public Servants' Network
- What is the theme for this year’s Jewish heritage month and what is its meaning?
We don’t have a theme per se, but I can provide a brief history of Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.
Celebrated in May, Canadian Jewish Heritage month was established in 2018 to provide an opportunity to remember, celebrate and educate future generations about the inspirational role that Jewish Canadians have played and continue to play in communities across the country.
Some people may not be aware of the experiences of Jewish people in Canada throughout history, including Canada’s restrictive immigration laws during World War II and the Holocaust; the contribution of Jews to Canadian life; and the recent creation of a Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.
- What is the purpose of the Jewish Public Servants' Network (JPSN) and when was it established?
Established in 2021, our mandate is to connect Jewish public servants across the Government of Canada, to offer a forum to discuss issues impacting Jewish public servants including addressing and educating on antisemitism, and to collaborate with other groups to realize a shared goal of a truly inclusive federal public service.
- What are some of the key issues impacting Jewish public sector employees?
Jewish identity is complex and intersectional. It combines ethnicity, religion and culture, and has as many unique manifestations as there are members of our community.
When the JPSN was founded, we felt strongly that in order to promote inclusion of Jewish public servants and combat rising antisemitism in our society, there was a need for more awareness and education about Jewish identity in the public service.
Challenges for the JPSN has been being included in anti-racism training initiatives across the government. While there are some mandatory courses, there is no mention of antisemitism even though we are the most targeted in terms of hate crimes in Canada among religious groups. We provide support to members who experience antisemitism in the context of their work or workplace.
Members have also expressed that there is no common calendar that is used to avoid meetings on major Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many of our members wish to identity as a minority group on various surveys but there is no place for us on self-identification forms and surveys.
- Has the appointment of a Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism helped Jewish public servants? If so, how?
We work very closely with the Special Envoy on various programs throughout the year for our members. The appointment of the special envoy signals to government departments that antisemitism should be taken seriously.
- What initiatives has the JPSN undertaken or identified to help address its members’ concerns and what specific goals are they working towards and/or events planned for the upcoming year?
The JPSN provided feedback and participated in the Employment Equity Review that has been ongoing since last year. We also were active participants in consultations on a new version of the self-identification questionnaire proposed by Treasury Board. We provided feedback to the Public Service Commission’s review of the appointment policy and appointment delegation and accountability instrument, including proposing to put in place a calendar where competitive processes (interviews, written exams, etc.) are not held on major Jewish (or other religious) holidays.
The JPSN wrote to raise concerns with the Deputies of Canadian Heritage about the Community Media Advocacy Centre/Laith Marouf contribution agreement and secured a follow-up meeting with apologies and briefing on follow-up actions being taken by the Department.
We work every year on events particularly for Canadian Jewish Heritage Month. Throughout the year we provide presentations to departments if they are interested in hearing from us on the JPSN and antisemitism. We are working right now on some manager and employee guides for Jewish employees.
- What role do you see federal public sector unions such as CAPE playing in better supporting Jewish public sector employees?
Firstly, we are extremely grateful that you have taken the time to get to know us and our concerns.
The Jewish community has long played a central role in labour struggles and in the fight against discrimination in Canada. In 1947, the Jewish Labour Committee successfully lobbied to pass the first anti-discrimination resolution at the Canadian Congress of Labour, demanding “vigorous action” in “the fight for full equality for all peoples, regardless of race, colour, creed, or national origin.”
We have been told that some federal unions will not celebrate or promote Canadian Jewish Heritage Month, despite it being nationally recognized in legislation (Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act (justice.gc.ca)). In addition, some unions provide unbalanced statements on international affairs that are not related to the Canadian workplace. Ignoring our concerns or not recognizing our culture and identity, unions, unintentionally or not, contribute to an unsafe space for members to be openly Jewish.
It indirectly sends us a message that antisemitism is not a problem worth tackling or taking seriously, and perhaps that Jews are deserving of what they get.
- Any other thoughts or message you would like to share with the CAPE membership?
Historically, the treatment of Jews is a litmus test for how much hate a society will tolerate. A society where the wellbeing of any one group is compromised is not a free and just society for anyone. For this reason, we urge unions to support us as you would any other marginalized group and let us be a part of the conversation. Expressions of antisemitism can be so engrained in people’s beliefs that these beliefs seem normative. We have a lot to contribute to this conversation and we believe we can be strong allies in helping to create a healthy multicultural society.
Consider checking out some of these helpful websites and great resources about Canadian Jewish Heritage Month:
- Jewish Heritage Month
- Canada Virtual Jewish History Tour
- The National Film Board’s Canadian Jewish Heritage Channel featuring a selection of films celebrating the important contributions that Jewish Canadians have made to Canada's social, economic, political and cultural fabric.