Update from the President of PAFSO for November 17, 2023

Dear members,

Though the last few weeks following the AGM have seemed a bit calmer, we continue to be busy at PAFSO headquarters. At the moment, we find ourselves in the middle of a number of initiatives, but there aren’t many specifics to report on at the moment. I did, however, want to keep you up to date on a few things.

Impact of the Israel-Hamas conflict
This is a particularly challenging time for the professional Foreign Service, yet your work is more important than ever. As the organization whose primary duty is the protection and support of Foreign Service Officers in the workplace, we are hearing about the effects of the heartbreaking Israel-Hamas conflict on our members and colleagues, including those with personal ties and connections to the region. Many of you are in affected missions, at multilateral fora, and in headquarters divisions, engaged in work that requires you to interact with different parties and interlocutors on all sides of this conflict. You are fulfilling your duty to provide impartial and unequivocal support to Canadians in different situations and with different views, and to loyally implement Government of Canada policy. We recognize that carrying out these duties can be extremely difficult, especially when your personal views do not align with those of the people around you or with what is being asked of you. PAFSO is here to support your professional effectiveness and your personal safety, security, and well-being in these difficult times. We see you, and we’re making sure the Employer does too.

Some of you have contacted us to ask about your right to speak out in the workplace, on social media, and beyond on the current situation. Activities such as promoting fundraising by humanitarian organizations such as ICRC which are not affiliated with the parties to the conflict, or publicly expressing emotions about what is happening in a respectful way and without criticism of government policy should not cause any issues. However, it is important to know that the right to freedom of expression is not unfettered for Federal Public Sector employees. This is especially true for those who represent Canada abroad and who must be able – and be seen as able – to perform their cross-cutting duties in an impartial or neutral manner, now or in the future.

At the same time, limitations on fundamental freedoms must be rationally linked to the employee’s job and must not exceed what is required to achieve the objective of an impartial and effective public service. There is no standard formula to determine what can or can’t be said or done. This is why we advise that you consult with your manager if you have questions about a particular action. As a general rule, you should always avoid expressing publicly any views that could hinder your ability to perform your job with neutrality and impartiality. However, anyone who believes their rights are being unfairly infringed, or that they are being intimidated, or harassed in the workplace because of their views or their identity should reach out to our General Manager, Bertrand Myre for labour relations advice.

These kinds of tensions take their toll on human beings, and if you’re finding it difficult, please know that you are not alone. Neutrality and impartiality are not indifference and maintaining them can come at a high personal cost. If you need someone to talk to, the Office of the Well-being Ombud and Inspector General, at ombud@international.gc.ca, is available to support and facilitate a safe space for these hard discussions for those at GAC and at missions abroad. IRCC colleagues are encouraged to contact the Employee Assistance Program for similar support.

First meeting of the new Executive Committee
Yesterday, we held the first meeting of the new Executive Committee. It’s always a great occasion for new members to meet returning ones, to line up our goals for the coming year, and to set up our various subcommittees.

I’m pleased to announce that John Gosal has agreed to carry on in the position of Executive Vice-President. Since 2019, John has done a fantastic job in this important leadership role, and his decision to continue in the role will bring a great deal of stability to the committee in the coming years.

After several years at the helm of the PAFSO Communications Committee, Tammy Ames has announced that she will be stepping down this year. I want to thank Tammy for her years of hard work and dedication, and especially the social media savvy she brought to the position. A new Director of Communications will be appointed in the coming weeks.

The Finance Committee will once again be headed by our Treasurer, Alison Poff.

A big thanks to everyone who is continuing in their roles or who is stepping up and taking on new responsibilities. It is only because of their generous dedication that our association, as small as it is, operates smoothly and achieves the ambitions goals we set for ourselves. Over the coming year, you will surely see some of those names again as I report back to you on our various undertakings.

PAFSO Virtual Breakfast with the Canadian Labour Congress
This past Tuesday, as part of our long-running PAFSO Breakfast series, I had the pleasure of hosting Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, and her political Assistant, Tim Deelstra. We had a great discussion about the challenges and obstacles facing the labour movement, both here in Canada and on the international stage. If you were not able to participate, we have made available a recording of the session here on our YouTube channel.

Deborah Chatsis Indigenous Scholarship: Giving Tuesday, November 28
This year’s Giving Tuesday is fast approaching, and once again, Carleton University has committed to matching donor contributions to its scholarships on a first-come-first-served basis. Last year, your generous donations – along with Carleton’s matching – exceeded $12,000 and secured the PAFSO/AmbCanada Deborah Chatsis Indigenous Scholarship in Foreign Affairs as an endowed scholarship, making it a permanent scholarship fund. This year, we hope your continued generosity will open the door to increasing the number of scholarships awarded in Deborah’s name.

For more information on the fund, please visit this page on the Carleton University web site.

And please remember that the matching of donations is only for contributions made on Tuesday, November 28, from 12:01 AM to 11:59 PM. Any contributions made outside of those hours will not be eligible for matching.

AmbCanada writer’s luncheon and hybrid webinar, 11:30, Wednesday, November 22
Once again I’d like to remind you that our good friends at AmbCanada are holding their annual writer’s luncheon at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club in Gatineau on Wednesday, November 22. The current speaker lineup includes four AmbCanada members, Roxanne Dubé, Marie Gervais-Vidricaire, Hugh Stephens and Chris Thompson, and tickets are $38 per person. If you are unable to attend in person, you can still participate virtually via Zoom. Registration is required for this event – both in person and online. For more information on the event, how to register and how to make your payment, please email info@ambcanada.ca.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if there’s anything concerning you about your situation at work, just reach out to us. Please be sure to include your name, department, and a detailed description of the issues you are facing. We’ll connect you to one of our Labour Relations Advisors who will be happy to assist you. If you have any other questions, just send an email to info@pafso.com and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

My next message to you will be in early December. In the meantime, follow me at @PafsoPresApase for my take on current issues, politics, and anything that impacts on our profession.

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

All the best,

Pam Isfeld