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

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Very briefly, please.

4:20 p.m.

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

Lori Sterling

This is no different from any other occupational health and safety complaint. The complaint comes in to the program; it doesn't go to the minister. The program then assigns an investigator. We have hundreds of investigators across the country. There is no political interference in the current regime, and we will continue to operate on the same basis in terms of the investigations undertaken.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

MP Damoff, you have six minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Minister, thank you for being here. I know that as you bring your experience as former Minister of Status of Women to your current role, you're bringing a level of passion and expertise that all of us appreciate, so thank you for your leadership on this issue.

I want to ask you about federal employees. We've talked a lot about people who work on the Hill. I had the privilege of visiting the maximum security Edmonton Institution, where there has been over a decade of harassment and abuse of employees. When I was there, I made them a promise. They said that we were their only hope. The department has done a lot of work to try to put an anonymous tip line in place, but there was a culture there such that if people came forward, there was retribution against them, so they were afraid to come forward.

How can we ensure that people working in corrections—working for us, the federal government—will be able to come forward without fear of retribution?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Thanks very much. I appreciate your talking to some of those vulnerable workers.

Just as in any other federally regulated workplace, the corrections systems and the various institutions will be responsible for having a very clear policy on harassment and violence, which will clearly outline, first of all, what the expectations of the workplace are. They will have requirements to do training for their staff on what harassment and violence are, and what happens if someone experiences that.

They will also have the full support of the legislation, just like anyone else, to be able to—as you mentioned—use a tip line if they are questioning what resources they have or what recourse they have, but primarily to be able to ask for an investigation at any point, or to ask for support if they are experiencing that in their workplace.

The employer will be compelled to have a process that they follow. They will also be required to have a third party who can take complaints if the person is intimidated and doesn't want to come forward to their own personal supervisor or their employer representative, who may in fact be the perpetrator.

Finally, at any point that person will be able to come forward, as we've said, to the labour department and ask for help if the process is not being followed in the way the policy outlines it should.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Their employment would be protected throughout, is that correct?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Absolutely, because the process also has to be confidential. If, in fact, the employer violates the confidential nature of their complaint, there would be sanctions for the employer through the department. Again, the employee would have far more tools than they would have in the current regime to be able to manage the situation and get some relief and support to move forward.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Moving back to the Hill, having the legislation in place is one part of it. What process will be available to members in particular, and ministers, in terms of educating them about this legislation with regard to their responsibilities and their rights as an employer, and what should be done to make sure that people are following the process properly and that employees know their rights and responsibilities?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

The department is working right now on the awareness and education components. There are tools, in fact, for employers that will do just that. They will assist them in developing policy once the legislation is in place, but there are also training materials that they will need for themselves as managers and as employers, and also for their employees. The idea is to give them a way to educate their staff about the policy, about their expectations as an employer, about what harassment is and isn't, and what steps the person can take if they are experiencing it in the workplace.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

It's important that it's independent.

Do I have five minutes or six?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

You had six. You have one minute and 45 seconds left.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

In terms of the federal employees not on the Hill, it will be an independent investigation. If it's a staffer here, would the process be to go to the chief human resources officer? Could you just go through the process if a staff member has a problem? I want to highlight the independence of the investigation.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Let's use an example of an MP and their employee. If the employee has had an experience of harassment by a colleague, they could go forward to their employer, should they feel comfortable doing that—that would be the MP—and tell them about what happened. That employer, the MP, would have a responsibility to take appropriate action to address the incident.

Now, each incident is going to be different. Should the harasser be the member of Parliament, each employer—that would be each MP—would also have the responsibility of designating a third person, so that if the employee isn't comfortable coming forward to the member of Parliament, he or she could come forward to this third party. If at any time the person feels that the process is not being followed, they can come forward to the ministry of labour for support.

Again, it's very hard to describe the process step by step because each situation is going to be different, but in a worst-case scenario, the person will have the ability to come forward to the ministry of labour for support to ensure that the process is being followed.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

Now we'll go over to MP Blaney.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Minister, thank you for appearing before the committee.

We want to make sure the bill does not doubly victimize people, and your remarks today are doing nothing to convince me that that will be the case. Whenever the question is put to you, you say that you will make sure the process is followed. When a victim turns to the Department of Employment and Social Development, are you going to send that individual back to meet with the person who assaulted them, or their employer, and make them go through the mediation process? Conversely, will you deal with that person's complaint?

I think that's what victims would like to know this afternoon. Will the department be there for victims, or will it instead ask them to follow a bureaucratic process that is likely to lead to their double victimization?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

The intent of having an ability to come forward to the ministry of labour at any time is not to double-victimize somebody. The intent is to make sure that if the process is not being followed in their workplace, they have an alternative party to turn to. There'll be a support hub for victims in the ministry of labour that will, first of all, determine the situation and determine whether the actions have indeed followed the process. If in fact the person is needing support to ensure that the process is followed, that's when we have inspectors who will be able to move forward and support that person in that approach.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

I'm not convinced, Minister, but I will share my time.

Thank you.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Go ahead, MP Harder.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Minister, I just want to be clear here. You stated before that it is the minister himself or herself who will choose the investigator to oversee these complaints. Is that correct?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

No, I didn't say that.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Then how is the investigator put in place?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Well, as the deputy mentioned, we have hundreds of investigators across the country. There will be a special team of trained investigators with a speciality in this area. I'm not privy to the names of the investigators. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure I've ever met an investigator in the department of labour, because it's very arm's length from the minister.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Then who puts them in place?

4:25 p.m.

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

Lori Sterling

Basically, we have regional operations. A complaint is likely to come in on a regional basis to the labour program in the department. Typically the regional director then will assign one from the team. We'll have, as I say, a special team, and there'll be people in each region.

February 12th, 2018 / 4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

The minister's own briefing notes here state as follows:

If the Labour Program finds that the employer is contravening the Code, we will first seek voluntary compliance by the employer and if not successful, I, as the Minister, will issue a direction to the employer to comply....

It would appear to me that the minister himself or herself, whoever that individual is, can in fact step in when he or she feels that the act is not being complied with, which means that there is a bit of a trump card there for the minister to play. Is that correct?