Able-bodied white men seeking a career in Canada’s Department of Public Works had best wait awhile before submitting their resumes – the deputy minister of the federal agency
has instructed managers to temporarily hire only visible minorities, women, aboriginals and the disabled.

David Marshall yesterday ordered that his edict banning hiring of Caucasian males be distributed throughout the agency by e-mail. The new policy, introduced in response to the department’s failure to meet targeted employment-equity goals, will be in place for the next five months, at which time it will be reviewed.

Canada’s federal benchmark for hiring visible minorities is one-in-five. Public Works’ proportion of female, disabled, aboriginal and non-white new hires fell from one in eight in March to one in twenty in September of this year.

“As executives and managers, our role includes ensuring that the public service is representative,” Marshall wrote in his memo. “This involves providing direction and leadership by example, and demonstrating a firm commitment to an inclusive workplace.”

Robb Macpherson, a labor attorney with the firm McCarthy Tetrault, agrees Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms permits some discrimination to assist groups identified by the government as disadvantaged, but the form it usually takes is through programs that promote recruitment and hiring of qualified people from those groups – not by banning members of a non-minority class.

“They are in effect cutting off a significant portion of the workforce from these opportunities,” Macpherson tells the National Post. “It sounds like a pretty extreme measure that they’re contemplating.”

Pierre Teotonio, a department spokesman, says the new policy is part of Public Works’ involvement with the government’s “Embracing Change” program and notes able-bodied white men can still be hired but only with written approval.

Nycole Turmel, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, a federal public employee union that strongly endorses employment equity, is critical of its latest variation.

“I think it’s creating a possible backlash against equity groups and then it’s not helping these people to get into government,” says Turmel. “It’s even creating more frustration or anger from the workforce as well as from the population … I am quite sure the people they hire will be competent and good employees, but that is not the point here. They will be seen as targets, and then people will question their hiring, and I don’t think it will help them.”

Public Works’ Teotonio, responding to concerns, says, “This measure will be in force until March 31, 2006, at which time we will re-assess our progress.”

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