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More and more, the media is reporting about serious situations of harassment and violence in the workplace. A toxic culture is often deeply entrenched in large institutions, as we have seen with the RCMP, the Canadian military, and most recently at Corrections Canada. There needs to be fundamental change. Women are particularly affected, and harassment prevents equality in the workplace. Often the response is to silence the person who complains, rather than to tackle the underlying structural violence that is occurring in these workplaces.
This week, the federal government released a report about a year-long public consultation stating women in workplace under-report harassment for fear of retaliation. The findings also showed that when harassment is reported, it is not dealt with effectively.
In response, the federal government today introduced legislation that gives labour laws more teeth when it comes to preventing and handling sexual violence and harassment in federally regulated workplaces. This new law will affect employees ranging from staffers on Parliament Hill to RCMP officers to bank tellers.
Bill C-65 is aimed at giving federally regulated workers and their employers a clear map to follow in handling allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment. Under the new legislation employers would be required to:
1. Prevent incidents of harassment and violence from occurring.
2. Respond effectively to these incidents when they do occur.
3. Support victims, survivors and employers in the process.
The Canada Labour Code covers 900,000 workers in industries that are federally regulated, including banks, telecommunications and airports along with the RCMP and civilian members of the Department of National Defence. The legislation would also bring parliamentary workplaces under the new guidelines, including the Senate, House of Commons and the Library of Parliament.
The changes would merge separate labour standards for sexual harassment and violence and subject them to the same scrutiny and dispute resolution process. Once the legislation is adopted, anyone who is unhappy with how their dispute is being handled could complain to the federal labour minister, who could step in to investigate.
In the wake of Harvey Weinstein and several Canadian celebrities being called out for sexual harassment and assault, there is a sliver lining. The problem is less hidden. The more people who come forward to say ‘I, too, was sexually harassed or assaulted,’ – the shame associated with this form of violence goes away. Men are also coming forward about workplace harassment, including actors Terry Crews and James Van Der Beek.
Should we be shocked by the prevalence of harassing behaviour in Canadian workplaces? Not if we acknowledge how sexism, gender inequality, a lack of diversity, patriarchy and power imbalances all lead to an environment where harassment can thrive. Addressing these systemic issues is long overdue in many industries if we truly value safe and healthy workplaces for all.