Evidence of meeting #82 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was process.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Lori Sterling  Deputy Minister, Labour Program, Department of Employment and Social Development
Barbara Moran  Director General, Strategic Policy, Analysis and Workplace, Labour Program, Department of Employment and Social Development
Brenda Baxter  Director General, Workplace Directorate, Labour Program, Department of Employment and Social Development
Charles Bernard  Director General, Portfolio and Government Affairs, Public Services and Procurement Canada

3:55 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Labour Program, Department of Employment and Social Development

Lori Sterling

Any violations of any of the privacy requirements that will be in the new statute are the basis for a complaint to the labour program, and of course we would investigate, but we have really tried to encourage people to come forward by providing additional protections of privacy.

I think you also asked about mediation and potential coercive aspects of mediation. Mediation is entirely voluntary. There's no requirement to mediate. If you want to mediate, you can mediate. The choice of the mediator has to be mutually agreed upon.

Again, we've tried to make it, from the complainant's perspective, an option if they would like to go forward; otherwise, they're entitled to the full process.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Thank you.

Earlier, the matter of definitions was raised. Including the definition of what constitutes a workplace is important, especially in relation to our activities as parliamentarians. Part 2 of the bill applies to all of us here, in the House of Commons. Therefore, what constitutes the workplace in Parliament should be defined. Education is important, but, for us, as parliamentarians, so is a definition of the workplace.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Absolutely. It's always a challenge, and not just with parliamentarians, because the idea of a workplace can be quite fluid, depending on the particular employer situation.

As we see with social media, often there is a leakage of private and public life, workplace and not workplace. In fact, as an employer in a unionized environment, I had significant challenges with that. Often situations between two employees would happen in the cyberworld, but not during work time. In those instances in my workplace, they were treated as incidents of workplace harassment or something that had happened between colleagues.

In terms of work-related environments, that's why it will apply to any activity that's linked with work—for example, the off-site events that happen here all the time. It's not specifically attached to hours of work or places of work. It could also be linked to online spaces, as I just mentioned. If someone is engaging in harassment in an online space and it isn't during work time but it is a colleague, that could be considered workplace harassment.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

MP Ruimy, you have six minutes.

February 12th, 2018 / 3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Ruimy Liberal Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Thank you very much, Minister, for being here today.

I also want to thank you in the sense that as a new member of Parliament, newly elected in 2015, I always had this vision of coming here and making a difference in our country. When we see what's happening across our globe right now and we see as a committee, as all parliamentarians coming together, that we want to move this piece of legislation through, I'm proud to be part of a government and to be able, with our colleagues, to start to address this issue, because, as you've said, it is all about a cultural mind-shift.

Along that line, when we're talking about large organizations, there are a lot of layers involved, but when you have a smaller organization, such as an MP's office, how does one go about triggering an investigation? Quite frankly, there are only three, four, or five people in that office. You talked about the privacy part. How does that come into play?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Under the legislation, employers will be responsible for having third parties designated as someone who can receive the complaint if in fact the harasser or the person perpetrating the harassment is the employer or is a colleague in a very small office. Every employer will be required to have a third party whom they can designate as someone who can receive complaints on their behalf.

As I said earlier, if a person feels at any time that the process laid out in the policy of their workplace isn't being followed, they can come to the department for assistance in making sure the process is followed.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Ruimy Liberal Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Thank you.

How do you see changing that mindset, especially when this has been going on for generation after generation? When we look at what's happening on the Hill, I'm quite surprised to see that we haven't already had this type of legislation, especially on the Hill. How do you see having the ability to change that mindset? What are the things that you think will bring trust back?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

I think the conversation we're having right now is invaluable, and I thank all the brave women who have come forward to talk about their experiences, whether it's publicly in the media or privately to any of us who have taken this seriously.

I think part of this is about bringing it out from the shadows, and that's exactly what our Prime Minister has done time and again by making sure that every time someone contravenes a woman's right to a safe workplace or a person's right to a safe workplace, he has taken action. Leadership is another really big part. Making sure that you have a zero-tolerance culture for harassment and sexual violence means that when something comes forward to you as the leader of an organization, the leader of an office, you take it seriously and you act promptly.

I can't tell you how many stories I've heard from people who've said, “I complained, but nothing happened” or “I told someone this was happening, and they told me, 'That's okay; he's just joking around'.” That's a very common response people will get: “He doesn't mean anything by it” or “He does that to all the women.” These are very common statements that you hear on a regular basis. When we let that behaviour slide, essentially, first of all, we're invalidating a woman's experience of being harassed. We're invalidating her request for a safer workplace.

I'm 51 years old. When I was in my twenties and working in car dealerships for a while, this conversation was a regular daily occurrence. We wouldn't even have thought to speak out about it; it was so internalized that this was part of our experiences as females in a male-dominated sector that was all about drinking hard and selling cars. In fact, times have changed, so it's about leadership. It's about legislation. It's about all of the people who will stand up and say, “That's not okay.”

Finally, I think I would say that we have an obligation to not be bystanders when we know.... We talk a lot about the whisper network. This is a phrase that's new to me in this work, but certainly I recognized it immediately. That's the informal network that happens, especially in places like this where there are high degrees of power and low degrees of power, where people say to avoid that person because, in other words, that person is really dangerous.

We need to take those whispers out of the shadows. We need to hold people accountable for their behaviour. We need to do that by not being bystanders, by saying, “Hey, I don't know if you know that your behaviour makes people uncomfortable.” Sometimes people aren't aware. It doesn't have to be the most dramatic infraction or violence. It can happen when sometimes people use a certain style of joking that makes people really uncomfortable. If you have the power and the ability to say to your colleague, “You know, when you said that to Sally, I don't know if you noticed the way she looked, but she looked really uncomfortable, and you might want to think about using that style of communicating.”

It's a whole bunch of things that will change the culture.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Ruimy Liberal Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Thank you.

Now that this dialogue is happening and it's coming, for you, out of the shadows, sometimes there might be a little bit of fear that it might go a little bit too far. However, you have said that Bill C-65, once implemented, will actually help empower employers to be more effective when it comes to harassment and dealing with these issues. Can you expand a little bit further on that?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Answer very briefly, please.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

I will just say that very clear boundaries are never a bad thing. It's not a bad thing to have a policy in place that clearly spells out what harassment is, what sexual violence is, what acceptable behaviours are in the workplace, what to do if in fact something's happening. I think clarity is our friend. To have a framework in place, in all of our workplaces, that clearly spells out what we expect in terms of the safety of our workplaces for all people, I think, will go a long way toward addressing this issue.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

Go ahead, MP Dabrusin, please. You have six minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for coming today.

When I was reading through the consultation report, the “what we heard” report, one thing struck me, and it struck me from a lot of the reporting that we've been hearing in the past few months. I also used to work in a practice that involved a lot of past historical sex abuse claims and those types of actions. What always came up was a lack of reporting and the fact that it simply wasn't being reported. You mentioned earlier the whisper networks as the alternate reporting system, if I can maybe put it that way.

In this legislation, and also maybe alongside this legislation, what are we going to do, and what are we doing, so that we can enable and empower people to start reporting these things right from the outset?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Again, I hate to kind of harp on the policy, but it's because I think it's such a critical piece.

There is a framework that's available for both employees and employers to know what their rights are in a workplace, and what to do when something happens. Part of the challenge, if you think about this workplace, is that nobody knows who to talk to, nobody knows how to manage this, so we talk to each other sometimes. I don't consider myself a vulnerable person anymore, but in thinking back to being vulnerable in workplaces, I know that we talk to each other as a form of support, but we don't know how to take action. That's critical.

It's also important that people feel that they can come forward without fear of reprisal. Then they know that when they come forward, their information is going to be treated confidentially and that they're not going to run the risk of alienating themselves from their employer, up to and including possibly losing their job. This has been something that people worry about tremendously, especially in precarious employment, and not just in this workplace but in other workplaces across the country. The strong privacy protections so that information is treated confidentially, I think, will help tremendously.

The ability of a person to feel that if the process is not working in his or her workplace.... If the person is following the process that's in the policy and feels that he or she is not actually being taken seriously or the process isn't being followed, that person does have another opportunity to go to another party, namely the labour department, to say, “I have this workplace policy. I'm having this experience. I've asked my employer to address it, and nothing's happened.” The person has another avenue, whereas in the past, that person may not have had any support.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Thank you.

We've been talking perhaps more about the sexual type of harassment today when we've been talking about it, but one of the things that came up as well in the consultation, and that struck me, was the part about psychological illnesses that arise from harassment and psychological harassment. It was addressed as a question: how are we going to deal with mental health issues, which also were not taken seriously, perhaps, in the past? How does this legislation tie into that?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

I think this legislation puts into place a framework in which people who are experiencing harassment and violence are going to be taken seriously and won't have to endure ongoing harassment as a condition of their workplace, their financial security, or their success in the workplace. I think the first thing is to have that framework in place so that people have actions they can take.

You're absolutely right. When people are in workplaces where they're experiencing ongoing harassment or abuse, it does lead to things like lost time, lack of productivity, and high turnover. I used to say to my managers in the organization that I ran, “If your team's turning over too quickly, you need to ask why. You need to ask yourself why you can't retain staff.”

Sometimes staff leave because they have a better opportunity or they're going back to school. There are all kinds of great reasons and very legitimate reasons. However, if there's a pattern that exists.... Those are the kinds of things that cost employers a tremendous amount of money, and employers may not even recognize what's happening.

In terms of mental health and psychological health, from my perspective, the best investment is always prevention. Employers will be responsible for taking these complaints seriously, for acting on these complaints, and people who are experiencing them will have avenues to seek that support.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

When we're looking at all of that, the key part is that in some cases people, as you mentioned earlier, simply do not realize that their behaviour was untoward, yet it absolutely was.

You mentioned the role of the bystander in informing. When you look at the legislation, you see that all of this starts as an informal process. It starts at an informal place. Why do you think it's important to maintain an informal process at the outset before it escalates up?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

In my own experience as an employer, I have found that you can often avoid much more serious, prolonged experiences of harassment and violence in the workplace if you are able to address incidents as they start to occur.

As you point out, sometimes people don't realize the effect that their words or their behaviour is having on their employee or their colleague, in particular when you have differing positions of power. I always say that we're all managers now. We were elected and we all have staff now, but not all of us have come to this place with the same set of experiences. Sometimes being a good leader isn't organic. You sometimes need to learn how to be a good leader. Those informal processes allow for that process to say, “Did you know that your behaviour is having this negative impact?”

It depends, of course, on the severity of the situation. At any time, if someone feels that their safety has been jeopardized or that they need to involve the criminal justice system, they have the absolute right to do that, and we encourage people to do that, but so many times it could be a case of someone's unwanted touch on the shoulder, for example. That's a common thing: “He regularly messages my shoulder on the way to his cubicle.”

Maybe that person doesn't understand that that touch could be threatening. It's quite possible. Sometimes, if you have received a complaint, you can take it up with the individual and say to the person through an informal process, “Do you realize that when you touch your much younger colleague or you touch people in that way, it may have another meaning to them and they're not comfortable with that touch?” There may be ways you can deal with it and prevent the behaviour from escalating and continuing over many years.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

MP Harder, go ahead, please, for six minutes.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Minister, thank you for your time. We certainly want to make sure that we're working together in order to ensure that we get this legislation right.

I do have a few questions, just for clarification. It's my understanding that if the minister chooses not to investigate, then written reasons have to be submitted as to why that is not taking place. If a decision is made not to do an investigation, can that be appealed, and, if so, to whom?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

You may be referring to the piece of legislation that says frivolous or vexatious complaints can be dismissed by the minister.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

That's correct.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

There are very clear definitions for that. It may be that—

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Sorry; I'm not asking for definitions. I'm asking, if an employee comes forward and wants to go through an appeals process, but then the minister says no and has decided that it's vexatious, does that employee have another mechanism by which they can appeal?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

It would be very rare for the minister to get involved. There are numerous complaints every single day to the ministry of labour. We have an investigative team. I don't know what investigations happen every single day. At very few points is the minister asked to intervene.