Harassment and violence in the Canadian workplace; an issue on the rise

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.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime offers support, research and education to survivors and stakeholders.

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My name is Donna McCully.

It was always our wish to live in Jamaica in our dream home. So, in August 2012, my husband Sedrick Levine and I left Canada to move into our new home. We were thrilled to finally be starting the next chapter in our lives, in Sedrick’s beloved homeland. He bought a little bus and planned to operate tours for visitors to the island. I was helping him run this business venture, as part of our semi- retirement in Jamaica.

My life as I knew it was suddenly shattered when two masked men broke into our home on Sunday, November 17, 2013. Sedrick struggled with the men, allowing me to flee upstairs to call the police. His actions saved my life that day, and that of my father and his housekeeper, who were visiting us at the time. One of the masked intruders chased me upstairs and kicked in the bathroom door, but he stopped when he heard a gunshot from downstairs.

My husband Sedrick was killed that day and the men fled our home with a laptop. The Jamaican police have not yet found these men or charged them with killing my beloved husband. Their motive remains unknown.

This crime has completely changed my life. I suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder now and have depression as a result. I came back to Canada, but I feel very isolated since this happened. These emotional scars may never heal.

I managed to find the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime by searching online one day. I didn’t know where to turn for help when I came home to Canada. The CRCVC has provided me with a lot of emotional support, which has been tremendously helpful. They’ve also written numerous letters to Jamaican officials seeking justice for Sedrick, as well as intervening with Canadian officials on my behalf. The office also helped connect me to a trauma therapist for counselling sessions too.

In order to try and make sense of what happened to Sedrick, it is my hope that others could support the work of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. There are so many other victims/survivors out there who also need their assistance.