Systemic Discrimination in Canadian Context: Employment Equity, Live-in Domestic Care, and the Challenge of Racialization

29 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2010

See all articles by Abigail Bakan

Abigail Bakan

Queen's University - Department of Political Studies

Date Written: August 25, 2010


Systemic discrimination is a widely recognized, but little understood, concept. Liberal democratic states are grounded in notions of universal equality. Yet the sheer persistence of identifiable patterns that deny equal rights to specific groups continues to pose a challenge, both theoretically and in terms of policy formulation and outcomes. The Canadian state has formally acknowledged and named systemic discrimination in one specific area of federal labour policy oriented to its redress: the policy and legislation associated with employment equity. The approach to systemic discrimination embedded in employment equity policy, and in the federal Employment Equity Act, calls for proactive measures to counter systemic discrimination in employment, mandated as part of management practices. However, the policy has been the subject of ongoing opposition and backlash, and other areas of federal policy appear to be overtly institutive of the same sort of discriminatory practices deemed unacceptable in the framing of employment equity. This is starkly notable in the case of another Canadian federal policy, Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP),that applies to the recruitment of live-in, foreign domestic workers destined to work in the private homes of Canadian families.

This paper argues that both policies expose, in different ways, the depth of systemic discrimination within liberal democracies. At the centre of the dilemma is the embedded normalization of discriminatory practices, most clearly viewed when considering racialized discrimination. Systemic discrimination can therefore be understood through an analytical lens resting at the intersection of Canadian public policy and normative critical political theory, an approach increasingly recognized in contemporary policy studies. This argument is advanced through an elaboration of the two Canadian federal policies – employment equity and foreign domestic worker policy – followed by a theoretical consideration of the meaning and implications of systemic discrimination viewed particularly through the lens of racialized discrimination.

Keywords: equity, Canada, live-in domestic care, racialization, systemic discrimination

JEL Classification: D63, N40, J68

Suggested Citation

Bakan, Abigail, Systemic Discrimination in Canadian Context: Employment Equity, Live-in Domestic Care, and the Challenge of Racialization (August 25, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Abigail Bakan (Contact Author)

Queen's University - Department of Political Studies ( email )

Mackintosh_Corry Hall, Room C321
Kingson, Ontario K7L 3N6

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