Update from the President of PAFSO for February 2, 2024

Dear members,

It’s February already and 2024 is off to a great start. We’re already busy with a number of things shaping up for the coming year, including a few events we’re planning for the coming months. And, as some of you may have noticed, PAFSO has been in the news a bit more than usual recently. More on that later. First, let me update you on a few key items.

Questionnaire on harassment and discrimination
As the Israel-Hamas conflict enters its 125th day, we continue to hear from some colleagues about the difficulties they are facing in the workplace related to their personal views. Our work these days isn’t easy. We know that many of our members are in affected missions, at multilateral fora, or at headquarters, engaged in work requiring interactions with different parties on all sides of this conflict. For some, carrying out these duties can be extremely difficult when their personal views do not align with those of colleagues or with the work at hand.

As the organization whose primary duty is the protection and support of Foreign Service Officers in their workplace, we wanted to learn more about what our members were going through – especially in the past four months – and how they were dealing with things. So, last week, we launched a questionnaire to learn about your experiences, and already, more than 300 of you have responded.

The questionnaire is short and should only take you ten minutes to complete. It asks whether you have faced situations at work that could be considered harassment or discrimination as a result of your personal opinions on world events? If so, how did these problems  manifest themselves? Did you do anything about the situation? If yes, then what? And, if not, why not?

Even if you have not been affected by these issues, we urge you to take a moment to fill it in, as your response will help us gauge the broad impact on our community. Please note as well that while we are primarily interested in assessing the period since the beginning of October 2023, you are welcome to include other information in your comments.

For reference, we are focusing on the following Canadian Human Rights Commission definitions of harassment and discrimination.

Harassment is a form of discrimination. It includes any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or humiliates you. Generally, harassment is a behaviour that persists over time. Serious one-time incidents can also sometimes be considered harassment.

Discrimination is an action or a decision that treats a person or a group badly for reasons such as their race, age or disability. These reasons, also called grounds, are protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Follow this link to complete the questionnaire: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Harassment_Discrimination

Your input is greatly appreciated, and we thank those of you who have already participated. The questionnaire will be open for one month, until close of business Ottawa time on February 23, 2024.

PAFSO Breakfasts: The work of the PAFSO Professional Committee
Please join me on Tuesday February 13 at 0900 EST for the next installment of our PAFSO Breakfast Series. The upcoming session will focus on the work of PAFSO’s Professional Committee and its plans for the coming year. If you are new to PAFSO, this is an excellent opportunity to learn more about what we do, and how you can get more involved in our community. Click here to register.

PAFSO in the News
Following last December’s release of the report from the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, it seemed that the Foreign Service – the work we do and the lives we live – was being featured in the media a bit more than usual. It felt like the perfect time to leverage that momentum and be a little more proactive on the media front. As a result, you may have seen PAFSO in the headlines more than you are used to.

Here are a few articles you may find interesting:

First up is the interview I did with Dylan Robertson from the Canadian Press on the increasing difficulties of being posted to the United States. The article caused a bit of a stir – or at least got a lot of attention – which, in my opinion, is a good thing. Issues such as increases in gun violence and challenges in accessing health care rank highly as reasons some of our members are reluctant to take on postings south of the border. At the very least, these very real risks and challenges are something the Employer should be taking into consideration when looking at staffing U.S. missions. I also did my first national television appearance on this subject, with David Aikin of Global News.

Estelle Côté-Sroka from Radio-Canada also spoke to me for her piece on how the PSHCP’s switch to Canada Life and MSH is impacting federal employees abroad. According to their spokesperson, since last July GAC has had to advance $1.8 million to employees in order to pay for their medical or dental expenses. In many cases, the difficulties in dealing with Canada Life and MSH International are causing federal employees abroad to postpone important medical care. The Employer should treat this matter as a priority. This may mean considering alternate solutions in the short term, such as using the services of another insurance provider until MSH International resolves its issues.

And finally, here is CBC Ottawa Morning’s interview with Hugues Alexandre Moniz on his fight for equitable treatment during his family’s surrogacy journey. We’ve talked about this story before, but I’m really glad it’s getting the wider attention it deserves. This was a great victory, not only for Mr. Moniz and his family, but for the Foreign Service as well as all Canadians who may be considering surrogacy. We all owe Hugues Alexandre a debt of gratitude for following through, even when it took nearly nine years, on holding the Employer accountable.

I sincerely hope we can continue to build on this recent momentum in the public discourse throughout 2024. The level of media interest in our issues was great to see. It’s important to bring more attention to our profession and to make sure that Canadians are aware of the work that we do and the value it carries with it. I’ll keep you posted of any relevant articles as they come out. In the meantime, you can always follow me at @PafsoPresApase for my take on current issues, politics, and anything interesting that ties into our profession.

Shared Services Canada Data Breach
As many of you are aware, malicious cyber activity was recently discovered on Shared Services Canada servers and connected to one of GAC’s virtual private networks. The Employer reports that all members affected by the breach have been notified by now. Should you find yourself among these, and you require the services of a credit bureau monitoring agency to protect yourself against any potential fraud or identity theft, rest assured that the Employer will reimburse any fees you accrue in responding to the data breach. Please wait for details from the Employer on how exactly this will be done. 

In the meantime, you are encouraged to reset your personal and professional passwords, enable multi-factor authentication on accounts used for online transactions, and closely monitor your financial and personal online accounts for any unusual activity.

We are in touch with GAC on their response and will be sure to keep you up to date on the situation as details emerge. In the meantime, if you have been affected by the breach and believe your situation is not being handled appropriately, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our office for support.

Positive Developments with MSH International and Canada Life
I finally have some good news to report on the MSH International and Canada Life debacles.

In a meeting with the Employer this week, we learned that MSH International set up a new emergency line for all members of the Public Service Health Care Plan (PSHCP). You can now reach an MSH International agent 24 hours a day, seven days a week by dialing 1 833 774-2700 and selecting Option 1 from the menu system. The Employer is also working with the company to resolve issues related to the provision of R70 information and hopes to have a solution by the end of this month.

We have also just learned that Canada Life has introduced a new escalation process which will help to quickly identify and prioritize urgent claims. If you have already submitted a claim for urgent, life-sustaining prescription drugs, services, or treatments, or you are a person living with a disability, contact the Canada Life escalation team by email at Urgent_PSHCP@canadalife.com. Make sure to include your plan and certificate numbers and a description of why your claim should be escalated.

These two developments are definitely steps in the right direction in resolving what has been a major problem for many of our members. We are pleased to see some positive movement on this file and will report back as new developments unfold.

CAIDP Conference: Development Cooperation in a Time of Geopolitical Instability
The Canadian Association of International Development Professionals (CAIDP) in partnership with the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) will be holding a conference on “Development Cooperation in a Time of Geopolitical Instability” at Carleton University on February 20–22. They’ve asked us to reach out to PAFSO members to let you know about this interesting professional development opportunity.

The conference will bring together a diverse group of speakers from government, civil society organizations and academia and promises provocative discussions on a wide variety of subjects related to international development. For more information on the event, speakers and how to register, click here.

Before wrapping up, I just want to recognize that February is Black History Month. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Black History Month put on by GAC’s Black Employees’ Network. Part of the event honoured the memory of our good friend and colleague, CJ Scott, who sadly passed away at the end of last year. Her devotion to diversity and advancing racial equality was an inspiration. This Black History Month, I hope you can take a moment to learn more about the legacy of Black people in Canada and their communities. You can check out the resources available on the Heritage Canada website.

That’s all I have for you this week. Remember that if there’s anything concerning you about your situation at work, just send us an email with your name, department, and a detailed description of the issues you are facing. We will connect to a member of our Labour Relations team who will be happy to assist you. For anything and everything else, email info@pafso.com and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld