House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

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The House resumed from April 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-471, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (sexual assault on child -- dangerous offenders), be now read the second time and referred to committee.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 28th, 2004 / 6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on the amendment to the motion for second reading of Bill C-471, under Private Members' Business.

(The House divided on the amendment, which was negatived on the following division:)

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the amendment lost.

The House resumed from April 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-462, an act to amend the Access to Information Act and to make amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Open Government Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading of Bill C-462.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Open Government Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion carried unanimously.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from April 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-436, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-436 under private members' business.

After the taking of the vote:

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I would like the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina to confirm if indeed he voted nay on this motion.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Tony Ianno Trinity—Spadina, ON

I voted yea on the motion. I supported the motion.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion lost.

It being 6:39 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from February 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-451, an act to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace and to amend the Canada Labour Code, be now read the second time and referred to committee.

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville for proposing this bill. As we know, it takes courage to approach subjects that may seem, to some people in this House, unimportant or less important than some others.

We in the Bloc Quebecois have always worked closely with the working people. The House knows that as well as I do, and I am my party's critic for labour. We have always presented bills to improve the happiness of workers in their workplaces, to see that they have more respect, and to give them the opportunity to balance work, children and family life.

All the bills the Bloc has presented here have aimed to improve the lot of workers. By improving their lives, we can ensure that they are more productive. Of course, that is more valuable to business.

Once again, I congratulate my colleague. I am very pleased to speak on this bill.

I want to mention too that my colleague also helped write a book on psychological harassment in the workplace. She did quite extensive research. Doing research in this field is not easy. Many people keep quiet or are afraid of talking for fear of losing their job. They do not have this protection. A great deal of work has to be done to try to get some statistics. So, I want to congratulate her on that as well.

That said, I will try to summarize what work has been done and give some information to the public and explain why we are introducing legislation on this.

Are members aware that 21% of federal public servants are victims of psychological harassment? In actual fact, more than 30% are. That is a lot of people. Furthermore, 52% of victims experience psychosomatic problems. After several months of psychological harassment, stress causes the victim to experience serious psychosomatic problems.

Are members aware that Canada has the fifth highest rate in the world of individuals experiencing workplace harassment, according to the International Labour Organization? We are not the ones saying this, international surveys were conducted.

Again according to the International Labour Organization, in comparison with the United States, the rate of physical and psychological abuse of women at work is 19% higher in Canada. It is high time that we think about adopting legislation to protect workers and ensure that victims of psychological harassment in the workplace have access to resources and legislation to fully protect them.

In the past and present, harassment has been extremely subtle, and even insidious. It starts with a word, with something slightly out of place, when no one is looking so that the victim feels truly awful. Later, other people in the same environment are targeted. The victim is subject to this harassment for months, perhaps even years.

Quite often, these people do not even dare speak out about what is being done. When they reach the end of their rope and finally decide to try to take action, they feel guilty. They think that since they took it for years, people will ask them why they did not do something sooner. It is a vicious circle. That is what it is called.

With a bill like the one my colleague has introduced in this House, people experiencing this problem would have something to refer to. They would be protected and not necessarily lose their jobs. They could ask to be transferred elsewhere. They would be protected by federal legislation.

It is high time we had such legislation. Here in Ottawa it does not exist. We have tried to amend the Canada Labour Code or introduce legislation on precautionary cessation of work for pregnant and nursing women. I am referring to one of my own initiatives. We have such legislation in Quebec and have been asking the federal government for it for 10 years. We have been trying to get anti-scab legislation, while in Quebec this has existed for 25 years.

The other side of the House always refuses, always says no. This is becoming unacceptable.

As for this bill, other colleagues in this House, other political parties will say that they do not agree with one thing or another in the bill. A bill is sent to committee where amendments can be introduced and things changed. We are open to that, we are ready to see what our colleagues have to propose.

What we are not prepared for is not to have the debate, not to have this discussion, not to be able to take this bill and send it to committee. Sending it to committee will allow us to hear from witnesses, people or unions, entrepreneurs and people who have been victims of harassment. These victims could share their experiences with us and tell us what we could do to help them.

This problem exists and we have to open our eyes. I get the feeling in this House that until now, we have had our eyes closed. It is high time that a solution be found.

I hope that when we vote in the House—probably next week—we will allow this bill to be referred to a committee, before saying that it is not good and rejecting it. If we succeed in agreeing on some amendments, so much the better. We will have taken a step forward. More importantly, we will have had the opportunity to hear the testimonies of victims, union leaders, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, all the unions, the FTQ, the CSN, and legal experts. Perhaps the latter will tell us that something must be changed to make the legislation truly effective.

We must be given the opportunity to discuss it in committee. If we refuse to allow this bill to be referred to a committee, it will mean that this issue is a taboo subject in the House, that we do not want to discuss it and that we do not want people to work in a better environment.

The absenteeism rate due to psychological harassment is unbelievably high. It is no fun to get up in the morning and go to work knowing that we will be subjected to harassment. The culprit may be the boss or a colleague; it is not necessarily the immediate supervisor. Imagine getting up in the morning and thinking, “Today, I will once again be subjected to harassment all day long and there is nothing I can do about it”. This is experienced on a daily basis.

Women experience it very frequently. They often hold less senior jobs than men and there are a lot of power games being played. In order not to promote a woman, people in positions of authority will very often try to subject the woman to psychological harassment. They will tell her that she is not good, that she cannot do the job and that she will fail. This undermines the person's morale and people get sick. So, the rate of absenteeism due to psychological harassment in the workplace is extremely high.

If we could have a law to protect those who are experiencing this problem, I am convinced that people would think twice before engaging in harassment. They would know that there are recourses for those who are subjected to such harassment. Currently, there is no recourse, which means that these individuals are free to do what they want.

I would have liked to elaborate further, but we will have the opportunity to do so if all parliamentarians in this House see that the bill is referred to a committee. At last, we will be able to truly hear those who are affected by this problem. Allow us to take a step forward for the cause of workers who are victims of psychological harassment.

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Judi Longfield Whitby—Ajax, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to this bill.

Workplace violence, including the specific issue of psychological harassment raised by Bill C-451, is a very important matter. It is a matter that this government takes very seriously and we share the concern of the member opposite on this issue. While we share her concern, I do not agree with the proposals for change in this bill, for a number of reasons.

To begin with, bringing forward new legislation on psychological harassment at this time would conflict with other major policy work that is already going on in the area of workplace violence.

I am referring to the work of the tripartite working group that is now preparing recommendations for new regulations on identifying, controlling and responding to workplace violence in the federal jurisdiction. This tripartite working group includes representatives of both employers and employees in the federal jurisdiction, including representatives of the Government of Canada unions and the Treasury Board Secretariat, as well as officials from the federal labour program.

This group was set up some time ago to follow up on changes made to part II of the Canada Labour Code and passed into law in 2000. Part II of the code deals with health and safety issues. A few years ago, this part of the code was extensively reviewed by representatives of both employers and employees in the federal jurisdiction as well as federal officials. The issue of workplace violence was considered very carefully at that time.

Pursuant to that review, it was agreed to amend the code to provide authority under part II to require employers to “take the prescribed steps to prevent and protect against violence in the workplace”. These “prescribed steps” meant regulations. The members of that tripartite group have been hard at work to prepare a set of draft regulations that will address the issue of workplace violence and will add substance to the legislative provision that was made to part II in 2000.

I understand that developing these regulations is a complex task. There are many issues to study and many points of view to consider, including the kinds of issues raised by Bill C-451. The working group is making steady progress. The group met as recently as last November and is believed to be close to a final report. Once the few remaining issues are resolved, a final report will then be submitted to the Minister of Labour.

Since the tripartite group is actively addressing the issue of workplace violence, I do not think it is appropriate at this time to bring forward new legislation that might interfere with the ongoing collaborative process. That is the first reason I do not support the bill.

The second reason is that I disagree in principle with the proposal to deal with psychological harassment in the workplace under part III of the Canada Labour Code, as Bill C-451 proposes. Workplace violence is a health and safety issue and therefore a matter for part II of the code, the part that deals with health and safety issues, and not part III, the part that deals with workplace standards.

I feel it is also important to make it clear that the target group of Bill C-451, the Public Service of Canada, is not in actuality covered under part III of the Canada Labour Code. Instead, they are regulated by Treasury Board policies. However, the federal public service is covered under part II of the code and the most recent amendments to part II do apply to them.

When part II of the code was last amended, three fundamental employee rights were strengthened with respect to health and safety. They are: the right to know about hazards in the workplace; the right to participate in correcting those hazards; and the right to refuse dangerous work. In addition, every employer was required to develop, establish and monitor a prevention program. These programs should include provisions related to hazard identification, assessment and control, and the education of employees. This is another positive step to improving employee health and safety in the workplace.

Part II also sets out the role of the health and safety committees in workplaces under federal jurisdiction as well as the roles and responsibilities of health and safety officers and procedures to determine whether a danger exists when work refusal arises.

These joint employer-employee committees offer an effective model for the identification and resolution of health and safety issues in individual workplaces, including taking into account the psychological dimensions of dangerous or potentially violent situations in the workplace as well as the physical aspects.

All these rights and committees are supported by the legislative authority of part II of the code.

I have two basic concerns with Bill C-451. First, these issues are already being addressed by a working group of experts, a group that was set up some time ago to provide advice to the Minister of Labour on workplace violence regulations, including issues that are raised by Bill C-451. Second, the issues raised by the bill are more appropriately addressed under part II of the Canada Labour Code, not part III.

Instead of overriding the outcome of the tripartite process with this bill, we prefer to let the existing collaborative process work so that we can continue to move forward with the development and implementation of systematic ways to control workplace violence.

Adopting Bill C-451 would confuse this ongoing process. Bill C-451, for example, proposes measures to define and control workplace psychological harassment, but we expect the tripartite working group will be coming forward with recommended regulations on these issues too.

Similarly, Bill C-451 proposes new response procedures. Response procedures are obviously important, but we expect the tripartite working group will make recommendations in this area as well.

Finally, to be effective, any new measures to deal with violence in the workplace must be developed and implemented in a consultative manner. This means that both employers and employees must be involved in the process, such as they are now through the tripartite process, and such as they were in the review of part II of the code that led to the formation of the tripartite group.

We have already had extensive consultation leading to the amendments to part II of the code. In addition, before we could make amendments to part III, we would have to go through a similar extensive consultation.

As the Minister of Labour has said so often, the Canada Labour Code belongs to those it governs, that is, the employers and the employees in the federal jurisdiction. It is not the property of the minister. The Government of Canada administers the code and facilitates its operations, but fundamental changes like those proposed in Bill C-451 should take place only with the consultation agreement of the stakeholders.

There already exists a consensus in the federal jurisdiction to deal with workplace violence under part II. The joint employer-employee health and safety committees authorized under part II offer an interesting model to deal practically with these issues in the workplace. By the way, no such committees are provided for under part III of the code.

As a result, new legislation to define and control psychological harassment in the workplace would not be a good idea. The timing conflicts with other work being carried in this area by the tripartite working group, and part III of the code is not the way to proceed with an issue like this. The issue of workplace violence, whether physical or psychological, is a matter for part II of the code, the part that governs workplace health and safety. Based on the tripartite discussions that are now under way with representatives of both employers and employees, it appears that is also the view of other stakeholders in the federal jurisdiction.

I share the concerns of the member opposite about finding new ways to identify the potential for psychological harassment in the workplace and to control it, and I know the minister is committed to doing everything she can to that end, but I do not see Bill C-451 as advancing that cause and I will not be voting in favour of it.

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-451 is an act to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace and to amend the Canada Labour Code. Bill C-451 addresses something very real. Harassment in the workplace is an aspect of wrongdoing in the workplace and/or an aspect of violence in the workplace or its precursor.

The sentiments of the bill are correct. That is why there has been a public service policy for over 20 years that guides the conduct of public employees about harassment between workers, or within a hierarchy, or in a supervisory relationship. The problem comes from assessing whether in the public service the current policies are working or if a formal regime of reporting, examination and remediation is necessary as a distinct system beyond and separate from the range of normal activity of a supervisor and employee relationship.

It is the normal duty of management to create and maintain a safe, reasonable work environment, not only physically but also in the psychological sense. The workplace should not be toxic or dangerous in real terms of physical harm or in a psychological sense. This is the business of personnel administration and the wise management of human resources, but the employer and the employee must both have obligations.

Currently, the situation is that the department deputy head or deputy minister has the main responsibility to deal with the matter of harassment in the workplace. The deputy head may call upon the Public Service Commission to investigate or suggest solutions, or the deputy head may go outside to psychological specialists as contractors who are completely independent. These reports then come back to the deputy head and it is management's responsibility for remediation.

The present private member's bill is within the spirit of the present government policy, but it also sets out a formal regime and makes the Public Service Commission the recipient of reports, the investigator and the one to direct remediation. That particular part may be a mistake and I did try to speak to the Public Service Commission today about that.

However, I like other aspects of the bill that spell out what harassment is and the penalties involved if it is not dealt with. The private member's bill raises the issue of the importance of the subject. The problem around harassment in the workplace, which is most often between co-workers, is likely much more common than the matter that we are dealing with in Bill C-25, which is a regime for reporting an administrative wrongdoing. We are developing a proper regime for reporting wrongdoing. The government's Bill C-25 is currently before the House.

That is where there may be a synergy here. This private member's bill is not going pass, we know that, but the topic is correct. Perhaps what could be done is to expand the definition of wrongdoing within Bill C-25.

Clause 8 of Bill C-25 defines wrongdoing. Of course it talks about the misuse of public funds or a public asset, but it also talks about an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons or to the environment, or a serious breach of a code of conduct established under clauses 5 and 6 of the bill and the taking of a reprisal. That really involves what we are talking about, which is harassment in the workplace.

Clause 8(d) is of special interest, where the health is mentioned and where harassment affects both mental and physical health. It may now already be covered by Bill C-25. Perhaps the definition in this clause could include an expanded definition taken from Bill C-451 so that there is a broader aspect of wrongdoing to be dealt with appropriately within the formal regime of reporting, investigating, remediating and providing a fair process and appropriate confidentiality that is envisioned in Bill C-25.

Bill C-451 on page 2 defines for its purposes psychological harassment. I want to briefly put that into the record. It states:

--any vexatious behaviour in the form of hostile, inappropriate and unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful workplace for the employee; and

(b) any abuse of authority, including intimidation, threats--

It defines that even a single incident of such behaviour that has a lasting and harmful effect on an employee also constitutes psychological harassment.

There is an extensive definition and I am sure there has been some research on that. It may also parallel some legislation in Quebec.

I could envision that elements of this definition perhaps could be included in Bill C-25 where it talks in the definition in clause 8(d) about an act or omission that creates a substantial or specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons or to the environment; or, in clause 8(e) where it talks about the code of conduct which in the public service we already have this code of conduct; or clause 8(f), taking reprisal against a public servant.

There is a parallel here. There is an opportunity for the bill's sponsor to do the necessary background research and prepare a convincing brief. She could bring it to the government operations and estimates committee to see if the members now seized with that topic can be convinced to expand Bill C-25 to give effect to the spirit of Bill C-451.

The government had a policy about reporting wrongdoing which I called a memo policy out of the Treasury Board. It really did not work very well because few public employees had confidence in it. The government brought forward stand-alone legislation to create a defined regime of reporting wrongdoing called Bill C-25. Similarly, we have a 20 year old policy now on harassment in the workplace which is in effect as a memo policy. The member, through her private member's bill, is saying that this harassment policy is not good enough and it also needs a formal regime.

I do not think we should have two separate formal regimes, one for administrative wrongdoing and another for harassment of psychological wrongdoing. It could even be argued that Bill C-25 fully accommodates already the intents of private member's Bill C-451. I say to bring the two together. Maybe that is the way to go, and have the government examine the additions within Bill C-451 and incorporate them into Bill C-25.

There is a precedent for this. I had this done with my own private member's bill relating to the Bankruptcy Act. My private member's bill went through all of the barriers and it was made a votable bill. It amended the discharged list section of the Bankruptcy Act. Later on the government brought in a comprehensive system-wide bill to revamp the whole thick piece of legislation which was a much broader, comprehensive piece of legislation.

I immediately checked the government bill in the specific part that related to my private member's bill. My private member's bill, because it had been thoroughly researched and discussed in that narrow area, was much better than the government version of that particular section. I began to negotiate with the minister. The minister of the day agreed and incorporated my private member's bill as the government provision. I withdrew my bill and went to committee and moved the motion as if it were a government motion. Therefore, the law of the land today in the Bankruptcy Act is my private member's bill as part of the government bill. Synergy can happen where we bring things together.

Perhaps there is something here as well. The committee has been charged with looking at Bill C-25 before second reading. Therefore, it is certainly within the latitude and purview of the government operations and estimates committee to make those kinds of adjustments if it sees fit.

Certainly psychological harassment in the workplace is wrong. Unfortunately, it is all too common, perhaps most often between workers rather than from management in a supervised relationship. Harassment is wrongdoing. There may be an opportunity here to bring matters together.

Everyone seems to agree on the legitimacy of the subject. It is indeed part of the public service policy now. If Bill C-25 can be expanded in a way to actually have the spirit of Bill C-451 put into the law, then I am certainly willing to explore it and give it a most sympathetic ear if it comes to committee.

It is up to the member to do the homework and try to have Bill C-25 meet as much of what is in the spirit of Bill C-451. The member should make the brief, do the homework and come to committee. As the vice-chair of the government operations and estimates committee, I will encourage the member to do so. I promise that the member will have a sympathetic ear from our side.