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 CRCVC mourns the recent homicides of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk, and Nathalie Warmerdam, outside of Ottawa, in Wilno, Ontario. All are believed to be killed within hours of each other on September 22, 2015 by Basil Borutski, their former intimate partner, who has since been charged with first-degree murder. Since their tragic deaths, two other women have perished at the hands of former or current partners. In Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, the family of Colleen Sillito, who was shot by a former boyfriend in a murder-suicide October 2nd, wants the provincial government to call a public inquiry. In Manitoba, 20-year-old Selena Rose Keeper was found bleeding to death outside a Winnipeg home October 8th. She loved and feared the man who has been charged in her death, her sister says. It is also reported that she was denied a protection order.
The lives of these women mattered, yet in this country women continue to be killed —one every six days nationally—without much ado. Indigenous women continue to face indifference with the number of girls and women stolen now tallying more than one thousand. The topic of violence against women is not a major election issue, even though it should be.
Men like Borutski are not “unstoppable”; in fact, violence against women is preventable. Professor Irvin Waller reminds us that the World Health Assembly (which has oversight of the World Health Organization) adopted in 2014 a milestone resolution on the role of the health sector in preventing violence against women.
We know how to prevent these crimes. The Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee reviews deaths of persons that occur as a result of domestic violence, and makes recommendations to help prevent such deaths in similar circumstances. Waller states, “Among the priorities must be partnerships between police, health, social services and others that are essential to providing for prevention and the greatest protection to possible victims. Another priority is funding social investment in reducing the well established risk factors, including mental illness, as well as to support victims and their children, particularly in rural areas where the home and livelihood are interconnected.”
Borutski somehow evaded the criminal justice system for the crimes he committed against his partners. While he was convicted of causing property damage, assault police and failure to provide a breath sample, the serious charges for threatening his ex-wife with death and assaulting her, for assaulting Warmerdam, for criminal harassment of a fifth woman and for assault against a sixth, were all stayed by Crown prosecutors. Professor Elizabeth Sheehy says “the criminal justice system completely failed to appropriately condemn Borutski’s violence or to capture the acute endangerment his victims faced. And without convictions for serious crimes of violence he could not have been designated the “dangerous offender” that he appears to be.” She is right and this happens too commonly in domestic violence cases across Canada.
Too many women in Canada are living in fear of current or ex-partners. Many use monitoring devices and safety plans to try to keep safe. Escaping violence is not easy, especially where children are involved. Let’s call on our elected officials to take the epidemic of violence against women in Canada seriously. We can combat it together by mobilizing feminist organizations and addressing it as a major public health concern.