moved that Bill C-65, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (harassment and violence), the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak to Bill C-65, introduced in November 2017. Bill C-65 demonstrates our government's commitment to eliminating harassment and violence in federal workplaces. We take this action because our government recognizes that safe workplaces, free of harassment and violence, are critical to the well-being of Canadian workers and critical to our agenda of a strong middle class. We have been powerfully reminded in Canada, and indeed around the world, that harassment and violence remain a common experience for people in the workplace; and Parliament Hill, our own workplace, is especially affected.
Parliament Hill features distinct power imbalances, which perpetuates a culture where people with a lot of power and prestige can use and have used that power to victimize the people who work so hard for us. It is a culture where people who are victims of harassment or sexual violence do not feel safe to bring those complaints forward. It is a place where these types of behaviours, abusive and harmful, are accepted and minimized and ignored. In fact, it is a place where often the victimized individual is blamed for the harassment that she herself has experienced. We are all familiar with this phrase: She brought it on herself. It is like many other workplaces across Canada, especially those that have distinct power imbalances and a lack of strong policy that protects employees from harm. As it stands right now, people who have been victims of harassment or violence do not have suitable options for having their complaints heard, nor do they have options for resolving these very serious and often traumatic events. If they do come forward, they are often unsupported to manage the complex or difficult situations that they face as a result of the harassment that they have experienced.
Time is up. Things need to change. It starts with saying emphatically that it is never okay. It is never okay for someone to take advantage of a position of power to victimize another person. It is never okay that victims—far too often women, or young workers, or people of colour, or people from the LGBTQ2 community—have been forced to stay silent and keep their trauma to themselves. This has to stop.
I have heard heart-breaking experiences from staff members in this workplace and across the federal sector who do not know where to go when they have been victimized; who, after having followed a process, have felt that they were not taken seriously; who were asked to try again with their abuser and to avoid being in a room alone with the offender. I have spoken with many who have said that, after complaining, they were shunned, that they did not feel safe setting boundaries for themselves, and that their job and their reputation were threatened by their abuser, often much older and certainly more powerful than they. I have, sadly, heard stories of significant trauma and anxiety and of people who have left workplaces—ours, in particular—because they were certain they would not have a resolution for the abuse they were experiencing.
In our workplace here on Parliament Hill, it is no coincidence that we have so many of these stories of harassment and violence. In fact, the volume of these stories is directly tied to the distinct power imbalances in our workplace, which I spoke of earlier. Therefore, it is clear that we need to create safe workplaces, including right here, so that everyone can thrive; and the first and most critical step we as a government and society must take is to support survivors. We need to believe the people who are coming forward. We need to demonstrate that we hear them, that we take them seriously, that we are their allies, and that we are committed to ending this behaviour.
The #MeToo and Time's Up movements have helped women and other survivors from around the world to bring their stories forward and shine a spotlight on harassment and sexual violence. It is our responsibility to ensure that the light does not fade. We have an opportunity to act and to end the need for women to say “me too” in the future. No woman or any person in Canada should ever have to say “me too” again. That is why we are taking action with legislation.
However, we also know that this problem is too large to solve with legislation alone. Creating safe workplaces, free of violence and harassment, will take all Canadians working together to ensure that we change a culture that does indeed tolerate this behaviour. To change an abusive culture, good leadership is critical. I am very proud to be part of a government that has been very clear that harassment and sexual violence will not be tolerated.
The Prime Minister has shown time and again that he is not afraid to take action when needed, and has clearly demonstrated that he is an ally to survivors. It is this kind of courageous leadership that sets expectations in workplaces and begins to shift power and balances. When leaders set the tone and the expectation that people are safe in their workplace, it empowers people to stand up and say that harassment and sexual violence is not okay. It empowers people to take action.
It is this kind of leadership that will break down the patriarchal culture in which we live; designed by men, for men. If we want more women to lead, to build, and to create in Canada, we have to ensure they are respected and safe. It is our job as a government to stand up for the rights of all Canadians, especially women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ2 community, often those people with the least power, so they can live and work free of harassment and violence.
It is for this reason that we introduced Bill C-65 last year, after consulting with Canadians from across the country. Canadians have told us that incidents are still vastly under-reported. They have told us that when incidents are reported, and if there is even a follow up, it is unacceptable, ineffective, and flawed. In fact, 41% of the respondents told us that no attempt was made to resolve an incident they reported.
We also consulted with members of Parliament and senators. They made it clear that we all wanted to stop harassment and sexual violence, and support survivors.
Therefore, I am hopeful we will have the support of the other parties on this very important bill.
After our consultations, it became very clear that what was in place right now to protect Canadians in federally regulated workplaces from harassment and violence and to deal with it when it did happen was simply not enough and that we needed to do better.
Parts II and III of the Canada Labour Code deal with occupational safety and health and employment standards within the federal jurisdiction. Currently no comprehensive system is in place for preventing and dealing with incidents of harassment and sexual violence. What we have instead is a patchwork of laws and policies that address these issues within the federal jurisdiction.
For example, violence is dealt with in part II of the code, which covers occupational health and safety, and applies to all federally regulated workplaces, including the public service. However, sexual harassment is dealt with in part III, or the labour standard section, of the code, which does not cover public servants, only the federally regulated private sector. On top of that, our parliamentary workplaces are not covered at all.
During our consultations, Canadians told us that we needed to treat incidents of harassment and violence as a continuum of inappropriate behaviour. This continuum should span all the way from teasing to physical abuse. Right now too many people are falling through the cracks. Too often, when they report harassment and sexual violence, nothing happens. These experiences end up serving as a deterrent for others who are considering whether they should come forward and report an incident. All employees need to be protected and every incident needs to be dealt with quickly and effectively and seen through to resolution.
Legislation will not solve this problem alone. We need a culture shift, and government plays a critical role in shifting culture. It starts with a comprehensive approach that focuses on preventing these behaviours before they happen, responding effectively when they do occur, and supporting survivors after the fact. We need a new approach to dealing with harassment and violence that will better protect employees at all federally regulated workplaces from these unacceptable behaviours.
Therefore, Bill C-65 proposes amending existing provisions in the Canada Labour Code by replacing the patchwork of law and policies that address these issues within the federal jurisdiction and putting into place one comprehensive approach that takes the full spectrum of harassment and violence into consideration. The legislation would expand these policies to cover parliamentary workplaces, such as the Senate, the Library of Parliament, the House of Commons, and political staff on Parliament Hill.
There are three main pillars of the legislation: first, to prevent incidents of harassment and violence from occurring; second, to respond effectively to these incidents when they do occur; and, third, to support victims, survivors, and employers through the process.
Protecting employees by preventing these incidents from occurring in the first place is the foundation of this bill. The amendments we are proposing will explicitly require employers to prevent incidents of harassment and violence, and protect employees from these behaviours. It is time to treat harassment and sexual violence in the workplace the same way we treat other occupational health and safety hazards.
On this subject, I would like to note that we are also strengthening compliance and enforcement mechanisms under the Canada Labour Code, as announced in budget 2017.
The use of monetary penalties, the authority to publicly name violators, strengthened powers for inspectors, new recourse against reprisals, and improvements to the wage recovery process are just some of the changes announced to increase workplace health and safety and better protect workers' rights.
Our second pillar is focused on effectively responding to incidents if they do occur. With these proposed amendments, employers will be required to investigate, record, and report occurrences of harassment and violence.
Employees who believe they have been victims of harassment or violence or have witnessed these behaviours would be able to report the incidents to their employers and try to resolve the matters through informal means. However, if the complaint could not be resolved, the employer would be obligated to appoint a competent person to undertake an investigation. Once the competent person concluded his or her investigation and issued a report, the employer would be obligated to implement any recommendations or corrective measures set out in that report.
At any point in this process, if the employee believes that the employer has contravened any parts of the code or the regulations, he or she could file a complaint with the labour program and then labour program officials would investigate and take enforcement action if they found a contravention of the code or the regulations did occur. Details regarding the investigation would be fine tuned and set out in the regulations.
These proposed amendments will also protect the privacy of employees, encouraging those who are victimized to come forward. This is vital to the success of this bill. We know that incidents are being under-reported due to fear of reprisal and the unfair but very real stigma associated with being a victim of harassment and sexual violence.
Our third pillar would require employers to support victims who would be affected by these incidents. We would also require employers to assist those who would need help to understand the new approach. The labour program would assist with education and support for complainants.
It should be noted that the proposed legislation in no way replaces or takes precedence over the Criminal Code of Canada. Some actions and offences require law enforcement intervention, and complainants always have the right to go to the police to report incidents.
Time is up. The time for inaction is indeed over. Bill C-65 would ensure that workers in federally regulated sectors, including right here on Parliament Hill, finally have the protections they need. It would ensure that those who are in vulnerable positions have a voice. It would ensure that those who still think harassment and sexual violence are acceptable in 2018 would be held accountable.
All people deserve to work in a safe workplace and they deserve to live free from harassment or violence. I ask that all my colleagues from both sides of the aisle show their support for the bill.