How the Public Service of Canada Responds to Mental Illness

Roslyn Talusan
Jun 15, 2018 · 11 min read
via Flickr

It’s June 2018, I’m still fighting the Canadian government over their inability to properly address workplace sexual violence and unwillingness to support employees suffering from mental illness.

I wrote a 2,300-word complaint to the Canada Human Rights Commission to illustrate the living nightmare that my managers at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada have created for me. While a bulk of my trauma lays with my former managers at the department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, the IRB somehow made things worse.

What’s worse than being raped by a colleague or being psychologically abused by your managers?

At the lowest point of my mental illness around November 2017, I suffered a psychological breakdown that caused me to experience suicidal ideation for the first time since my co-worker raped me.

Instead of respecting my needs, my managers at the IRB banned me from the office, forced me to take unpaid sick leave that I literally couldn’t afford, sent me to a psychiatrist who emotionally abused me, and then fired me for writing about it.

I’ve written multiple letters to Justin Trudeau, and federal ministers like Scott Brison, Patty Hajdu, Maryam Monsef, and Bill Blair this year. It’s now June and I’m still scrambling and begging people to save my life.

The complaint in full is below.


DISCRIMINATION ON SEX

In February 2015, I was raped by a co-worker at the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

I reported the assault to my managers on February 20, 2015. They notified the police. I provided a video statement. My co-worker was charged with one count of sexual assault around March 3, 2015.

The Crown prosecutor had my co-worker take a diversionary course and subsequently withdrew the charge in September 2015.

I made a verbal request for my managers to accommodate my PTSD in the workplace in September 2015 by refraining from having me work in close proximity to my rapist. They refused to comply despite professional recommendations from my social worker, doctor, and union representative.

According to correspondence I obtained under the Privacy Act, my managers referred to an employee raping a colleague as an “interpersonal conflict.” Since the situation “was not their doing,” they felt they had no duty to accommodate me. They were more concerned about my rapist having a reason to pursue legal recourse against them.

They likened the relationship between a rapist and his victim to a divorcing couple.

My Director implied I should not have accepted the job offer if I did not want to work with the colleague who raped me.

For 6 weeks until November 2015, I had no choice but to work within 100 feet of my rapist on the same floor.

Management jeopardized my psychological health and safety.

They refused to understand how having to see the man who perpetrated sexual violence against me was re-traumatizing. They failed to see how being exposed to a traumatic reminder on a daily basis would trigger symptoms of my PTSD.

In November 2015, I was transferred to a different CIC office as part of my accommodation. After I was transferred, my former manager called me to threaten me with disciplinary action should I discuss my sexual assault with other CIC employees, as they could construe it as harassment and breaching my rapist’s privacy.

In December 2015, I filed a complaint with the Commission. The complaint was put into abeyance pending the exhaustion of the grievance process.

On December 31, 2015, I filed an internal harassment complaint with the department against my rapist/co-worker and my managers.

The allegations that the department accepted were:

1) My rapist used social media to call me a “crazy bitch” and “false victim,”

2) My managers forced me to work within 100 feet of him for 6 weeks, and,

3) My rapist deliberately came to my desk and mockingly smiled at me.

The Regional Manager specified that they could not investigate the sexual assault because it occurred AFTER hours and offsite. This was the same reasoning the Director General used when he decided to not investigate or discipline my co-worker for sexually assaulting a colleague. The department failed to consider that an employee choosing to inflict violence on their colleague would negatively affect the workplace, regardless of where or when it happened.

In June 2016, CIC hired an independent third party to investigate the complaint. The investigation was completed by September 2016.

The investigator submitted the Preliminary Report in October 2016. CIC distributed the reports to the parties for comment in mid-March 2017.

The Final Report was submitted to CIC at the end of May 2017.

In November 2017, CIC’s Regional Manager authored a letter along with a copy of the Final Report regarding the findings. The investigator concluded that I had indeed been harassed by my rapist and my managers as per Treasury Board policy.

CIC’s Regional Manager wrote that unspecified corrective measures would be taken against my rapist. In the case of my former managers, the Regional Manager disagreed with the investigator’s findings and therefore refused to take corrective action against them.

In November 2017, I filed a grievance over CIC dismissing the findings against my managers. CIC refused to accept the grievance. Their reasoning was that, in the 2 years since I’d filed the complaint, I’d accepted a new position with the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), and was therefore no longer an employee. They told me I had to file it with my current supervisor.

When I tried to file the grievance with the IRB, my supervisor initially refused to accept it, citing the IRB’s lack of authority to hear it. A week later, she accepted the grievance.

In December 2017, the IRB denied my grievance at both the first and second levels without a hearing, again citing their lack of authority to hear it as the issues pertained to a different department.

DISCRIMINATION ON DISABILITY

In October 2016, while on an acting assignment with the Department of Justice, CIC made an administrative error in my pay file that remains unresolved to date. This was a human error, and not an error caused by the Phoenix pay system.

From October 2016 to April 2017, I was underpaid by approximately $170. After I accepted a position at a higher pay rate with the IRB in April 2017, I was underpaid $250 every paycheque until July 2017. In total, I was missing approximately $4,000. I filed a grievance that has yet to be finalized.

When I became aware that the investigator had filed the Final Report with the department by June 2017, I wrote to CIC’s human resources advisor once a month to follow up on the harassment complaint. I disclosed that I’d been experiencing heightened symptoms of PTSD and requested an estimated timeline of when I could expect it to be finalized.

In June 2017, my mental health began to deteriorate due to: 1) the stress of the poor financial situation caused by CIC withholding my accurate salary for 8 months, and 2) the perpetual aggravation of my PTSD symptoms due to CIC prolonging their finalization of my harassment complaint.

As of July 2017, I had exhausted most of my paid sick leave. Due to my heightened symptoms being compounded by the stress of the financial situation caused by CIC, I experienced increased anxiety and depression that physically manifested as debilitating migraines.

In August 2017, the IRB provided me with a response to my pay grievance. They advised me to file a claim with the Worker’s Safety and Insurance Board if I wanted: 1) my paid sick leave to be restored and, 2) compensation for the financial and emotional damages I incurred due to my correct salary being withheld for 8 months. Given the number of bureaucratic processes in which I was already engaged and the resulting stress, this was not an ideal avenue of recourse.

At the beginning of September 2017, CIC’s human resources advisor finally replied to my multiple e-mails. She indicated I could expect a response to my harassment complaint no later than “the end of the month.” I followed up near the end of September and again at the beginning of October and did not receive a response.

Between September and November 2017, my already heightened symptoms of PTSD were further exacerbated, inhibiting my ability to cope with major stressors in my personal life.

In my personal life, I had just ended an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship with someone I trusted, my mother was admitted to the hospital to undergo a stem cell transplant to treat her blood cancer, and my PTSD was being triggered by the increased media coverage around workplace sexual violence and Harvey Weinstein.

The cumulative effect of intense stressors in both my personal and professional lives caused my executive cognitive functioning to deteriorate. At the end of October 2017, I experienced a severe psychological breakdown and panic attack in the workplace that caused me to become suicidal. I had no choice but to file a claim with the WSIB. In my WSIB statement, I outlined that I had no paid sick leave left and could not financially afford leave without pay, and did not feel safe being off work.

On November 2, 2017, I received the Final Report in my harassment complaint. Despite my requests, CIC neglected to notify me that they had issued the reports, and only discovered that it was sitting at a postal delivery facility through my union representative. The reports had been sitting at a Purolator facility since about October 30, 2017.

On November 15, 2017, the day I returned from vacation, my supervisor informed me that I was not allowed to return to the workplace until I was evaluated by a third-party medical professional. The IRB was effectively putting me on involuntary medical leave.

Management was concerned because I had disclosed symptoms of suicidal ideation in my WSIB claim. I was scheduled to see my doctor on November 30. My supervisor said that she needed me to be seen by a doctor sooner. Given that I did not see their psychiatrist until the following month, my supervisor effectively denied me of my right to see a doctor of my own choosing.

Management scheduled my appointment for December 8, 2017 without my input or consent. I had an urgent family matter to take care of that day, and requested my supervisor to reschedule. The appointment took place on December 18, 2017.

The IRB hired a psychiatrist who bullied me throughout our session and re-traumatized me. She gaslit me about my symptoms by minimizing the severity of my circumstances, verbalized that I had “unresolved issues,” was visibly frustrated that I had not “sought intervention” while on leave, and criticized how I had spent my time on leave. Her conclusion was ableist: I was not sick enough to be off work simply because I had good hygiene and maintained an appetite. Her abusive conduct triggered my symptoms and caused my mental health to deteriorate even further.

On December 21, my supervisor informed me that IRB’s management had advanced me the maximum amount of paid sick leave, and that I would effectively be on unpaid leave. I was still not allowed to return to work until they received the report, who was proving to be extremely untimely in requesting medical files from my doctor and social worker.

Management also actively obstructed the very grievances that had been aggravating my PTSD in the first place. Their willful neglect of their managerial responsibilities further prolonged timely resolution of the processes that had been taking a toll on my health. While a substantial part of my trauma had indeed occurred outside of my employment with the department, the totality of management’s poor response to my mental health crisis caused me undue stress that compounded my already delicate emotional state.

I was more than transparent with my unique circumstances, and clearly expressed my needs to management. Even so, they forced me into the exact situation I had expressly asked them not to put me in in my statement to the WSIB. The IRB forced me to exhaust 5 weeks of paid sick leave that I didn’t have, and then denied me my salary.

Without a salary, I would be unable to pay my bills, support my cancer surviving parents, feed my cats, or take care of my own needs to facilitate my recovery. Compounded with the totality of the unaddressed financial damage caused by CIC withholding my salary, the IRB was effectively denying me the resources I needed to live.

Given that I had already experienced multiple instances where colleagues and management in the workplace outright ignored my verbal requests and violated my emotional boundaries and consent, this re-triggered my PTSD symptoms and further negatively impacted my psychological health. Putting me on unpaid leave despite being cognizant of my extreme financial situation demonstrated to me that the IRB did not value my health or wellbeing. Management’s dismissive and unsupportive response caused me to fear for my psychological safety in the workplace.

On January 9, 2018, my supervisor notified me that they received the report from the psychiatrist and that I could return to work as of January 10. In writing, I refused return to an unsafe work environment citing the multiple instances over such a short period of time that IRB management had re-traumatized me. My doctor issued a medical note to my supervisor’s attention on January 10 that my supervisor subsequently deemed “insufficient” in an e-mail dated January 15.

The IRB furnished me with specific questions that my doctor was to address in a more substantial report. My doctor submitted the report on February 8, and an additional follow-up letter on March 8. The follow-up letter noted that my PTSD had been compounded over an extended period of time and progressed into Complex Post-Traumatic Disorder, and need intensive therapy to recover.

On February 22, I picked up a letter at a Purolator facility. The letter, dated February 19, 2018, was authored by my supervisor at the IRB. She reminded me of my “duty of loyalty” to the employer, and cautioned me against posting comments about my personal circumstances related to the workplace on social media. I had an obligation to “act with integrity at all times,” as per the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, and that I could be subject to disciplinary measures up to and including termination of employment.

She sent me a second letter dated February 27 to the same affect, in response to postings I made on February 22, the same date I received the previous letter, and 23. In a letter dated March 21, well after the IRB received the follow-up letter from my doctor, my supervisor informed me my term contract would not be renewed past April 23, 2018, citing my continued use of social media.

Between November 2017 and April 2018, the IRB effectively sabotaged my health by worsening my financial situation, refused to support my PTSD, and maliciously interpreted the Values and Ethics Code to take away my financial security and health benefits.

On April 23, I filed a grievance with the support of my union to hold my employer accountable for disguised and wrongful termination. To date, the IRB has not issued a response.


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Roslyn Talusan

Written by

Former administrative employee of the Canadian government reporting on my managers’ gross incompetence in responding to workplace sexual violence.

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