The House resumed consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendments) from the committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is great to be up on a Monday morning, starting the parliamentary week off with a bill that has received so much support and agreement from a number of members from all parties in the House. As we wind down the parliamentary calendar, getting this level of agreement on a piece of legislation is rare, so I am going to enjoy that for the next 20 minutes.
Off the top, I want to recognize the government members on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities and the contribution they have made to this particular piece of legislation. Their efforts are always appreciated and welcomed, and they are very productive. The members for and went above and beyond. Aside from their own committee duties, they pitched in on the HUMA committee and made huge contributions. There were a number of other members as well, but these members were there for pretty much all of the meetings. I want to recognize that.
I am pleased to participate in third reading of Bill . As I said before, all parties think Bill C-65 is critical at this point in time in our country. No one can argue against the fact that harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence, have no place in the workplace or, for that matter, anywhere at all. We have all heard stories that demonstrate just how detrimental and pervasive these behaviours really are. These stories have dominated the media for some time now, and many more were heard during the meetings of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities on Bill C-65.
There is a sort of strange story, a little weird, but it really stuck with me. It was testimony given by Dr. Sandy Hershcovis, associate professor at the University of Calgary. Dr. Hershcovis cited a recent Science magazine article describing “women on a geological expedition to Antarctica...reported that they were pelted with rocks by male colleagues, called names, had volcanic ash blown in their eyes, and were told that women should not be field geologists.” It is strange, but that one stuck with me. Many members also heard from former Parliament Hill staffer Beisan Zubi, who described the outrageously inappropriate behaviour she witnessed and in some cases was subject to herself right here on Parliament Hill. The testimony was very compelling.
What these and other stories demonstrate is that we live in a culture that tolerates workplace harassment and violence, accepts power imbalances and gender norms, and creates and reinforces inappropriate behaviours. For too long, these behaviours have been widely accepted in our society. These experiences are still too common and continue to take place in all types of workplaces. Many Canadians are still suffering because they feel they cannot speak out on this issue. They are staying silent because they feel their complaints will not be treated seriously or swept under the rug, or perhaps they fear repercussions from their employers—maybe even the loss of their jobs.
Many are in that position right now, and it is unacceptable. According to a recent Angus Reid study, 52% of Canadian women experienced workplace sexual harassment, 28% were subject to non-consensual sexual touching, and 89% took steps to avoid unwanted sexual advances. These all-too-common occurrences have had devastating and far-reaching effects.
For victims, the effects may include, among other things, an increase in stress and anxiety and a reduction in engagement and job satisfaction.
For employers, the negative effects of workplace harassment and violence can include a reduction in productivity, increased absenteeism and sick leave costs, higher turnover and legal costs, and in some cases, unwanted publicity. The bottom line is that these behaviours are bad for employees and employers, and at the end of the day, they are bad for the Canadian economy.
Our government has carried the messages of inclusiveness and fairness since we were first elected. We are committed to the fact that everyone deserves respect and dignity. All of our actions, including our policies and legislative initiatives, have those principles as a backdrop. We have made it clear from the outset that we will stand up for the rights of all Canadians, including women, people of colour, those with disabilities, and the LGBTQ2 community, as these are often the people with the least power and who are the most vulnerable in our society.
Our has been at the forefront of this issue, with strong and definite positions on fairness and the principle of opportunity for all, as well as on his determination to take strong action on harassment and violence. This is at the core of our values and principles in Canada. After all, we are people of diversity, but that diversity has not always been matched with compassion and consideration for others in the workplace or, for that matter, in our society. Now is the time to effect real and lasting cultural change. We are resolute in creating a social climate where people can live in an environment free of harassment and violence, and where unacceptable behaviour is denounced and condemned.
This is the backdrop to Bill .
I would like to point out that our actions started well before the #MeToo movement. In 2016 and early 2017, we consulted with employers, employees, various stakeholder groups, experts, academics, and Canadians from across the country. We previously had some data on the issue. However, it was clear we needed deeper insight, not only on the extent of the problem but also on current reporting and actions taken following workplace incidents. Canadians told us that incidents were largely under-reported, and that when incidents were reported, the follow-up action was inadequate and ineffective.
Here are a few statistics I would like to share: 60% of those who responded to the online survey said that they personally had experienced harassment at their place of work, 30% said that they had experienced sexual harassment in their place of work, 21% reported that they had experienced violence in their place of work; and 3% of those who responded said that they had experienced sexual violence in their workplace. We can all agree in the House that this is unacceptable. We can, and we must, do better.
We consulted with members of Parliament and senators. They were unanimous in the belief that strong action on harassment and sexual violence should be taken and that victims should be heard and helped. That is exactly what we are aiming to achieve with this historic bill, Bill . Using the most effective legislative and policy levers to address the problem, Bill C-65 would put an end to workplace harassment and violence and its consequences in federally regulated and parliamentary workplaces.
Bill would do this by requiring employers to do three things: first, prevent incidents of harassment and violence from occurring; second, respond effectively to these incidents; and third, support the victims and affected employees.
Let me take this opportunity to thank each member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. After careful consideration of the many points raised by witnesses, members of the committee put forward important amendments to the bill, and amendments from all parties in the House were accepted.
The committee accepted the following an amendment to add clear definition of harassment and violence in the Canada Labour Code:
...any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment.
Amendments also include specific reference to preventing occurrences of harassment and violence in the purpose clause of part II of the code. When it comes to training, employers would be obligated to provide it and take it.
Amendments also include more support for former employees in coming forward with complaints related to occurrences of harassment and violence, as well as provisions allowing employees to complain to someone other than their supervisor. That came out loud and clear during testimony and discussions with committee members.
The committee also sought and agreed to amendments that would ensure the harassment and violence provisions introduced in Bill would be reviewed every five years after coming into force to ensure these provisions would be current and would continue to meet the needs of workers.
To ensure the government is kept accountable and to track our progress and trends, the committee called for an annual report on harassment and violence in all federally regulated workplaces.
The committee unanimously agreed to make amendments that would give the deputy minister powers normally given to the minister to avoid the possibility of any conflict of interest when political actors were involved. This amendment in particular is a clear indicator of the collaborative efforts that went on during discussions and went into the bill before us today.
Thanks to these and other amendments, what we have before us today is a bill that we can all stand and be proud of, a historic piece of legislation that is long overdue. Our government is committed to taking action against workplace harassment and violence.
In addition to what we are doing in Canada with Bill , we are also taking action against workplace harassment and violence on the international stage. We will be actively participating in the upcoming International Labour Organization, the ILO, negotiations at the international labour conference in Geneva later this month to develop new international labour standards. We will be there with our friends from the CLC, who will be making presentations at this conference as well.
These standards will help protect individuals from harassment and violence in the workplace. Canada's presidency of the 2018 G7 is an important opportunity for Canada to show global leadership and to engage our G7 counterparts on pressing global challenges, including the development and promotion of policies that prevent workplace violence and harassment.
Make no mistake, awareness is growing. We have come so far over the last year. The very fact that we are talking about it now demonstrates just how far we have come, and it is not just in Parliament.
This year's theme of the National Day of Mourning, which took place on April 28, was “Violence and Harassment - it’s not part of the job”. The National Day of Mourning is not only an opportunity for us to remember and honour all workers, men and women, who have lost their lives, been injured or fallen ill, but also an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to improving workplace health and safety to help prevent future tragedies.
More and more, people are recognizing the seriousness of the impacts of workplace harassment and violence. Many individuals are speaking out against these unacceptable behaviours and many employers are taking action as a result of the stories that are being told, but we still have a long way to go. Employers still need to do more. They need to take strong action to ensure that workplace culture does not tolerate this behaviour, respond quickly when the incidents do occur, and support the individuals affected. They must also take measures to ensure it does not happen again.
Our government is taking action for federally regulated and parliamentary workplaces, but we know the governments cannot effect change alone. We know that legislation is not enough. We have said, and my minister has been incredibly strong on this aspect, that what we need right now is a cultural shift to stop these unacceptable behaviours in the workplace. It will take us all working together to make that happen.
Changing the culture will require everyone to do their part. That means zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour anywhere and everywhere. It means all Canadians should feel safe and empowered to speak up when they see or experience something. We know that in federally regulated and parliamentary workplaces, the measures in Bill will help make these things possible, and we hope the bill will serve as an example of what it means to foster workplaces free of harassment and violence.
What is good for Canadian workers is good for Canadian business. We know that measures to prevent and effectively deal with harassment and violence directly result in increased productivity and retention of talent. It is about creating the kinds of workplaces in which the best and the brightest can thrive. Addressing harassment and violence is a big part of that.
For these reasons, we are calling for the continued support of Bill in the House. Simply put, support for the bill is the right thing to do for Canadian workers, Canadian businesses, and Canada as a whole.
With the passage of Bill , we expect to see more people come forward and speak out against harassment and violence. There is no doubt there will be some uncomfortable discussions as we re-examine our behaviours and create new policies and tools to support more inclusive, safer workplaces free from harassment and violence. In the long term, we expect to see better outcomes for all employers and Canadians alike, real change and real progress in our society. Our hope is that the law will set the example and the standard for fairness and harmony in all workplaces in Canada.
Workplace harassment and violence is an issue that crosses all party lines, and we have certainly demonstrated that with Bill . We are on the right path. Harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence, must stop in our country, and we need to prevent it from happening in the first place.
I am confident that what we have heard to date on harassment and violence in the workplace will encourage the members of the House to continue to support this important initiative.
Mr. Speaker, I will begin by stating that the official opposition intends to support the bill before us today at third reading stage, even though it is not perfect, to say the least. I will have an opportunity to say more about that in a few minutes.
We support the bill because harassment has no place in our workplaces and we welcome any initiative or measure that eliminates harassment and violence from our workplaces.
Members will recall that the government introduced this bill only six months ago, on November 7, 2017. That may seem a long time ago for those listening at home, but it is rather quick for a legislative process. It proves that the opposition parties and the government have shown good will in advancing a bill that tackles a societal problem. We need only think, unfortunately, of all the scandals that have come to light in recent months and years. I agree with the that it is important to change the mentality of tolerance for these types of totally unacceptable behaviours, gestures, and actions in our workplaces.
The bill before us today, namely an, covers approximately 8% of the workers actively employed in Canada. Who does it cover? It covers federal public service employees and federally regulated employees. The other part of the bill, the part that the opposition welcomes, applies to political staffers who are currently in a grey area, a legal limbo that leaves victims of harassment even more vulnerable. The bill covers federal employees and employees in federally regulated workplaces, but it also more broadly covers Parliament Hill staffers. That is a good thing, and it is one of the reasons why we support the bill.
I will start by listing three good points about the bill that convinced us to support it and for which the government has agreed to make amendments. We would have liked to see the government go much further, because our goal as the official opposition was to make this bill put the victim first. Unfortunately, in this case, as in many other cases, the current government was not willing to go as far as we would have liked.
We are confused because there is only a single definition for the words “harassment” and “violence”, which is completely illogical. The opposition fought to ensure that the bill contains at least one definition. The unfortunate thing about this government is that the Liberals sometimes tend to not want to put a name on things, and that can create confusion. At least there is a definition now. It is not perfect, but there is a definition of harassment and violence. A colleague read that definition just a few moments ago, but I am going to read it again because it is important.
[H]arassment and violence means any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment;
Were it not for the opposition's hard work, there would be no definition in this bill, even though that is very important because the definition serves as a framework for developing the regulations and enforcing the act. It was the opposition that proposed an amendment regarding the definition.
Another amendment I will call the pièce de résistance was also made. In that regard, I would like to recognize the remarkable work of my committee colleagues. I want to recognize the work of my colleague from British Columbia, the hon. member for , who also worked overtime to help move this bill quickly through the House. The young member for also did an outstanding job. We had the support of other members, particularly my colleague from , who proposed an amendment that made us feel a lot better about supporting this bill. The amendment I am talking about is what I would call the firewall amendment. In our democratic system, it is crucial to maintain the independence of the various branches of government. There is the executive branch, represented by the government, and the legislative branch, represented by Parliament, or the House of Commons and the Senate.
One of our main concerns about the original version of the bill was that it opened the door to government interference in the affairs of parliamentarians. It undermined the independence of parliamentarians, which is completely unacceptable. That said, we must ensure full compliance with the law when such despicable events happen in the parliamentary environment. My colleague from proposed a very sensible amendment that would ensure that all complaints regarding harassment or any other offence under the labour code would land on the desk of the deputy minister. This amendment was designed to prevent political interference.
We often used the same example in committee; it concerns all governments, not just the current one. If a political staffer, either male or female, says they have been the victim of harassment on the part of a minister, we must ensure that their complaint is dealt with independently, without political interference. That is what the amendment does. I would even say that it was so well worded that it also prevents people from using occupational health and safety issues to interfere in parliamentary offices. Thus, the objective has been met thanks to the amendment brought forward by my colleague from , and I thank the government for accepting it. It will prevent all insidious political interference in the process. That is a good thing. Thus, we now have a definition and a firewall of sorts.
Other measures were introduced through amendments that we proposed to ensure that the government focuses on supporting and helping the victims, as it promised it would. The government talks a good game, but we wanted to ensure that the small steps being taken were taken responsibly, and these amendments will certainly help with that.
As I was saying, we had some serious concerns about this bill before it was sent to committee. We were concerned about the provisions on mediation, the risks of political interference in investigations into workplace harassment, the definition of key terms, and the priority given to protecting victims and their rights. For example, according to the previous wording of the bill, a person who was a victim of harassment by their immediate supervisor had to deal directly with their harasser, meaning the very person who attacked the complainant.
Hon. members can appreciate how that might put the victim in an awkward position. An amendment was proposed to ensure that the complainant could talk to a third party. Let us not forget that this applies to all federal public service employees. Accordingly, in some cases, we could be talking about corporations or small businesses, unionized or not. It was important for us to consider these realities. That is why we proposed an amendment, which was accepted, in order to ensure that a victim does not have to go through their harasser in the event that the victim feels that the situation warrants a formal complaint.
The Conservative members of our committee also successfully introduced an amendment to establish strict deadlines for harassment investigations so they are completed in a timely fashion. This bill requires companies to adopt a harassment policy and enforce it through mediation and, when necessary, investigations by independent investigators. This bill is designed to prevent victims of harassment from being victimized twice. That is what happens when a victim of harassment gets involved in a process that ends up being a whole new nightmare when it comes to delays. We introduced provisions that will make this whole process regulation-based and not in the act itself. We will hold consultations with various stakeholders to establish timelines for the process.
Our team also introduced and supported mandatory sexual harassment training. One of the main focuses of the government's approach in this bill is prevention. If we want to eliminate harassment, we must work on prevention. Here in the House of Commons, this group of parliamentarians currently receives training on this issue. Training is key to changing mindsets. This was missing from the bill, but there is now a training component in the bill as a result of our proposed amendments. Obviously, we have to consider the realities of the labour market, but a variety of options can be put forward to make the process effective and rational.
Furthermore, an amendment was proposed to allow former employees who had claimed to be victims of harassment to file a complaint. To protect the integrity of the process, I brought up a firewall clause. All of this can be done within a reasonable time. Another important measure is that the bill could be reviewed in five years. One of my colleagues proposed this amendment.
There is one amendment to the bill that I wish had been accepted but, unfortunately, it was rejected outright by the government. We were disappointed because the amendment would have ensured that a victim could turn to the Department of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour if they thought the process was not being conducted properly. One of our ongoing concerns is that potential victims will have to jump through hoops if they must first turn to their employer to file a complaint. The employer will initially suggest mediation, then there will be an independent investigation, and, after that, recommendations will be made.
Another area where the bill is weak is in the application of sanctions if the investigator makes recommendations in a case of harassment.
When an individual believes that they have been wronged, how can they resolve the situation and move forward if, as in past cases we have seen, the employer has not fully accepted its responsibilities? Now, with this legislation, the government will be able to tell companies to do their job and apply the law. We are aware of the delays this may cause.
That is why the official opposition moved an amendment to have section 127.1(1.1) read as follows:
In the case of a complaint relating to an occurrence of harassment or violence in a work place at which less than 20 employees are normally employed, the employee who believes on reasonable grounds that there has been a contravention of this Part may refer his or her complaint to the Minister in accordance with subsection (8).
I have to say, the federal government is not leading the way in addressing harassment and sexual violence. Several provinces, such as Quebec, instituted processes and mechanisms over a decade ago that allow employees to report harassment directly to the department of labour, which in Quebec is known as the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, or CNESST. Sadly, this option currently does not exist in the federal government because investigators examine only the process, not the ins and outs of a particular situation. The government really missed an opportunity here. It could have addressed the unfortunate issue of harassment and violence in the workplace much more vigorously. That amendment was rejected. It was intended to give the bill more teeth and provide victims with a tool to ensure that the employer's process is carried out properly. This was regrettably a missed opportunity.
Awareness is another issue that gets little mention in the bill. We asked for mandatory training. The government says a lot of things, but it needs to provide the necessary tools. There was no mention in the minister's remarks and subsequent discussions with government colleagues of any measure for monitoring compliance with the spirit of the act by raising employee awareness, whether in the public sector, on Parliament Hill, or in the private sector.
For these reasons, we believe the bill could have been better, but as the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. We therefore plan to support this bill.
I want to thank all the committee members, especially the chair, the member for , who did his job well. He made sure the bill moved forward in a very quick and timely fashion so that we could pass this bill and send a message that the Parliament of Canada does not tolerate workplace harassment.
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by paying tribute to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities for the work it did on Bill . I took part in that work myself. I especially want to honour my colleague from for the tremendous efforts she put in. We worked on this bill together, and I am very proud of it. She even managed to get the committee to adopt a few of the NDP's amendments.
Bill C-65 is intended to prevent workplace harassment and violence. It is a general interest bill. This was not a partisan issue. When we were listening to the witnesses and studying the bill, our focus was on survivors. Without wanting to speak for the committee's other members, those are the people we were thinking about during the course of our study.
As I said earlier, harassment and violence, especially sexual harassment and violence, are too important an issue to allow partisan politics to creep in. I think that was something the committee members were really aware of. The bill needs to once and for all free up speech, restore confidence, and empower victims to speak out about sexual harassment without fear. Workplace harassment and violence are still widespread today, even here in Parliament, I am sad to say. That is why the NDP is going to support the principle and spirit behind Bill . We are going to vote in favour of this bill when the time comes.
However, we still have some misgivings. We think Bill C-65 only partially meets its goal of strengthening the harassment and violence prevention regime. Bill C-65 does not address every concern. Far from it. Judging from the emails and calls I have received, the unions are not particularly reassured either.
Here are a few examples. On April 26, the national president of the Canadian Union of Public employees contacted me to discuss “two serious flaws in Bill C-65 that will undermine the rights of workers affected by violence or harassment in the workplace.” What flaws could be so worrisome that the union felt compelled to urge the minister to correct them immediately?
I am referring to the exclusion of health and safety committees from two steps processes. First, they are excluded from the complaint process and, second, they are excluded from the investigation process. The complaints process concerning harassment and violence and the investigation process must both continue to rely on the expertise of these committees. Excluding them makes no sense to us.
Members of health and safety committees have received training and have a finger on the pulse of the workplace. Management and employees usually have equal representation, and members are experienced, know the culture, and know what is happening on the work floor. Who better to provide solutions, investigate, and also serve the victims and provide a sense of security and confidence when a survivor comes forward as a victim of harassment, or sexual violence or harassment?
The surprising excuse given by the Liberals to justify their measure was the purported breach of victims' confidentiality if they had to take part in the investigations of these committees. In my view, this is not a valid pretext for many reasons, which I would like to outline.
First of all, the decision to bring these committees into the process came from victims themselves. This was an option offered to them. It was a possibility open to victims. I am speaking in the past tense because, unfortunately, with the amendment in effect, they will no longer have this option. It was an additional choice that was available to the victim, not a constraint that was imposed. When someone is familiar with the victim's working conditions, the victim will feel understood, and this may help. This might have helped encourage people to report such incidents.
Second, to add to my argument, to date, these joint health and safety committees have always received these complaints and have successfully carried out the harassment investigations. Their modern investigative methods have always emphasized respect for victims' privacy. By excluding these committees from the investigative process, Bill is about to eliminate decades of experience, training, and work. I really want to stress the training and work aspect that will be wasted.
That is not all. If what the Liberals really wanted to do was protect victims' privacy and confidentiality, then someone needs to explain why they opposed many of my amendments. I had the pleasure of proposing nearly 20 amendments along with my colleague from during the committee study of Bill C-65, but only three of them were accepted by the Liberals, and even that took some convincing. In many cases, the other amendments were not even discussed. On a number of occasions, the Liberals chose to go straight to a vote and would not even explain why they were refusing the amendments.
Among the amendments that were voted down without any explanation was a very simple proposal made by the Confédération des syndicats nationaux. Allow me to explain it. Bill C-65 seeks to exclude joint employer-employee health and safety committees from investigations for privacy reasons. The problem is that, right now, these committees still continue to provide victims with unquestionable expertise. The logical solution proposed by the witnesses was to give these committees codes of practice and a code of ethics that would guarantee the privacy of victims. Did the Liberals oppose the CSN's recommendation without any explanation out of stubbornness or because they did not understand it? It seems to me that excluding these committees from the investigation process is a serious decision. There was no shortage of witnesses who supported amending the bill. Unions, associations, and law firms all supported the amendment. A quick look at the committee transcripts is all it takes to see that they all disagreed with this exclusion.
There is more. The expertise of the joint health and safety committees spans decades, but that alone does not explain why witnesses adamantly defended keeping them in the investigative process. The other reason, which is rather important, is the exceptional diversity of the investigators who make up the joint committees. The right of joint committees to conduct investigations has until now made it possible for victims to benefit from an incredible diversity of investigators in terms of colour, religion, age, and sex. Such diversity in the profile of investigators is invaluable.
Unfortunately, it is clear that Bill has completely shelved this aspect, which is inconsistent with the recommendations of the International Labour Office. In investigations into sexual harassment, the victims will not be able to benefit from the expertise or the extreme diversity within the joint health and safety committees.
That brings us back to what I was saying earlier. Members of the joint health and safety committees come from the workplace and represent all the communities. They are people we can confide in, people we can relate to if we are victims of harassment or violence in the workplace. They can make us feel understood. Unfortunately, with the changes made to Bill C-65, victims can no longer rely on this service.
It would still have been possible to include in the bill a provision to ensure the diversity of investigators, similar to that made possible by joint committees, for all investigators. That is exactly what one of my amendments proposed. It set out that the choice of investigators, although no longer the purview of the joint committees, must reflect the diversity of Canadian society. Thus, the diversity of investigators, which until now was made possible by the joint committees, would be perpetuated even though the committees were excluded from the investigation. A balanced representation of Canadian diversity would be assured.
Apparently, the recommendation made by the UN Secretariat concerning labour was not good enough for the Liberals, because they did not let Canada adopt legislation to guarantee equality and non-discrimination in the investigators' profile. We need to remember that minorities are disproportionately affected by workplace harassment and violence. By “minority” I mean members of an ethnic or religious minority as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex workers, and migrant workers.
That is why the profile of individuals responsible for the investigation must at all costs reflect diversity. However, it seems that our legislation will not take into account national diversity in the selection of investigators, and that is very unfortunate. Those are some of the aspects that were important to me. After spending all those hours listening to and reading witnesses' recommendations, we drafted amendments that were not even debated.
I would like to move on to other aspects of the bill that are also cause for concern. There are many of them. Let us first talk about the development of employer policies on harassment and violence. Some employers said on several occasions that they did not understand exactly what was expected of them when it comes to workplace policies. They need guidance on writing and implementing their anti-harassment policies. It is important to give employers clear instructions. They are waiting for such instructions in order to determine whether they are on the right track in complying with the legislation.
Since the primary purpose of Bill is to bring about a major change in political and corporate culture when it comes to harassment, we had hoped for more from the government in this regard, but that it not currently the case. When the witnesses appeared before the committee, they expressed their concerns about the effectiveness of employer anti-harassment policies. Leading law firms Rubin Thomlison and Fogler Rubinoff came up with one solution.
In order to give employers guidance and enhance protection for employees, the witnesses recommended that the Canada Labour Code set out guidelines for what is expected of a corporate policy on harassment in the workplace. The guidelines should include information about the process for getting immediate assistance in the case of harassment and about the fundamental aspects of privacy protection and the processing of complaints. I want to point out that companies also requested such guidelines.
The NDP's amendment would kill two birds with one stone. It would help guide employers in developing their internal policies and also enhance protection for employees, who would now be covered by effective prevention policies.
That amendment also would have prevented potentially ill intentioned employers from shirking their basic harassment prevention obligations through the use of deliberately complex anti-harassment policies that ultimately end up disincentivizing victims. We are talking here about how important it is to have prevention policies. Prevention in our workplaces is vital.
Even here in Parliament, people have been talking about a change in culture for several months now. I myself am now an employer. I have staff working for my constituents in . I am their employer, and I have a duty to ensure they have a healthy environment, a place they can work that is completely safe and free of all forms of harassment and violence. Being on the Hill, we need to attend many events and meet with a lot of people. Sometimes we have interns. Here in the House, for example, we have pages who work with us every day. We must ensure their safety and provide them with a healthy environment. Even businesses need to have clear guidelines and policies so that they too can provide proper training and a healthy environment that is free of harassment and violence.
Unfortunately, it seems the Liberals would rather leave employers guessing about how to write their internal policies because not one of them bothered to say anything about this measure, let alone come out in favour of it. I do not know why, and nobody ever explained why my amendment was rejected. I hope to find out why today.
Would it not make sense for expectations around policies, specifically anti-harassment policies, to be in the Canada Labour Code? That is another thing that is conspicuously absent from Bill . Once again, there were certainly plenty of opportunities to address the problem, and plenty of witnesses who spoke in favour of such a measure. All our efforts to strengthen the prevention aspect of Bill were apparently for naught. The Liberals put forward an amendment to include a five-year review, which was not at all objectionable and was in fact more than welcome. We all recognized the importance of including a provision to review the legislation over the years. Reviewing workplace violence and harassment provisions every five years is a perfectly justifiable improvement.
What is less justifiable is that Liberals refused to support one of my amendments to make the five-year review more effective. The Liberals proposed that the department publish statistics on workplace harassment and violence every five years. This is good. It complies with almost all of the recommendations of their own report published by Employment and Social Development Canada in March 2017. I said “almost” because this report lamented the “insufficient data on workplace harassment and violence“, in particular regarding sexual harassment. The report also mentioned the need for data to be collected, in order to address this lack of data. We need data.
I have much more to say about this bill. We did a comprehensive study, we heard from many witnesses, and we also managed to keep partisanship out of the debate. As I mentioned earlier, we will support the spirit and principle of the bill for all survivors. We will also encourage people to report these situations and help maintain a workplace free from violence and harassment for workers across Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from . Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Canada Labour Code regarding harassment and violence, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1.
Bill seeks to enhance the current legislative framework that deals with harassment and violence in federally regulated workplaces.
The bill proposes replacing all laws and policies with a single, comprehensive approach that covers every possible type of harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence.
It would also expand the scope of these laws and policies to cover parliamentary workplaces, such as the Senate, the Library of Parliament, the House of Commons, and political staffers on Parliament Hill.
As a member of the committee that reviewed the bill, I would like to take a moment to thank all members for their collaborative efforts to strengthen the proposed legislation.
At committee, members heard many compelling testimonies and debated for hours over the course of a number of meetings. For example, we heard from Vice News journalist Hilary Beaumont, author of a recent investigative report into workplace harassment on Parliament Hill.
Over the past three months, Ms. Beaumont interviewed more than 40 women who work on Parliament Hill, including current and former MPs, as well as lobbyists, journalists, staff, and interns. In her testimony, Ms. Beaumont stated that it quickly became apparent that female employees were more vulnerable to harassment than their male counterparts.
The women she interviewed told her stories about their own experiences: sexist comments, touching and even sexual assault. Some women she spoke to said that they were dismissed or lost job opportunities after trying to report workplace abuse. Some of the women interviewed who currently work on the Hill say that they would not even know how to report harassment if they had to.
In short, Mrs. Beaumont found that existing measures were simply nowhere near adequate.
That is why the bill is so important. The importance of the bill is something we have all agreed on from the start. This fact was especially apparent during many of the committee meetings where we worked tirelessly to strengthen the legislation.
From this perspective, here are the many changes that were proposed: defining harassment and violence in the Canada Labour Code; making training mandatory, meaning that employers would be required to make courses available to staff and to follow them themselves; specifically referencing preventing occurrences of harassment in the purpose of the bill; adding a section requiring that the provisions respecting harassment and violence in Bill be reviewed every five years; requiring that the Minister of Labour produce an annual report on harassment and violence in every workplace under federal jurisdiction; and, for the purposes of applying part III of the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, giving the deputy minister powers normally given to the minister to avoid the possibility of any conflict of interest.
These amendments, among others, have since been adopted and the result is an exceptionally strong piece of legislation that we can all be proud of.
However, although the bill is a big step in the right direction, and although it is essential in order to put an end to such behaviour in workplaces under federal jurisdiction and on Parliament Hill, our government is aware that a mere law cannot totally eliminate behaviours so deeply rooted in the Canadian workplace.
We said it many times today and we will repeat it again: we need a change of culture, and we must all help bring this change about. The good news is that such a change is well under way.
The global movements on social media brought a great deal of attention to this issue and shed much-needed light on it. I am immensely impressed by the bravery of those who have shared their stories. It takes so much courage to come forward and speak out against this behaviour.
Thanks to their courage, these conversations are taking place more and more frequently, not only in the media and politics but in workplaces the world over. People are re-evaluating their actions and the repercussions they have for others. People who have had to deal with inappropriate acts in the past or who are experiencing them now feel free to speak up. This process can be very unpleasant, but that is often the case with change. In this case, it is worth it.
We all know that these behaviours can have a long-term negative impact, not only on victims and their families, but also on employers and in terms of productivity, absenteeism and employee turnover.
There are many persistent gender norms and power imbalances in our society that keep things the way they are. The consequence is that unacceptable behaviours have been tolerated for far too long. It is time that we put an end to them. It is high time for a change.
Through Bill , our government is taking an important step toward building a country where all Canadians are better protected from harassment and violence in the workplace, and where those who have experienced such abuse receive the support they need.
We believe that this bill will also go a long way toward putting an end to workplace violence and harassment.
Canadians deserve nothing less than workplaces that are free from this type of behaviour and that reflect our society’s values.
I strongly encourage the members of the House of Commons to support Bill at this stage in order to give a voice to people who are vulnerable and to hold responsible those who, despite proof to the contrary, continue to believe that any form of harassment or violence in any circumstances can be acceptable.
Mr. Speaker, I hope to meet those very high expectations you have set with your remarks.
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to Bill . This legislation would address harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence, in federally regulated workplaces, and for the first time, importantly, right here on Parliament Hill.
Our government’s position on this is no secret. We have been saying it for some time now: harassment and violence of any kind are unacceptable and we have a clear, zero-tolerance stance on the issue.
Bill uses the most effective legislative and policy levers possible to help put an end to workplace harassment and violence and their consequences, in Parliament and in all federally regulated workplaces. We all know that the distinct power imbalances found here on Parliament Hill can cause damage to working relationships and also to the people who work here. These imbalances perpetuate a culture where some people with a lot of power use it, knowingly or unknowingly, to victimize others. However, this culture is not exclusive to the world of politics.
According to a 2018 Angus Reid study, 52% of Canadian women have experienced workplace sexual harassment and 28% were subject to non-consensual sexual touching. While those numbers are outrageous, what is maybe most staggering is that 89% of the women surveyed reported they have taken steps to avoid unwanted sexual advances. That is nearly nine in 10 women having to deal with inappropriate behaviour when they are trying to do their job.
If the recent #MeToo and Time's Up social media movements have taught us anything, it is that workplace harassment and violence, and in particular sexual harassment and sexual violence, are toxic behaviours that affect a shocking number of people. This issue is pervasive, not only in the workplace but across our entire society. It is a problem that has been going on and tolerated for far too long. Only now are we calling out this behaviour and saying, “No more. This has to end here.”
Having these conversations and changing the discourse are extremely important, but we cannot let this momentum die. We also have to take concrete, lasting action. That is precisely what we want to do with Bill .
Essentially, the bill would help put an end to workplace harassment and violence by requiring employers to take action on three specific fronts: preventing incidents of harassment and violence, responding effectively to those incidents when they do occur, and, finally, supporting affected employees.
I am incredibly proud of the House for the unanimous support the bill received at second reading, as well as the positive feedback it received at committee. Now we are calling on the House to continue that full support of Bill at third reading.
It is our job as a government to stand up for the rights of all Canadians. Everyone deserves to work in an environment free from harassment and violence. This is why we introduced Bill in November of last year after consulting stakeholders, experts, and Canadians across the country.
Canadians told us that incidents are still vastly under-reported. They told us that, when incidents are reported, the follow-up, if any, is often ineffective and flawed.
We also consulted with MPs and senators, who made it clear that these behaviours need to be addressed. We heard similar sentiments through many committee consultations with experts and interested parties.
The message has been incredibly clear. What we have in place today is not doing the job. We need a comprehensive approach that focuses on preventing behaviours before they happen, responding effectively when they do, and supporting survivors after the fact. With Bill , I have confidence that we are doing just that.
The basis of this initiative is the protection of employees through preventative measures that would ensure that harassment and violence do not happen in the first instance. The amended Canada Labour Code would specifically require employers to prevent such incidents and protect employees from these behaviours. I would ask members to allow me just a moment to explain.
Employers would be required to have a workplace harassment and violence prevention policy that is developed with employees through their workplace committees. Employers would also need to ensure that their employees receive training, and that they themselves undergo training, on the prevention of harassment and violence in the workplace.
Employees who believe they have been victims of harassment or violence, or have witnessed these behaviours, as a first step would report the incident to their employer or a person designated in the workplace harassment and violence prevention policy, and they would have to work to resolve the issue.
While informal resolution would be emphasized, the employee-driven resolution process would provide employees with the option of bringing in a mediator or having a competent person appointed to undertake a formal investigation.
If a competent person is appointed, following the investigation that person would issue a report, and the employer would be obligated to implement all recommendations or corrective measures set out in that report. Details regarding the informal resolution and investigation processes, including time frames for completion, would be set out in the regulations.
If the employee believes that the employer has not respected any part of the code or the regulations, he or she could file a complaint with the labour program. Labour program officials would then investigate and take enforcement action if they found that a contravention of the code or its associated regulations in fact occurred.
Reporting an incident requires a lot of courage. I have an enormous amount of respect for those who do choose to come forward, because fear of reprisal and stigma associated with being a victim of harassment or sexual violence can be a powerful deterrent to those who want to report an incident. The proposed amendments to the Canada Labour Code would protect the privacy of employees but encourage those who are victimized to come forward at the same time.
Finally, under Bill , employers would be required to support affected employees, with details to be identified through the regulatory process.
In addition, the labour program would put in place an outreach hub and a 1-800 call support line, as well as education materials and tools to further support employees.
Everyone deserves to work in an environment free from harassment and violence. These are far-reaching measures that I believe will make the workplace better for everyone; a place where personal growth is fostered and where people are permitted to express their talents and their skills.
I want to thank the members of the committee for their thoughtful review of Bill and their efforts to improve the proposed legislation. Members’ collaboration across party lines has led to important amendments that will strengthen our bill.
During the course of this study, it was my pleasure to sub in during a few meetings to really see the non-partisan nature of the important work that was taking place. For example, after careful consideration of the points raised by witnesses and members of the committee, we included a clear definition of “harassment” and “violence”. We also included a provision regarding mandatory training for employees and employers and specified that the department would now be responsible for producing an annual report. These measures are going to help ensure that everyone understands their rights and responsibilities and that we are kept accountable by measuring our progress and addressing negative trends if and when they arise.
Thanks to the hard work of the committee and those who shared their insights and expertise, I believe that what we have before us today is a strong piece of legislation that will make a real difference in the lives of millions of Canadians. While Bill will only apply directly to federally regulated and parliamentary workplaces, it will send a clear and important message that these behaviours are not acceptable, anywhere, and we cannot afford to tolerate them any longer.
I call on all members of Parliament, regardless of political affiliation, to do the right thing once again, as they did at second reading, and show their support for this important bill. Together, we can finally help eradicate harassment and violence in the workplace in Canada.