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

8:10 p.m.

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

Bethany Sutton

We undertook a joint evaluation in the workplace—a wellness review—and we found that the employees and our members said, “Oh, thank God you guys are working together. I don't want to feel like I'm just a union member. I don't want to feel like I'm just an employee. I am both of those things.” They said to us, “Thank you for not splitting me apart. Thank you for having both of you work together.” I think in that way it is absolutely crucial that the union is involved, and in that case, it was absolutely the union that brought the high-level expertise to the table.

I will mention that in that case—and this speaks to a number of the questions that we've gone on about today—something happened during “learn about harassment” week. The highest-level person in the organization referred to the highest-level woman in the organization using a sexually suggestive term in front of hundreds of employees. It was a slip on his part for sure. Because the person was very sad and remorseful about it in his apology, which he made to all 300 people, managers stood up and said—this is during anti-harassment week—“No, no. We want jokes in the workplace.”

The organization undertook a full review of that incident in the hope that the RCMP could bring harassment expertise to the table at every level, and at every level the expertise wasn't there. Consistently they were unable to explain to their people why.... To the union, it didn't matter so much that the mistake was made. What mattered was that they were entirely unable to manage that mistake and explain to the workplace what harassment was, even though it was anti-harassment week and even though everyone had taken training.

I know it's part of the challenge. There's an absolute necessity for that training. Those workplaces, even when there's an anti-harassment week and anti-harassment training.... We believe that 95% of those in that particular workplace didn't understand the RCMP definition of harassment, which we believe is a decent definition. I think all of us could send some definitions that we think are decent for the committee to consider. We found that 95% of that workplace, and I would say all the way up within the RCMP, did not understand the definition of harassment.

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

That brings us to the end of the second round of questions. I know Pam would like some additional time. We do have time left. I know you guys have said you're good.

Would you like another few minutes? Maybe we can keep it to four minutes and four minutes.

Pam.

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Thank you.

I want to go through the process, and I want to use Edmonton Max as an example. I used it with the officials when they were here and we talked about employees having to go to their employer prior to going to the Minister of Labour. The thinking was that your first course of action is to go to your employer. At Edmonton Max, people knew they couldn't do that. They knew that they would suffer horrible treatment if they did come forward, so they didn't. What they told me is that employees can choose at any time to go to the Minister of Labour under this legislation, and that it will be posted in the place of employment.

In a situation like that, do you think this legislation would have made a difference, or do you think that fear would still have been there, recognizing that there are certain things you can't legislate? You can't legislate the stupidity that was going on there, but do you think this legislation would have been helpful?

8:15 p.m.

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

Bethany Sutton

I believe it would have been helpful. I think part of what was happening at the Edmonton Institution was that it was such a rotten environment and they were so concerned. What is clear is that certain correctional officers—or guards as we may understand them—would actually lock people in longer with very dangerous inmates when they were unhappy with something that person had done. You may be a parole officer and you may want to buck the culture of bullying in the institution, and those correctional officers would have access to when you're locked in with a dangerous inmate and when you're not. To the issue of female parole officers, they would often leave those individuals in longer than they should have, if a certain set of very rotten correctional officers.... It has permeated the entire organization.

Absolutely, you can imagine that if you think you're going to be left with a severe sexual offender longer because you're challenging someone in your organization...yes.

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

There was an example in the report of someone—and I believe it was a female employee—being forced to watch one of the guards humiliate an offender, to the point where the offender soiled himself. That was the punishment for coming forward. It was to watch this humiliation of another human being.

So how could you come forward? I was hoping you would say that this would give people some confidence.

The other thing I want to touch on, though, is the tip line, which I know has been set up. It sounds great. I do have concerns that.... People should use it, so don't get me wrong on this. I encourage the staff in the institutions to use it. But could it be used, if there were a personal dispute between two people, to make false allegations, and is there a fear that there needs to be something in place to ensure it's not being used in the wrong way?

8:15 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Union of Safety and Justice Employees

Nancy Peckford

I think the purpose of the tip line is to give people an anonymous way to bring forward a complaint that was subsequently investigated through a disciplinary process. Actually, part of our concern at the Edmonton Institution—and again, I'm very limited in terms of my time on this file—is that the disciplinary process was used, in many cases, to investigate, and as a consequence, the normal rigours of a harassment process and investigation were not used.

In one instance, we're familiar with an indigenous woman who bravely came forward. She was an employee at the institution. She clearly documented a lot of her concerns. There was a disciplinary investigation. Then the people she alleged were perpetuating significant abuse were brought back to the workplace under the auspices of a disciplinary process, where she had no access to the results of the investigation.

I think, more broadly speaking, tip lines are really a response to crises. What we want with the legislation is a really good process from start to finish, so the last thing we need are tip lines. I think, obviously, that giving federal public service employees and now parliamentary staff access to the safety mechanism is so key, and that's that an investigation can be—

8:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I know my time is up, but I have one comment. Your employees said to me that we were their only hope. I want you to take back to them that we're listening, and give them hope that things will change.

8:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

Next is MP Trudel, and I believe Mr. Morrissey has a very brief question as well.

MP Trudel, go ahead for four minutes.

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Thank you Mr. Chair.

I would like to go back to the last question I put to you, so that all of our guests may reply. I want to hear what you have to say about the fact that Bill C-65 aims to exclude the joint occupational health and safety committee from investigations into cases of sexual assault or harassment, or any other type of harassment. One of the main arguments we have heard here at committee is that such incidents need to be handled very confidentially.

What do you have to say about confidentiality, as it relates to the importance of keeping the union in the process, as well as the occupational health and safety committee?

8:20 p.m.

Partner, Goldblatt Partners LLP, Canadian Association of Professional Employees

Colleen Bauman

I think one area the legislation has recognized as a key area of concern, which prevents people from coming forward, is a fear that their identity won't be kept confidential. It is a key element of this.

It also, I think, goes to issues of procedural fairness for both complainants and respondents in processes like these that there is an element of confidentiality while the investigation is ongoing. It will also encourage complainants to come forward if they know their identity won't be known throughout the workplace.

8:20 p.m.

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

Nasha Brownridge

On the topic of confidentiality and this reporting mechanism and how unions can be involved, I think it is actually very important to allow an individual, the complainant, to choose whether or not they have union representation with them, but it has to be an informed decision. They, of course, have to be aware that they have that right and be aware of where they can get those resources. It should be a survivor-led process. It should be up to them who has that information.

If there were a case where an individual, whether here on Parliament Hill or elsewhere in the public service, said that they didn't want that information shared, I have to say, as long as it is an informed decision, that should absolutely be respected.

8:20 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Union of Safety and Justice Employees

Nancy Peckford

Absolutely. I think one of the reasons people aren't coming forward on Parliament Hill is that they do not believe their alleged experience will be kept confidential.

Quite frankly, I think Equal Voice has very serious concerns about the role of the whip in the existing House of Commons policy. I think it's very problematic that the whip is one of the primary people recommended to somebody who believes they have been harassed. I believe Equal Voice would support taking the whip out of the process entirely.

I'm speaking of existing House of Commons policy. We are hopeful the legislation will compel improvements to the policy, and one of those is to take the explicit references to the party whip out of this equation entirely. It's a highly partisan environment. That person is a liaison that, even with the best intentions, cannot always be objective, or they can be the bully themselves as we know.

It's obvious to us that, while confidentiality in and of itself is really important, the mechanisms have to support people believing they will be safe in the process. I don't think we have that currently, and I don't think the legislation in its current form guarantees confidentiality to the degree that the process overall will be effective.

8:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

We're going to MP Warawa.

February 26th, 2018 / 8:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley—Aldergrove, BC

Thank you.

I wasn't going to ask about the whip, but since you made those comments, and since I've been here for 14 years, I can tell you that one of the first things you do is find out who the whip is, and you get a list of people who are looking for jobs. The whip's office has been very instrumental over the years if I am looking for staff.

To have the whip totally out of the equation if there is an issue may not be helpful. Maybe they aren't involved to the level they are now, but I think they still have to be involved because they are the gatekeepers of each party if there's a problem. They report to the leader if there's a problem. I think it's important to have the whips involved to some degree, but this will be up for discussion around this table.

I do have a question for you, though. It relates to people who have become victims of harassment, particularly sexual harassment, who are struggling now as a victims. There was a discussion. I think it was you who talked about providing support for victims and what that looks like.

We've heard from the House and what the House sees as taking care of anybody who needs help. Could you tell us if the help that presently exists is adequate? In some cases, I would guess that such a person may not be able to continue working in this environment if they are struggling and there are triggers that bring back that harassment assault. They are really struggling. Is what we have now adequate, or does it need to change? If so, how would you see it changing?

8:25 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Union of Safety and Justice Employees

Nancy Peckford

Because our expectation of the House of Commons is that it models the 21st century workplace, it's really important that staff who have been harassed, or who have had a highly negative experience through harassment or workplace violence, have access to better supports than they currently do.

In some cases, I don't even think staff are aware that there might be resources available to them—and I will defer to my colleagues to speak to that—but I believe if you have been courageous enough to have gone through the process to talk to a party whip, or talk to the chief human resources officer, to have endured an investigation, you should be entitled to far more counselling than is currently provided, which is extremely limited if I'm not mistaken.

Because we look to this place to model the best of what Canada has to offer, it is incumbent on parliamentarians to ensure that people leave with the best impression, even if they have had a negative experience. I think people are very open to hanging onto the most positive view they can have of Parliament, even when a person has engaged in very troubling behaviour.

8:25 p.m.

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

Nasha Brownridge

I would certainly agree that resources, at least here on Parliament Hill, are quite limited. The main one that we often refer staff to outside of our collective agreement—so this would apply to all political staff from all parties—is the employee assistance program. It is a great program that is available to staff, but it's one resource.

Other resources have to be taken into consideration, and I spoke to them in my testimony. It's not just the support systems—things like the EAP—but also, as you mentioned, triggers and situations where people will have trouble returning to work. With the paid time off, that's where that becomes crucial. For individuals going through this process who have experienced harassment, both on Parliament Hill and in other workplaces, not having adequate time off to be able to handle those situations can be completely detrimental to their mental health and otherwise, and also to their productivity.

While our collective agreement provides time off, the House of Commons—as you may be aware—only gives 10 to 15 days off for vacation, and 1.3 sick days per month to the employee. That would not be adequate in attempting to deal with a situation of harassment. Additional time off for the explicit purpose would be an important resource in enabling them to also seek out their own resources.

8:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

8:25 p.m.

Partner, Goldblatt Partners LLP, Canadian Association of Professional Employees

Colleen Bauman

Can I just quickly mention a model that is used by the Law Society of Ontario? The Law Society of Ontario has discrimination and harassment counsel. If a young associate at a law firm is experiencing sexual harassment, they can call up this independent person, who is employed by the Law Society, for advice and counsel. That individual can also intervene on their behalf if they so wish. It's not an enforcement mechanism, but it is another access and it's independent. It might be a model worth considering.

8:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

MP Morrissey, for just a few minutes. I understand you have a quick question.

8:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Thank you.

It follows up on the earlier testimony of Ms. Peckford. One of the issues that was raised was of entities investigating themselves.

Do you feel the legislation goes far enough or is strong enough in the area of covering entities investigating themselves? Your group represents a broad range, and that could include any of your groups.

8:30 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Union of Safety and Justice Employees

Nancy Peckford

You're right to suggest equal voices of multipartisan organizations. We've undergone a process to gather input from diverse perspectives in terms of the experience.

Not everyone will believe that the process is independent, even if it is perfectly executed, because there is that perception that the Ministry of Labour—if asked to make an investigation—is in fact a political entity, and that there might be considerations about whether or not an investigation occurred or did not occur because it fell into the hands of the Ministry of Labour.

The legislation absolutely has its limits. We've looked at policies and at legislatures that bring in the ombudsperson, the Public Service Integrity Commissioner, and that really look to make sure there are mechanisms that are non-politicized. I don't know what's possible here. You've received all sorts of technical advice, but the legislation is only as good as it's perceived to be, and that's where there are some challenges with the current proposed language.

I'm confident that there are some workarounds, if the committee tried hard enough, because that's where absolutely there remain some challenges. Although this legislation is well intended, and in spite of the respect we have for Minister Hajdu and the process, I don't think we're quite there, no.

8:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

Thank you all very much for being here today. It was a late evening. We've got two of these late night committees this week. Thank you very much for helping contribute to this review of this legislation, and I really appreciate you all being here.

To my committee colleagues, just a reminder for future business: February 28, from 3:30 to 5:30, we'll be meeting at 228 Valour, and then 6:30 to 8:30 we're going to have a similar issue with votes, so we're moving it here as well. Sorry, we're across the hall to 253D, here in Centre Block.

Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you always to the folks on my left and right and in the booth.

The meeting is adjourned.