NEWS
10/25/2017 14:53 EDT | Updated 10/28/2017 15:23 EDT

Top spy calls behaviour 'unacceptable' after report uncovers bullying, reprisals

OTTAWA — An independent assessment of the Toronto office of Canada's spy agency has uncovered concerns about bullying, favouritism and discrimination.

Low morale is "pervasive" in the Toronto region of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and negativity is draining the energy of employees and managers, says an executive summary of the assessment.

"Unfortunately, quite a few are considering leaving the organization disillusioned and disheartened," says the summary, released by CSIS late Wednesday.

In a statement, CSIS director David Vigneault said the behaviour described in the report is "categorically unacceptable."

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale echoed the sentiments, saying Canadians rightly expect CSIS to be professional and respectful of women and men of all faiths and backgrounds.

The intelligence service's senior management ordered the study, conducted last spring, following a harassment investigation. Thirty per cent of staff in the Toronto region took part in the assessment.

The consultants, who spoke with participants for an average of 70 minutes each, found a majority of employees did not trust management or most decision-making processes.

"Leadership skills are said to be wanting," the summary says.

"Fear of reprisal is very present and employees have provided concrete examples that support this belief."

Many deplored the "unprofessional behaviour, inappropriate comments and even bullying by colleagues and managers" that had gone unchecked for years, the report adds.

"Although interpersonal relations are generally very good, a number of individuals feel they have been subjected to unwarranted and mean rumours and that they have been unfairly denigrated (often by managers), and that their reputation has been negatively affected."

There were many examples of employees being blacklisted, being moved because of disagreements with management, or of mistakes going unforgiven.

The assessment also found:

— Employees who had served in the region more than two years referred to the past as an "old boys club" with behaviour that included yelling, swearing, and misogynistic and offensive comments about employees, including from managers;

— Weekly drinking by "the in-group" in the office or at the pub where decisions — often staffing decisions — were made;

— Lingering pockets in the office where jokes and discriminatory comments were still being made about ethnicity and the communities being monitored, as well as some bias against women;

— Some employees seemed intolerant and judgmental towards their colleagues, and managers "do nothing to stop the character assassination and back stabbing that occurs."

CSIS does not tolerate harassment, discrimination or bullying under any circumstances, Vigneault said in the statement.

While the assessment mentions positive changes over the last two years, CSIS will continue to take steps to address the issues, he added.

Five intelligence officers and analysts allege in a claim filed in Federal Court that they were bullied and harassed while working at CSIS. The spy service's statement of defence is expected this week.

Goodale said he had asked Vigneault, as well as the other agency heads in his portfolio, to prepare a summary of actions to date to ensure their workplaces are free from harassment, their plans moving forward and the challenges they face in making progress.

"Those responses are being reviewed and will inform further action."

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter