The Employment Equity Act applies to jobs that are federally regulated. The legislation requires that employers increase representation among four groups: “women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.”
In other words, employers are required to give preferential treatment in hiring to anyone who isn’t a white male. The legislation violates Section 15 (1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to “equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination…” Although Section 15 (2) allows for employment equity legislation, it is not always just to discriminate.
The Employment Equity Act gives four groups preferential treatment in hiring because “on average” they have lower economic outcomes than white males. It ignores the reality that there are white males have lower economic outcomes than many members of the four groups.
Employment equity is founded on the theory that economic inequality is primarily due to systemic discrimination. This discrimination is often labelled as institutional racism: conscious or unconscious biases that people in power have against minority groups.
However, if white males in power sometimes discriminate against women and minorities, the opposite is also true: Women and minorities in power sometimes give preferential treatment to members of their own group.
Hence, many acts of discrimination by white males in power are offset by women and minorities in power who do the same. In a racially diverse country like Canada, an increasing number of people in power aren’t white males. This makes it less likely that discrimination is a major cause of inequality.
Economic inequality has many causal factors. These include where a person lives, their career choice, level of education, family structure, and lifestyle choices. The average differences between groups is what causes different economic outcomes.
Case in point: According to Stats Canada, 9.8% of Aboriginal people had a University degree in 2011, in comparison to 26.5% of non-Aboriginals. (A 2016 study found that University graduates are more likely to earn a higher income than someone who has less education.) Consequently, one major cause of unequal incomes between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals is the average difference in education levels.
There are cases where reducing economic inequality between groups can be justified. One group that is deserving of employment equity are persons with disabilities. For many jobs, a person with a disability can be at a natural disadvantage when competing with an able-bodied person. They may also have more limited career choices because of their disability. As long as a disabled person is qualified for the job they apply for, giving them preferential treatment in hiring is a reasonable form of equity.
Another group that should be eligible for employment equity are mothers (or fathers) who stay at home to raise their children. Given that daycare is not always affordable, accessible, or desirable, stay-at-home mothers (and fathers) should be given preferential treatment when they re-enter the workforce. When a parent leaves the workforce for several years, they can become disadvantaged when applying for a job because their job experience is considered out of date.
However, no one should be given preferential treatment in hiring based on their race or gender. To do so—even in the name of “diversity”—is to violate another person’s Charter right not to be discriminated against.
No one is disadvantaged (in their ability to do a job) because of their race, and no one is disadvantaged because of their gender (except perhaps women who compete with men for jobs that are physically demanding). For employment equity legislation to be just, it should be limited to groups who are unable to compete equally with other candidates.
Race and gender are only a disadvantage if a person in power is prejudiced against them. If someone believes they have been discriminated against, they can take legal action against the person(s) or institutions who wronged them. Discriminating against white males—in order to prevent discrimination against everyone else—violates one of the most universal moral principles: Do no harm to an innocent person.
A white male seeking a job is not responsible for historical injustices against women or minorities, or any institutional racism that exists today. White males are being denied job opportunities in order to achieve equal outcomes in society. To punish someone for something they did not do is an injustice.
By suspending the Charter right of white males to equal treatment under the law, the Employment Equity Act is not founded on moral principles, but rather amoral ones — namely, two wrongs make a right, and the ends justify the means. It tries to remedy the supposed injustice of economic inequality by creating another injustice: reverse discrimination.
The legislation needs to be changed, so that white males are no longer discriminated against when applying for a job. In the novel Animal Farm, George Orwell wrote, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The Employment Equity Act is unjust because it makes women, visible minorities and aboriginals “more equal” than white males.