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Canada’s employment equity legislation and policy, 1987-2000: The gap between policy and practice

Over the past 16 years, a legislative and policy framework has evolved in Canada to address systemic discrimination in employment in the federal jurisdiction, and in organizations that sell goods or services to the federal government. Data collected pursuant to the Employment Equity Act, as well as published literature and government documents, are reviewed in order to provide a critical analysis of the federal policy framework as set out in 1987 and revised in 1996. This review is the basis for assessing both progress and lack of improvement in the employment status of racial minority, aboriginal, and disabled women and men, as well as white women, within the federal sector. Reasons for limited results are proposed, and issues posed by contemporary labour market trends are identified. It is argued that the results of employment equity policy are disappointing because the policy is not being implemented by employers and effectively enforced so that there are consequences for employers’ failures to comply. In other words, there is a persisting gap between employment equity policy and practice. This gap presents difficulties in evaluating the content of employment equity policy, since it is not possible to evaluate a policy that is not implemented.