Second Edition Country Perspectives on Diversity and Equal Treatment
Edited by Alain Klarsfeld, Lize A.E. Booysen, Eddy Ng, Ian Roper and Ahu Tatli
Chapter 3: A review of two decades of employment equity in Canada: progress and propositions
Employment equity was officially sanctioned in 1986 with the passage of the federal Employment Equity Act (EEA). It follows a report from the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Equality of Employment by Judge Rosalie Abella who deemed that four designated groups, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, visible minorities and women, face insurmountable barriers leading to discrimination in employment. They were disproportionately excluded from the workplace because of their group membership, and most of the barriers they faced were systemic in nature. Consequently, the EEA was put in place to eliminate barriers in the workplace so that no person is denied employment opportunities for reasons unrelated to ability. The intent is to allow everyone to contribute evenly to the success of their employers and to the economic and social well-being of all Canadians. The term 'employment equity' was developed by Judge Abella, who headed the Royal Commission, to describe a distinctly Canadian process for achieving equality in all aspects of employment. The term was meant to distinguish the process from the primarily American affirmative action model. It was felt that the phrase 'affirmative action' elicited negative reactions and resistance from many because it has become associated with interventionist government policies and the imposition of quotas (Mentzer, 2002). Abella argues that, ultimately, it matters little which term is used since both terms refer to 'employment practices designed to eliminate barriers and to provide in a meaningful way equitable opportunities in employment' (Abella, 1984, p. 7).
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