Pursuant to the order of reference of Monday, January 29, 2018, the committee is resuming its consideration of , 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
Today the committee will hear from two witnesses via teleconference. We have Hilary Beaumont, staff reporter, Vice News, who's in Los Angeles, California. I understand she's on holiday, so I really appreciate Hilary's attendance. And from Waterloo, Ontario, we have Beisan Zubi.
I believe we're going to give each of you seven minutes for your opening remarks. We'll start with Hilary. The next seven minutes is all yours.
Good afternoon, and thank you to the honourable members for inviting me to testify on this urgent subject.
My name is Hilary Beaumont, and I'm a staff reporter with Vice News, an on-line news outlet. I have a journalism degree from the University of King's College and I recently completed the Banff Centre's investigative journalism workshop. One of my areas of focus is sexual harassment and assault in the digital age.
Recently, I published an investigation into workplace harassment on Parliament Hill, hoping to shed light on the issue and to influence debate on Bill . Over the past three months, I interviewed more than 40 women who worked on Parliament Hill, everyone from current and former MPs, to lobbyists, journalists, staff, and interns.
It quickly became clear that female employees are the most vulnerable to harassment. Many of them shared negative experiences, ranging from sexist comments to groping and sexual assault. Some said they had been fired, or passed over for jobs, after they had tried to report abuse. Current employees said that they have no idea how to report harassment if it happens to them. My investigation found that weak anti-harassment policies, alongside a baked-in hyperpartisan and male-dominated culture, are failing survivors, particularly female employees.
Bill will do a number of important things. It will bring Hill employees under Canada's Labour Code, giving them another route to report. It will require investigations of known incidents of harassment and will add a third party to receive complaints. It will not replace the Hill's current feeble policies, and it will not erase cultural reasons that prevent women from reporting abuse, including party loyalty, small office environments, and the imbalance of power between employees and superiors. That's why I believe Bill C-65 is an important step forward.
Briefly, here are my recommendations as you study this bill. Please note that these recommendations are specific to the parliamentary workplace.
First, harassment complaints must be removed from politics as much as possible. The December 2014 House of Commons policy is the main policy that employees access to report harassment. Now that employees of all parties, including the NDP, can access this policy, it needs to be improved.
One major issue is that employees must first report harassment to the MP who employs them. I spoke to one former employee who said she experienced psychological harassment from a male co-worker who was her equal. She went to HR, but she was told that she had to report it to the MP she worked for. She was too intimidated to report to him, because she was still on probation and would have been easily identifiable in a small-office environment. Her alleged harasser referred to their office as a “boy's club”, and she would have been reporting to a male MP about male behaviour. She was fired shortly after she contacted HR. She believes the MP found out about her contact with HR through a co-worker whom she confided in, but she was given no reason for her dismissal.
Bill will not replace this policy, but it can strengthen it. The bill requires every workplace to have a third party to receive complaints. According to the survivors whom I spoke to, this person must be outside of politics completely in order for them to feel safe reporting. The first point of contact cannot be the MP.
Second, to that point, under the bill it should be possible for employees to report directly to the labour ministry without first having to complain through an existing workplace policy. As I said, this would help take politics out of the equation.
Third, there are employees on the Hill right now who do not know their rights or the policies that cover them. Training on the resulting anti-harassment policies must be mandatory for all employees and employers. In these sessions, they should go through the policy in detail so that employees understand how it works and what the consequences are if you're a perpetrator.
Fourth, all policies on the Hill have different definitions of harassment. The bill should adopt a single definition of harassment and it should require that this definition be present in all workplace policies. This definition should be broad, and it should include all forms of harassment, and not be limited to sexual harassment.
My reporting also found that in 2014 a group of staffers within the NDP came together in a closed-door meeting, and wrote a letter to prevent an alleged harasser from returning to Parliament Hill. Accordingly, if possible, anti-harassment policies should allow survivors the option to report their experiences in groups of peers, so they feel heard and not isolated.
All anti-harassment policies on the Hill should have annual public reporting requirements on the number of complaints received, and how they were dealt with. Only the December 2014 House of Commons mechanism has this requirement currently.
Finally, the regulations alongside the bill must have teeth. There must be clear, legal consequences for not acting to prevent or stop harassment.
With such a high bar to report abuse, the parliamentary workplace is an example of a catch-22 scenario. Because existing policy does not account for cultural issues, women know it's not safe to speak up, and because they don't speak up, the culture of harassment continues.
I hope that once it passes, this legislation will begin to break the cycle.
My name is Beisan Zubi. I am a former Parliament Hill staffer. I worked on the Hill twice, first from January 2011 to September 2012 as a political researcher in the NDP's media team, and then again in 2014 as a communication and logistics assistant in the NDP House leader's office.
My time on the Hill was very intense. Within a couple of months of my being hired, we had entered into a federal election that put us in official opposition status. We hired hundreds of new staffers in a very short period of time after that. Jack Layton died that summer, which threw us into a leadership race. Then we had a new leader. And then I left the Hill to do my master's degree in Toronto.
A couple of months after I finished my studies, I was back on the Hill. There was a terrorist attack. There was a sexual harassment scandal. I burnt out pretty quickly and left. I was there for about four months that second time.
I tell you this only to give you some context around the intensity of what it was like to work on Parliament Hill at that time, and I think also, in general, to frame why all the sexual harassment I was seeing and the terrible behaviour that I was experiencing seemed almost normalized. It felt like everyone was acting out because they had to. We were all on this intense and abnormal political odyssey. I don't say that to justify anyone's behaviour except, perhaps, my own in explaining why it was so difficult for me to register just how off an environment it was and why I went along with it for so long.
A year ago I wrote about my experiences on Parliament Hill for Vice, where Hilary works, in an article entitled “Here’s why I never reported sexual harassment while working in Parliament”.
Among the reasons I named in that piece are that it happened when alcohol was involved; because no one saw it; because everyone knew about it; because the perpetrator worked for the victim's party; because the perpetrator worked for a rival party; because it happened so fast; and because I didn't work there anymore.
I understand that Bill is not a panacea, but I'd hazard a guess that it doesn't do very much to protect people in many of these situations. In fact, the onus to report is on the victim. They have to work within their own party infrastructure and go to the whips. Sexual relationships between managers and subordinates aren't prohibited or even disclosed. And the culture piece, which in my opinion is the most pernicious and toxic part of all of it, isn't addressed.
I do get that you can't legislate office culture, but the normalization and glorification of alcohol and drinking, of aggressive behaviour, and of sexually explicit language are, in my experience, a large part of the Hill's culture, and I don't know if I see that changing.
The open secrets that we all participated in still hound me and make me feel guilty. I almost feel complicit in accepting my own mistreatment, and in how it could have created more abuse for women who came after me and who are still on the Hill. The political partisanship that makes you feel like you're in a never-ending campaign makes the idea of launching a complaint against someone in a rival party automatically seem partisan, and launching a complaint against your own team seem treasonous. As well, very little is being done to hear from and protect former employees, who are potentially more able and freer to speak out without fearing for their current jobs.
I have to say I'm disappointed that I am the only former Parliament Hill staffer who will be speaking on the record in regard to this bill. I was contacted by this committee on Thursday of last week. I was able to shift my schedule to accommodate it to speak as an individual, but I'd like to remind us all that harassment is received and processed differently. The intersectional perspectives of young queer men and women, black women, indigenous women, differently abled folks, and racialized staffers who don't benefit from the same systemic privileges that I do would have been an impactful and educational component of any holistic conversation about harassment.
I just want to say a couple of things on the record.
The first, I think, is the most important. Even though I worked in a partisan position, I made friends and acquaintances across the board. This isn't a problem within one party or group. At 25, 26, and 27 years old, I was subject to sexual harassment—innuendoes, inquiries, and general creepiness—from men, generally exclusively men, anywhere from 10 to 40 years older than me, from the Conservative, Liberal, Bloc, and NDP caucuses, from staff in all of those caucuses, from bureaucrats, lobbyists, and journalists.
You have to believe me when I say the problem was cultural. The types of sexual harassment were myriad. They involved touching, groping, comments, come-ons. My body was discussed in front of my face. Older men would tell stories to a table of young staffers about bedding other young staffers. Alcohol and gossipy conversations that you would turn a blind eye to at 32, I can say, having worked outside politics for almost four years, in retrospect, were very abusive and very destructive as far as work environments go.
I am still working through and processing my feelings of anger at the environment, but I didn't want to stop my intervention on that note, so I'd like to share one final thing.
I burnt out of politics really hard when I left. While I've toyed with the idea of going back in some capacity, as I noted in my Vice piece, Parliament Hill just felt fundamentally unsafe for young women. However the one ray of hope that I had, and the one that I would like to leave you with, is that I was lucky enough to have great managers at the NDP, including Kathleen Monk, who went to bat for me, protected me, and warned me when they could. It was a negative and toxic environment, except for brief moments of success and support. However, behind all those moments I experienced were women who wanted to make sure that women were getting credit that was due and that young women weren't being dismissed as women or as ornaments.
Yesterday, I joined the board of my local chapter of Equal Voice and I hope to one day be as supportive and fiercely protective of, and to advocate for, more women in the House moving forward. I don't necessarily agree with our Prime Minister on everything, but the one issue that I know he is right about is this: “Add women, change politics”.
I would like to leave you with that cultural suggestion.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Thank you both for your testimony. We are here in the House today, and can appreciate your—I wouldn't say punch-in-the-face, but straightforward—comments, which I believe are very helpful to this committee and the bill. What we are trying to achieve is, what I would humbly say and you've heard it politically, zero tolerance.
Ms. Zubi, I was running in 2011 in Quebec, and I can tell you I felt that orange wave in a partisan way. You mentioned that you came back on the Hill for four months and you mentioned in your remark that this culture of harassment was cultural and deep.
Just to clarify, is it the reason why you left the second time, Ms. Zubi?