Allegations of a toxic workplace culture, involving harassment and sexual assault at Canada’s spy agency are “devastating” and “absolutely unacceptable,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.
His comments come after a Canadian Press investigation revealed four officers with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service raised concerns about the toxic culture within the British Columbia office.
One CSIS officer said she was raped nine times by a senior colleague while in surveillance vehicles, while another said she was sexually assaulted by the same man.
The women said they warned their bosses that the man needed to be kept away from young women.
Trudeau, who was in Ajax, Ont., for a separate announcement, said the allegations are of “deep, deep concern.”
“These allegations are absolutely unacceptable. We need to make sure that everyone in every workplace, no matter how delicate or sensitive or secret the work is that they are doing, is protected, particularly for people who serve their country.”
The Canadian Press is not identifying the women who came forward because they fear legal and professional repercussions or retaliation from CSIS if they reveal their identities.
The women say supervisors told them other women had complained about not feeling safe around the man at the centre of the allegations.
“Nothing was done, and I started hearing these stories that there was this history of all these women (who) used to be working at our region. They used to be there, and they all had the same thing to say, and they all just ended up leaving,” an officer said.
Trudeau said his government has taken such allegations “incredibly seriously” since the start.
“And I can assure you that the minister and our entire government is following up very directly on these issues.”
The women who say they were assaulted say they did not go to police in part because they felt constrained by the CSIS Act, which prohibits the identification of covert officers, with penalties of up to five years in prison.
Most CSIS employees, including covert officers, are not unionized.
CSIS spokesman Eric Balsam said in an emailed statement that the service “takes any allegation of inappropriate behaviour, including harassment, very seriously.”
However, he said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on specific legal matters.
The officers who say they were sexually assaulted have lodged separate lawsuits against the federal government in B.C.
The case by the woman who says she was raped was dismissed by a judge who ruled she had not exhausted CSIS’s internal complaints mechanism. She said she plans to appeal.
The lawsuit by the other woman has not received a response.
The officers said they were failed by the internal complaints mechanism.
Huda Mukbil is a former CSIS officer who was part of a group of Toronto officers who won a settlement from the Canadian government in 2017 after suing for $35 million over alleged racism, sexism and harassment.
She told The Canadian Press the internal grievance process was “completely ineffective.”
The Canadian Press