Amnesty International Canadian Section (English-Speaking) (AICES) statement on systemic racism and workplace culture

Amnesty International Canadian Section (English-Speaking) (AICES) respects the privacy of its employees’ personal information and will therefore not make any public comment on human resource matters.

As human rights advocates, it is unacceptable that Amnesty supporters across our entire movement — from our governance, members, to our staff and volunteers have experienced or witnessed racism at AICES.

It takes incredible courage to share these difficult experiences and we thank these individuals for coming forward. We take their accounts seriously and unreservedly apologize to all of our colleagues across our organization who have or continue to experience harm and pain. Our mission is to prevent and address racism and discrimination wherever it manifests.

These issues are not new, and the Board takes full responsibility for our collective failure to hold ourselves accountable. There is more we could have done to address the different layers of individual, systemic and structural instances of racism.  

Racism manifests itself in a variety of forms and at various levels. At the individual level, people can experience it through microaggressions, bullying and interpersonal harm. Yet it also appears in forms that are far more subtle. Understanding racism in an organization requires understanding its structure and systems, and who holds decision making power. The reality is that racialized people within Amnesty International Canada (English Speaking) traditionally have not been in a position to make those decisions. Their voices and perspectives have been at the margin and not at the centre. 

AICES’ roots stem from a settler culture. We too are a reflection of Canada’s colonial past and current inequalities, particularly against Black, Indigenous and racialized people. We have reached a point in our history where this structure can and must no longer continue. Now is the time for transformative action. We need to dismantle the systemic and structural elements of racism that are embedded deeply within our organization in order to credibly lead this work externally. 

We are determined to do better and go beyond increasing diversity. This includes reviewing how issues are prioritized, how we organize, how and who we work with, and how our resources are allocated.

During this period of reckoning, our Board has been on a journey to respond to the challenges faced by the organization. Thanks to racialized directors and board members, we have been engaging in difficult, yet courageous conversations that have enabled us to take concrete steps forward to build an anti-racist organization.

The Board fully supports the visionary leadership of our Secretary General to do what is right and expected for our community. We are committed to joining her in taking the necessary steps to create a more equitable, inclusive and anti-racist organization.

We have begun to do the hard work, to be accountable and hold ourselves to the same standards we diligently ask of others. 

Since focusing on this work, we have made some important changes, which include: 

  • Appointing global human rights activist and defender Ketty Nivyabandi as our Secretary General in October 2020 to advance real change and inspire a new era of leadership and vision that is needed at this time. 
  • Retaining a consulting firm to work with our leadership, Board and staff to conduct a thorough systemic racism review within our organization. Through their findings, we will be able to implement more equitable systems, procedures and policies. We commit to sharing these findings, action plan and progress publicly.
  • Initiating the recruitment of senior leadership, who in addition to being aligned to our core mandate and vision, will support our Secretary General and hold us accountable to build an anti-racist workplace.
  • Conducting an anti-racism and anti-oppression survey to review allegations of racism within our membership. We are already engaged in this work with QuakeLab, under the guidance of our members, and it will begin within the next two weeks.
  • Appointing new Board members to our organization who bring demonstrated anti-racist and intersectional expertise to our leadership to help ensure this critical work moves forward.

There is much more we can do. As we move forward on this journey, we commit to keeping our members and the public informed about our progress. 

While we know that this journey is a difficult one, we are ready to meet this challenge. To this end, we will continue to take the steps needed to deconstruct the barriers and structures that perpetuate systemic racism at AICES and create a just, equitable and inclusive environment for all.