Evidence of meeting #90 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 employees.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Greg Phillips  President, Canadian Association of Professional Employees
Nasha Brownridge  President, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada - Local 232
Bethany Sutton  Interim Director, Policy, Projects and Media, Union of Safety and Justice Employees
Nancy Peckford  Senior Policy Advisor, Union of Safety and Justice Employees
Colleen Bauman  Partner, Goldblatt Partners LLP, Canadian Association of Professional Employees
Nina Amrov  Chief Steward, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada - Local 232

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

All right. Have you had a chance to look at the statute as to whether that's clear enough? It sounds to me from what you're saying that it's not.

7:25 p.m.

Partner, Goldblatt Partners LLP, Canadian Association of Professional Employees

Colleen Bauman

It feels a bit like we're shadowboxing here, because there is a lot that is left to regulation and can be determined by regulation, so we don't really know fully. We know how the current model works with respect to workplace violence complaints, and we know how existing policies work, but I think there's a lot that could be changed with respect to how the regulations set this out. I understand that some of the details need to be left to regulation, but I would like to see a better outline set out in the legislation for what the basic elements of this process are going to look like.

February 26th, 2018 / 7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Thank you. That answers what I was trying to get at and get more information about. I appreciate that.

All of you raised the question of a competent person and how you make sure the competent person is truly competent, has the expertise, and is independent. On a prior panel, someone raised the idea of the Human Rights Commission keeping together a pool of resources and said that this would be one way for people to access it. I expect that it would be more likely to happen in regulation than in legislation, but I'm putting it out there. Do you have ideas as to how we can ensure that people have proper access to a competent person?

I'm putting it out there. Everybody's looking at each other....

7:25 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Union of Safety and Justice Employees

Nancy Peckford

First of all, leading out, I think they have to be profoundly detached from the vested interest of the employer to protect the reputation of the workplace. I think that's what we've seen on Parliament Hill and off. It's great to have the legislation addressing the appointment of a competent person through the Ministry of Labour, but I'm not sure, given our understanding of the bill, that it does divorce small-p or big-P politics from the process, as much as I think that is the intention.

I do think that really separating the investigative process from the actual the workplace is key. I think we've certainly seen that on Parliament Hill. If we speak to the Edmonton Institution, which, quite frankly, for the purposes of this committee, is in crisis.... Edmonton Institution has been in crisis and we have seen egregious examples of sexual harassment and misconduct that in fact were just ignored for years. I think that even right now Correctional Services Canada is in the defensive position of trying to protect the reputation of the department, of really wanting to be proactive but not really exercising a lot of independence, as much as they are striving for independence.

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

I appreciate that. We're at the point now where we're looking at the legislation, and we have to figure out where we might put in amendments if we choose to make them. How can we build this out to build in the protections you're looking for?

I'm looking at Ms. Brownridge, because you were nodding quite a bit.

7:30 p.m.

President, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada - Local 232

Nasha Brownridge

It is difficult to come to a solution. I can understand why we're now at this point as the committee has heard a lot of testimony from multiple organizations, unions, other employers as well.

As it stands, if my understanding is correct with the bill, the competent persons will be selected from the labour department. Am I accurate? That's sort of what they're looking at from the minister's testimony.

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

I believe people have to mutually agree to it.

7:30 p.m.

President, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada - Local 232

Nasha Brownridge

Mutually agreed between.

We're testifying from a unique position here on Parliament Hill where it's our understanding it will be a third-party within each office, or someone will be selected in order to deal with allegations where the employer is concerned. The competent third-parties become, from my understanding, less relevant in our workplace.

What's going to be important is who in each office is handling...I guess it's the third-party individual. If those individuals are coming from any type of department, I can see our members, as well as other political staff, having concerns because our jobs are inherently partisan. The idea of having a department, which is run by a minister who also belongs to a political party, even if it's not necessarily the case where the minister has any involvement, the perception may be there. That could really discourage individuals from wanting to come forward if these individuals have any perception whatsoever that there is political involvement. They may not feel that they're being treated as fairly—

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Sorry, I have to cut you off.

Ms. Trudel.

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much for all of your statements. They greatly enrich the work of the committee.

My first questions are for Ms. Brownridge and Ms. Amrov.

In your presentation you mentioned the inclusion of a definition which could be an effective prevention tool. In fact, this has helped you in the past; your definition helped to validate the harassment experience of those who had been subject to it. This is very interesting. I would like you to speak to us more about the definition.

7:30 p.m.

Nina Amrov Chief Steward, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada - Local 232

Thank you very much for the question.

We have often heard from the media, or even the rumour mill, that those accused of harassment did not know that they were harassing anyone. They did not realize that they were creating an uncomfortable climate for the people around them.

Our concern is to find a definition that can be used for prevention. For instance, if information about harassment is provided in an effective and concise way, no one will be able to say that they did not know that their behaviour wasn't appropriate or constituted harassment as such. Once you have settled on a definition, there will no longer be any plausible deniability.

Our collective agreement includes a clear and concise definition. In fact, some of our members come to us and tell us that they experienced such a thing, but did not realize that it was harassment. On the basis of our definition we can say to these people that that was indeed harassment, or on the contrary, that it was not. Afterwards, we deal with the situation duly and properly.

A properly worded definition means that we can validate the person's experience and determine whether she or he experienced harassment or not. We think it would be very important that that definition be set out right now—and not only via regulations—and that it be properly included in a bill adopted by Parliament. In that way, you will obtain both the consent of parliamentarians and the consent of the public with regard to the definition of harassment.

Our definition, for instance, was established thanks to the co-operation between management and the union.

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Could you submit that definition to the committee?

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

She can submit it as a brief.

7:35 p.m.

Chief Steward, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada - Local 232

Nina Amrov

Sure. I'd be happy to table article 14 from the collective agreement.

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

You have two minutes and 20 seconds.

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Yes.

You also mentioned concerns with regard to the training provided by the House of Commons. Some members have already come to speak to us about it. I'd like to hear more about what you have to say to this.

7:35 p.m.

Chief Steward, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada - Local 232

Nina Amrov

We think this training is a good idea and a commendable initiative on the part of the House Human Resources Services, to convey this important information to members.

We are concerned, however, that the training only seems to discuss sexual harassment and does not touch on any other type of harassment, such as psychological harassment. We would also like to know whether the training mentions intersectionality. As we know very well, women are much more likely to be victims of harassment and assault in the workplace, particularly visible minority or indigenous women. We want to ensure that that reality is reflected in the training and that it is formulated in a holistic way.

Moreover, earlier today, we heard that the training would last three hours. I wonder whether that is long enough to provide information that is so very important for safety and well-being in the workplace.

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

We'll now go over to MP Damoff. Thank you.

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Thanks to all of you for being here and thank you for the valuable testimony that you've provided.

I've asked other witnesses about the importance of independence. I had the privilege of visiting the maximum security Edmonton Institution in January and meeting with some of the USGE employees, as well as the corrections officers and management. I think I've mentioned in committee that, when I read the report that was done on that institute, I had nightmares that night. To think that it went on for 10 years is just mind-boggling and that people would continue to come to work and have to face those—As Nancy said, the word egregious doesn't even go far enough.

I read the report and there were some very good recommendations in there. Going forward, there's a report and there are recommendations. I know there was a sense that there also needs to be some independence in the implementation of those recommendations. Would I be right on that? Also, there needs to be some necessity for reporting back, not necessarily through CSC, but maybe through the ministry of labour. A report has been completed, we've made recommendations, and hopefully an independent...will help to implement those and report back.

I wonder if you could comment on that and if you see this as being something useful in terms of the follow up. That would go to your mention of redress, remedy, and when there is some kind of report.

7:35 p.m.

Interim Director, Policy, Projects and Media, Union of Safety and Justice Employees

Bethany Sutton

We think that is absolutely crucial because, as you say, a number of the recommendations were excellent in regard to the need for an organizational change at the Edmonton Institution. There is something very rotten in that institution, as we know. Pam, you've read that report. It's years and years of significant and egregious—as Nancy says—sexual harassment and violence.

One of the significant recommendations was to have an external organizational change consultant come in, who did not report to the warden, but reported to the deputy commissioner. It's absolutely key. CSC has absolutely ignored that recommendation. They brought in a lower-level person, who was friends with the warden and did not have the expertise, in terms of organizational change. We have hundreds of members working every day in the environment that remains. When you have a culture that is that deep, in regard to bullying, violence, and sexual harassment, you can't change it just by having—Luckily, the right decision was made, in terms of firing a number of individuals who were part of that, but when you've created that culture, year in, year out, what happens is that the lower-level bullies just begin to take over. That's why that organizational change consultant was so crucial and that's why it is such a significant concern that the recommendation has not implemented.

We absolutely agree with you. It is why we are very hopeful that this legislation will incorporate a component of accountability, but not to the department itself, because we've seen too often that the department is unable to do that.

7:40 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I mean, it's hard to believe that could happen in Canada. It's certainly an example of where, even on a smaller scale, I think having that accountability built into the legislation is really important.

In terms of having a competent person, one thing that's been mentioned is having a pool of independent investigators. I don't know whether some of this can be done in legislation or in regulation, but I completely agree that it needs to be independent for everybody's well-being, not just the employee but also the employer, to ensure that there's no perception that what's happening is being influenced because an employer had a say in it.

7:40 p.m.

Partner, Goldblatt Partners LLP, Canadian Association of Professional Employees

Colleen Bauman

In terms of what has to be in regulation and what can be in the act, the words “independent” and “impartial” are not used anywhere in the bill. As for “competent person”, a whole body of case law has tried to interpret what a competent person is. I think it has been a very problematic area, in some regards. Just putting in a provision that provides for independent and impartial investigations then provides teeth for unions and their members to use if they don't get an independent and impartial investigation.

I would encourage you to think about at least finding ways to reflect that language in the bill in order to try to guarantee some element of independence.

7:40 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

In the minute I have left, Ms. Brownridge, you talked about volunteering in an MP's office. I'm surprised at that, quite frankly. I never have volunteers in my office, because I think everyone deserves to be paid a fair wage. How prevalent is it that there are volunteers, and what are the expectations of them in an MP's office? I know it's not just in the NDP.

7:40 p.m.

President, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada - Local 232

Nasha Brownridge

No, of course not.

7:40 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

It's just that you had mentioned it.