Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-65, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (harassment and violence), the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1.
At the outset, I would like to say I strongly believe a culture change in Canadian workplaces to prevent harassment and violence is long overdue. In a 2017 Abacus Data poll, when asked how frequent sexual harassment was in their workplace, 1 in 10 Canadians answered, “really quite common.” This research also indicated that sanctions against harassers are rarely applied.
The Abacus poll is just one study of many that have shown what we have known all along, that these unwanted behaviours are prevalent in Canadian workplaces, including those under federal jurisdiction.
This bill addresses harassment and violence, issues that affect everyone. In 2015, the Government of Canada conducted a federal jurisdiction workplace survey. The survey concluded that there were a total of 295 formal complaints of sexual harassment brought to the attention of the employer. Of these complaints, 80 per cent were from women. That same year, there were 1,600 reported incidents of violence, and, surprisingly, 60 per cent of the injured or targeted employees were men.
Therefore, harassment and violence can exist in any workplace and can be committed by any individual.
There is a spectrum of unwanted behaviours, ranging from offensive remarks or jokes to bullying or aggression, inappropriate staring to isolating or taunting a worker because of their identity. The list goes on.
To better understand the types of harassment and violent behaviours that take place in Canadian workplaces, the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada conducted public consultations between June 2016 and April 2017. The results were shared through a publication titledHarassment and Sexual Violence in the
Some of the findings from these consultations have already been shared with you by the bill’s sponsor, Senator Harder.
Senator Ataullahjan has also mentioned some of the statistics, but here are some others: Among respondents who reported having experienced sexual harassment, 94 per cent were women. Those who experienced sexual harassment also tend to be in workplaces with a higher proportion of men in positions of power. People with disabilities and members of a visible minority group experience greater harassment than other groups.
The survey also concluded that incidents were under-reported significantly, often due to fear of retaliation. When reported, they were not dealt with effectively.
Stakeholders also indicated that clear written policies were necessary to indicate the kind of behaviours an organization considers to be workplace harassment or violence.
Colleagues, I do not wish to repeat the content of this bill. However, I would like to note the three main pillars the legislation is built around.
First, prevention. Employers must implement policies and programs to prevent incidents of harassment and violence. Examples include educational training on what constitutes harassment so that both employees and employers are informed and educated of their rights and obligations.
Second, responding effectively to these incidents. With Bill C-65, employees who wish to report an incident of harassment or violence will have a clear and comprehensive procedure to follow. Employers must investigate, record and report any instance of harassment or violence brought to their attention. To ensure all complaints receive appropriate response, a competent person will be appointed to undertake an investigation if the party is unable to resolve the situation themselves.
Third, support for victims. Victims of workplace harassment or violence must have access to resources that will support their recovery. Furthermore, the proposed rules would enforce strict privacy rules to protect employees and ensure all cases are handled confidentially.
Colleagues, workplace harassment in any form can undermine a person’s dignity. If the harassment is left unchecked, as Senator Ataullahjan has said, it has a potential to escalate in behaviour. This leaves the victim with lifelong negative effects such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.
There is an economic argument, too. Between 2010 and 2015, through the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers have paid out almost US$700 million to employees alleging harassment, and that is before the cases went to court. Even without an official lawsuit, harassment costs employers. Besides the direct costs, we have indirect costs that prevent employees from doing their jobs effectively, reduced engagement at work, lowered productivity and increased absenteeism, all of which costs money.
Honourable senators, I appreciate that there have been discussions about whether the bill addresses workplace harassment and violence in the best way possible. For instance, the role of workplace health and safety committees were discussed both here and in the other place. As the legislation currently stands, these committees will not be involved in specific complaints but will instead ensure the process is working as intended and all complaints are handled appropriately.
Is there room to allow employees to bring complaints before these committees? Would this be a breach of confidentiality? These are questions that I’m sure will be asked at committee.
Overall, Bill C-65 addresses a universally important issue. It is as non-partisan as you could hope for in this place. I remind you that Bill C-65 passed through the house with approval from all parties, and we should send it to the next stage with similar enthusiasm.
In summary, safe workplaces, free from harassment and violence, are critical to the well-being of Canadians. While Bill C-65 won’t fix every issue surrounding harassment in the workplace, it is a strong step in the right direction and sends the message that we stand with victims and do not, under any circumstances, support the abusers.