Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I am proud to be here with you today to speak to Bill C-65.
This bill aims to address and ultimately eliminate harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence, in federally regulated workplaces.
Bill C-65 is a reflection of our government's commitment to gender equality. Women simply can't get ahead and have opportunities equal to men's in workplaces where they experience harassment or sexual violence and where this behaviour is tolerated. This bill will provide greater protections to Canadians in federally regulated workplaces, including Parliament Hill and political staff, for the very first time in our history.
Harassment and sexual violence are unfortunately not new behaviours, and while recent reports of these unacceptable behaviours have captured our attention, it's been happening for far too long, and it is definitely time to take action. Harassment and sexual violence thrive in places where we see distinct power imbalances, especially here on Parliament Hill, and that creates a culture where victims of harassment or sexual violence don't feel comfortable bringing their complaints forward. As it stands right now, victims often don't have suitable options for making their complaints heard, and they also don't have options for resolving what are often very serious and traumatic incidents.
Like many of you here today, I have heard about heartbreaking experiences from many people who feel that their complaints will never be heard, that they will not be taken seriously, or that their issue won't be resolved.
When Canadians face harassment and violence at work, whether it's bullying, threats, physical assault, or mental abuse, the effects are detrimental for those employees, of course, but they are also detrimental for employers. People who experience harassment or violence often have higher rates of absenteeism, while employers see a greater staff turnover and, of course, a loss of productivity, so ensuring Canadian workplaces are safe and healthy is really a win-win for employees and employers alike.
That's why I was so proud to see my colleagues in the House take a united stand and unanimously send Bill C-65 to this committee.
I know that members of this committee agree that this is an issue that crosses party lines and that these behaviours have gone unchecked for far too long. Bill C-65 proposes amending existing provisions in the Canada Labour Code by replacing the patchwork of laws 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.
It would expand these policies to cover, for the first time in the history of our country, as I've said, parliamentary workplaces such as the Senate, the Library of Parliament, and the House of Commons, including political staff on Parliament Hill.
Our framework aims to prevent incidents of harassment and violence from occurring, to respond effectively to those incidents when they do occur, and to support victims and survivors in the process.
I want to take a moment to outline the process for a complaint to be brought forward and dealt with in parliamentary and non-parliamentary workplaces. I want to be very clear that a complaint can be made to the Department of Labour at any time if a complainant doesn't feel that the process is being followed.
First, the employer must attempt to resolve the incident when a complaint is made. This can be done in various ways, including mediation, if the parties agree. If the incident cannot be resolved, a competent person will investigate and complete a report, with recommendations. If there is still non-compliance—for example, the employer doesn't implement the recommendations made by the competent person—there are two processes that follow, one for non-parliamentary employers and employees, and one for parliamentary employers and employees.
If an employee in a non-parliamentary workplace still believes that his or her employer is non-compliant after the investigation is complete, the employee can complain to the labour program. The labour program will initiate an investigation of whether or not the process laid out in the code has been followed. If the labour program finds that the employer is contravening the code, compliance will be sought through the use of compliance and enforcement tools that are available in the Canada Labour Code. We would first seek voluntary compliance, and then if it's not successful, there are a number of compliance and enforcement tools available that include publicly naming employers who are found to be non-compliant.
Similarly, if an employee in a parliamentary workplace still believes that his or her employer is non-compliant with the code after the investigation is completed, the employee can complain to the labour program. The labour program will initiate an investigation of whether or not the process has been followed. Then the Speaker of the House will be notified when there is an investigation. If the labour program finds that the employer is contravening the code, we will first seek voluntary compliance by the employer. If that's not successful, I, as the minister, will issue a direction to the employer to comply and will notify the Speaker. He or she may intervene. If there is still non-compliance and the direction has not been appealed, the direction, including naming the employer, will be tabled in the House of Commons.
For both parliamentary and non-parliamentary employers and employees, there is an opportunity to appeal directions from the labour program with independent boards.
Our government has been clear that harassment and violence will not be tolerated. The Prime Minister has shown that he is not afraid to take action when needed.
Also, the House sent a strong message to all Canadians in February with its unanimous support of this bill at second reading.
Now the time for inaction is indeed over. Bill C-65 will ensure that workers in federally regulated sectors, including on Parliament Hill, finally have the protections they need, and it will ensure that those who are in vulnerable positions will have a voice. Everyone deserves to work in a safe workplace, and they deserve to live free from harassment and violence.
I'm very much looking forward to hearing the committee's views on how we can strengthen the legislation. Ideas were brought forward during the debate, and I look forward to discussing these further with all of you.
We know that the problem is far too big for us to solve with a bill. All Canadians will have to work together to change the culture that tolerates harassment and violence in the workplace.
By discussing this legislation, we are sending a strong message to all Canadians that indeed time is up. These behaviours need to stop. We're taking important steps to eliminate these behaviours in all federally regulated workplaces and right here on Parliament Hill.
I want to thank my colleagues, from all parties, for supporting this important legislation so far.
This committee has an incredibly important role in examining this legislation. You have an opportunity to effect real change and to send a strong message to all Canadians that harassment and sexual violence are unacceptable and will not be tolerated any longer.
I look forward to working with all of you to ensure the timely passage of Bill C-65.