House of Commons Hansard #252 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sexual.

Topics

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Mr. Speaker, having sat with my colleague on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women from 2006 to 2011, I must say that she is very knowledgeable about sexual harassment. She has long been a strong supporter of victims. I know that she will raise some good points about this bill, and I hope that, for once, they will be non-partisan.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time with the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country.

If I may be permitted, I will just quickly go over the first bit of what I said. I am really pleased to see the support of all members of Parliament for this bill, despite political affiliations.

This is an issue that is of great interest to me, as a physician. The fact is that people fear reprisal, there is stigma, and there is shame with regard to violence of any kind. I am familiar with physical violence, domestic violence, and societal violence. Sometimes the only person victims feel safe to tell their stories to is their physician, because of patient-physician confidentiality. Quite often physicians cannot do very much about it because people cannot be forced to speak out or to go wherever they need to go, but we can do certain things.

We now have a culture where there is open disclosure. People are less afraid to speak out because of the number of people who are speaking out. There is safety in numbers, and people feel they are not being singled out. They feel it is safer to speak out. However, that is not enough. There is still stigma and shame attached to victims of violence. The mentality to blame the victim still goes on.

We need to take concrete steps to change workplace culture, and Bill C-65 would do that. If we pass the bill in the House and we bring in the policies and the program that would support the bill, we would see a slow but definite change in the culture of at least the House of Commons as well as federally regulated workplaces.

There are three areas we need to look at. As always, protection is the most important. As a physician, I can treat diseases. I can put on bandaids and do whatever I need to do. However, if I do not look at the cause then I am not able to give long-term help or long-term support.

We need to look at the culture. This culture of abuse of authority and of making people afraid in order to do what one wants them to do is not 150 years old. This has gone on for millennia. This culture is so deeply ingrained that it is going to be difficult to remove it, but with goodwill, we can all start to do it.

The first thing we need to do is examine ourselves. What do we do? How do we think? How do we behave? What are the thoughtless things we do to our own staff when we are angry at them or we feel they are not doing the job well? What are the things that we do, both men and women, whether physically, psychologically, or in fact sexually, that make our colleagues feel ashamed and threatened? These are the things we need to do first.

Before we can do anything, we need to take the physician health thyself approach. We have to look at our behaviour. We have to look at how we pass information on to our children. We have to look at how we bring up our children so they can learn to respect each other and understand the way to behave with each other. We have to start with these fundamental things. It begins in kindergarten.

I have heard people talking about pornography, etc. That culture starts at the beginning of one's life. That culture starts with how we deal with each other from the very beginning, with how we talk with each other at home around the dinner table, with how we shame people and how we denigrate people. These are some of the things that we have to start examining.

We need this legislation. This legislation looks at how we can protect people from workplace violence. Employers would be required to investigate, record, and report incidents. That is the first thing. Labour programs would bring in toll-free lines for employees and employers to link up with experts who can help them through conflict resolution and negotiations, as well as navigate all of the processes.

We need to look at providing educational material, which this legislation would provide. We need guidelines that would provide support services for those who are victims, keeping foremost in mind the safety of the complainant. Complainant safety is really a problem. Fear of reprisal is a big problem, as is losing one's job, being demoted, not getting the wanted promotion, or not getting that big part in a movie one wanted.

Some of these are very real, and people need to feel that they are not going to be blackballed for the rest of their lives because they spoke out. That is going to be very important as we look at the protection component.

The next one is to look at effectiveness and if we have effective ways of dealing with this: how to deal with it effectively immediately; how to deal with a problem when it occurs; and how to support the victims themselves? That is a big part of that effective response.

Even though I stand here as I woman and as a long-time feminist, I want to say that this is not only about gender harassment. Indeed, there are men who are harassed in the workplace, either psychologically or physically. In fact, men are more at risk of physical violence in the workplace. When we look at that, we see 19% of women have a tendency to seek help, fill out a report, and look for support services; yet only 7% of men do that because of the absolute shame that a man has of being in this position. Therefore, I want us to look at the broad ways in which we can deal with this problem for both genders, to look at all of the ways in which we can keep people down. If because of this bill a lot of men are going to seek help, then it will help them to get the help they need.

The third pillar is to support the employees who are affected. This legislation does not replace the Criminal Code. There are going to be times when we need to look at going to enforcement because of the criminality of an act that has occurred in the workplace. This does not replace that, but it will bring into force Part III of PESRA, which is the employer and staff relations act that would bring in health and safety precautions and protections into the workplace.

I caution everyone in this House not to think that we will turn on a dime and that we will make changes. However, by passing this legislation right now, and by the ability of all of us in this place to think that this is extremely important enough to come together and to forget our differences, then we will make it safer for people to feel they can speak out, by protecting them when they speak out. If we do that, it will be one major step in moving this agenda forward. However, we need to have clear guidelines and clear policies. This bill is going to do exactly that, so we are not just talking or just tut-tutting and saying how terrible things are; we are actually putting into place concrete processes, steps, and sanctions that will affect employers and employees in the workplace.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's passionate speech. She highlighted a number of important details about the bill, but I would like to go back to the definitions, which are just as important.

There can be such a thing as too many definitions when the time comes to go to court or make legal decisions. An overabundance of definitions can be restrictive. The flip side is a legal vacuum, and definitions can vary from one country to another. When it comes to defining harassment, a person can say they have been physically harassed or even assaulted, and there is also the definition of psychological harassment. It varies from person to person.

I would like to know what my colleague thinks about the importance of including definitions in Bill C-65. Does she think the government will agree to the amendments about definitions that the NDP is going to propose in committee?

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member makes a very important point. If we do not know what we are talking about, how can we deal with it properly? Then we get vague. The member is absolutely right that no one can do anything if there is vagueness and the barriers that are created by vague language. I hope that, when the committee looks at this, it will look at ways in which to strengthen the bill and make sure it works for everyone. The political will is here. All of us in this House, in every political party, are in agreement that we want to do something and we want to make it stick. We want something that is effective. Therefore, I am hoping that we will all be able to talk about this in the spirit that we have right now in this House, one of co-operation, and build not only a very strong and good bill but a set of regulations that will make this work well.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, early on in my career here, I brought forward Motion No. 47 to have the health committee do a study on the impact of online sexual violence on men, women, and children to see how online sexual violence was affecting Canadian culture. A recent study showed that the top 88 videos viewed on the Internet contained not only sexual content but violence combined with sexual content. Another study showed that a vast majority of the population is consuming this on a weekly basis.

One thing we looked at was some sort of opt-in legislation or a filter of some sort. I noticed that the status of women committee undertook a similar study. Recommendation 5 in a recent report said:

That the Government of Canada examine E-safety models or increased controls to prevent violent and degrading sexually explicit material from being accessed by youth under the age of majority and examine how violent and degrading sexually explicit material distorts young people's ideas of consent, gender equality and healthy relationships.

Does the member think this is perhaps an area to look at to prevent harassment and violence in the future: looking at what people are viewing today and how it is shaping their minds and thinking on a lot of these things?

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member raises an important point, and I am very well aware of what the status of women committee said. It is very difficult, though, to police what people do in the privacy of their own homes. I think the member is talking about underage people. There is not just legislation and police who can deal with underage children. There is parenting. There is the V-chip that can be installed to prevent kids from getting certain things on television and stop people from accessing certain things if they are underage. Parents need to take responsibility for doing this in their homes.

I know of so many young women and men who are locked in their bedrooms and are on their computers doing who knows what, and they are victims of luring and predators. We need to talk about how to deal with this. I do not know that we can legislate what people do in the privacy of their own homes, but we might want to talk about policies and programs that might give parents the tools they need to prevent their children having access to certain things that are harmful to their growing minds.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country B.C.

Liberal

Pam Goldsmith-Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to speak in the House today in support of Bill C-65, especially because parliamentarians and the House of Commons are finding common cause in taking action on workplace harassment and violence.

Clearly this affects us all. We all know someone who has experienced some form of harassment or sexual violence in the workplace, and some of us may even have experienced it ourselves.

We know of the debilitating impact harassment and sexual violence has on women, on under-represented groups, employers, and Canadians in general. This is a key commitment of our government, and I am very proud that Bill C-65 is our effort to address harassment and sexual violence in federally regulated workplaces. This bill works to create safer and more respectful workplaces and sends a clear message to all Canadians that our government, the Government of Canada, is saying that harassment and sexual violence is unacceptable.

A lot of research shows us that this workplace behaviour has gone on for far too long and has also gone largely unreported. An Abacus Data survey last fall asked Canadians about harassment in the workplace. It found that over one in 10 Canadians said that sexual harassment was really quite common their workplace. Another 44% said that it was infrequent but it did happen. These respondents reported that women aged 30 to 44 were most likely to see this problem in the workplace. One-fifth said that it was common, and a total of two-thirds said that it happened in their workplace.

The study results explain that “The prevalence of this behaviour is no doubt in part because it rarely carries consequences for the harasser...The large majority of women, and most men, agree that normally there are no sanctions applied against those who sexually harass women in the workplace.” These findings paint a staggering portrait consistent with the picture that was painted during our recent government consultations.

Our government makes policy and legislative changes based on evidence through meaningful consultation with Canadians. Over the past year, the government has consulted widely with stakeholders and Canadians to gain a deeper understanding of the issue and to determine the best way to move forward. Consultations were also held with the government House leader, members of Parliament, and the Senate. I think it is very safe to say that all members and senators support the work we are doing together on this front.

In November of last year, we released the report “Harassment and Sexual Violence in the Workplace Public Consultations: What We Heard”, which summarized our consultations. I would encourage my hon colleagues to read it, share it with their constituents, help educate everyone about the intolerable impact this has, and join together in taking action.

Allowing this type of behaviour to continue in our workplace negatively impacts not just individuals, not just groups but ultimately the entire country as a whole and the country's economy. For example, we know that harassment and sexual violence primarily affects women. This means that women and other vulnerable groups face barriers to fully participate in the workforce and in society. How can they not when they feel threatened at the place they work? These behaviours act as barriers to not only women but other vulnerable and under-represented groups, such as members of the LGBTQ2 community. These are the very groups of people we need to ensure have a fair chance at success. We need diversity of viewpoints in businesses, organizations, the public service, and, of course, right here.

We know that our culture is largely patriarchal. It is a culture where the sexualization of women can contribute to intolerance. Somehow this is seen as normal. Research shows us that visible minorities, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ2 community are also disproportionately affected. We found that this behaviour was tied to power and privilege, and that it was independent of gender. It is often those with the least power who are least able to advocate for themselves. They fear reprisal, including sanctions or shame, and are least likely to be aware of what they can do to stop inappropriate behaviour. This creates and perpetuates inequality.

Sexual harassment can be more persistent in low-wage, low-profile jobs where there is, most unfortunately, low accountability for the employer. It means that the less power and status one has, the more likely one is to be vulnerable to experiencing harassment or sexual violence at work.

The fact is that no one should feel scared or like a target in places of work or anywhere else for that matter. This is especially true for women and under-represented groups, and their families suffer as a result. Harassment and sexual violence are also critical barriers women face when entering the workforce and maintaining employment that is lucrative enough to provide for themselves and their families, which makes sexual violence and harassment not just a moral issue but of course an economic issue as well. Victims of harassment and sexual violence often feel that once reported to their employers, any steps taken by employers to address the behaviour are often insufficient or ineffective. One aspect of this bill would ensure that employers are required to investigate, record, and report occurrences of harassment and violence. Employers would also be required to take steps to prevent and protect against these behaviours as well as respond to them when they do occur and provide support to employees affected by them.

Employers are not immune to paying a price and feeling a negative impact as well. This impact is felt through reputational costs, loss of productivity or absenteeism, low levels of employee commitment, high turnover, or legal costs. This adds up in lost time, stress, depression, and anxiety. It costs employers financially and it certainly does not build a strong, cohesive, and resilient Canadian society.

Allow me to note that we are also strengthening compliance and enforcement mechanisms under the code. The use of monetary penalties and the authority to publicly name violators are just some of the changes announced to increase workplace health and safety and protect workers' rights.

Our government ran on a commitment to take action on workplace harassment and sexual violence in Parliament and in federally regulated workplaces. Today, together, we take an important step toward that aim. I am confident we will be joined by our colleagues and Canadians and that others will follow our lead. This is about doing what is right for people and doing what is right economically.

My hon. colleagues and I know the status quo is not an option. We know we need this legislation and that we should support it for families, employers, and all Canadians.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her speech. I would like her to tell us how Bill C-65 will apply to organizations with collective agreements.

For example, how will Bill C-65 and the collective agreement apply in resolving a harassment complaint that has gone to arbitration and where there is proof of harassment?

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Goldsmith-Jones Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Madam Speaker, maybe this is a little unusual, but I would also like to thank my colleague for her contribution to this. I am not able to get into details, but no doubt this is the beginning of a lot of serious work. Each and every one of us is taking harassment and sexual violence in the workplace very seriously. Of course, it is going to take beyond the members of Parliament in the room, and I look forward to ongoing consultation with Canadians to ensure the success of Bill C-65.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Madam Speaker, I know that my hon. colleague was here for the last question that I asked so I will not reiterate that entirely.

One of the recommendations that came out of a recent status of women committee talked about bringing in an e-safety model, preventing access of youth who are under age, and examining how violent and degrading sexually explicit material distorts young people's ideas of consent, gender equality, and healthy relationships. I wonder if the member is familiar with what is going on in the U.K. in regard to opt-in or age verification. I know that her colleague said there is not much we can do about this. I would just ask if she is aware of what is going on in the U.K. in terms of this.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Goldsmith-Jones Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his work and for offering that suggestion. This is what will happen next, I would say.

We are taking the lid off something that has gone on for so long, that has gone unreported and has created such suffering, and intergenerational suffering. The good work that is being done around the world will only help make Canada a stronger, more resilient, and safer society.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I wonder if my colleague could add some further thoughts in regard to the important role the national government can play, along with the fact that what we have witnessed all day here is a sense of non-partisanship. Members from all sides of the House are looking forward to the bill ultimately going to committee. There is no political party here trying to strike one for a victory. Rather, it seems to be about the fact that this type of legislation is needed, so let us approve it and get it to committee.

Can the hon. member give her thoughts on how encouraging it is to see that support for a very important issue for all Canadians?

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Goldsmith-Jones Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Madam Speaker, I think it speaks to the fact that this is commonly understood by parliamentarians to be a serious challenge in Canadian society. It goes to show that while we are always trying to improve our institutions and to be more open, transparent, and inclusive, certain things cut straight to the heart of the matter. We are all very privileged and honoured to be discussing Bill C-65 and what we can do with regard to workplace harassment and sexual violence.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, the shadow minister for employment, workforce development and labour.

I am pleased to take this opportunity to speak to Bill C-65, which amends the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1. I would like to state right from the start that I look forward to supporting the bill so as to ensure it is sent to committee for further study.

The broad themes addressed in Bill C-65 are very important, particularly in light of the recent reports that we received related to sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, both on Parliament Hill and elsewhere. It is necessary to ensure that whether in this place or anywhere in Canadian society sexual misconduct and harassment are not tolerated.

Unfortunately, we have a systemic problem in our culture where we spend so much time on rights and freedoms and not enough time on obligations and responsibilities to create safe, healthy, non-toxic workplaces. It needs to be a priority of all employers, of all members of Parliament, of all senators that our places of employment here on the Hill and in our constituencies are places where all employees feel valued, feel safe, and feel respected.

I want to reference the good work that was done by my colleague from Peace River—Westlock. His Motion No. 47, which went to the health committee, asked what the health effects of online violent pornography were to men, women, and children. That is a study that was very worthwhile. Unfortunately, the report does not really reflect the testimony that was provided by witnesses and seems to have been somewhat homogenized.

This is a bill which protects vulnerable people from exploitation, which is a noble goal. It is my hope that we in the House will achieve the goal that is set out in the bill. Despite the important objectives outlined in the bill, there are some questions that must be addressed. Sending Bill C-65 to committee will allow us to ensure that we meet the high expectations Canadians have for us as legislators as we deal with these critical issues.

We know that sexual harassment is not a new phenomenon. Unfortunately, there have always been occurrences. However, now victims are starting to speak up and out against those who use their positions of power to sexually harass those who have less power. It is important that harassment claims be dealt with appropriately and that they be seen to be dealt with appropriately. This inspires greater confidence in the systems which are in place, prevents abuses, and ultimately ensures that victims and perpetrators are both dealt with in a way that reflects the spirit of the law. We know that beyond the toll harassment can take on a victim, there are significant costs to a workplace where harassment is tolerated. Lost productivity, absenteeism, higher turnover all have an economic cost that undermines an office or a business.

By way of background, part 1 of Bill C-65 amends the Canada Labour Code to strengthen the existing framework for the prevention of harassment and violence. This includes sexual harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. Bill C-65, if passed into law, would put sexual harassment under the purview of workplace health and safety. Areas of federal jurisdiction would be under the new regime, including the federal public service. Part 2 amends the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act with respect to the application of part II of the Canada Labour Code to parliamentary employers and employees, without impacting the privileges and immunities of this place, the other place, and their members. In essence, harassment policies will be also be expanded to cover parliamentary workplaces. The bill will not change the way complaints are handled between parliamentarians. Sexual harassment complaints between members and senators will continue to be handled as they have been previously. Finally, part 3 amends a transitional provision of the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1.

In essence, the bill puts forward a multi-step process for dealing with complaints of harassment or violence. It aims first to prevent harassment and violence, but when it does occur, a system is to be in place for a complaint to be filed. An employer must try to resolve the complaint. If that does not work, mediation is an option. If that option fails or is bypassed, an individual identified as a competent person is to report on the incident and make recommendations to the employer, who then is required to implement the recommendations. I will not go into all the details here, but if the complaint remains unresolved, the minister of labour steps in to ensure compliance.

There are some issues I have with the bill, mostly with the lack of precision in the drafting. The first concern I would like to highlight is related to the fact that the minister of labour is given a great deal of power in the complaint process. The minister of labour is set up to be the arbiter of matters that proceed through the initial steps of the process but go unresolved. The trouble here is obvious, especially as we consider that this new regime is meant to provide protections to staff here on Parliament Hill. For example, if an individual who works within the office of a Liberal MP is harassed and he or she proceeds through the process that would be in place, he or she may find his or her situation being addressed by a colleague, maybe even a friend of the perpetrator.

The minister of labour would be in an awkward position here, to put it mildly. As anyone watching the news in the last week will realize, a sexual harassment situation arising in a political office can end a career. Are the Liberals seriously saying that the minister of labour, whether in this government or any other successive government, would be able to rightly deal with a situation of this type from an unbiased perspective, without any concern for political consequences? I doubt it.

A victim must have access to a process that is reliable and cannot be improperly interfered with. Even the perception that there could be interference calls the whole process into question. An independent third party would serve employees and employers much better here.

There are other problems within the legislation that require some further clarification as well. Throughout our time in government, Conservatives always placed a strong focus on supporting victims. It is our intention to ensure that the Liberals focus on supporting them as well through this legislation, as they have said they would. One of the concerns related to this point is the option of mediation as an avenue to solve harassment complaints.

The government must be absolutely clear about what is meant and intended with these sorts of areas of concern. The Liberals have said there would be a campaign that would focus on sexual harassment awareness. To date, there has been no mention of the cost of this campaign, where it would be targeted, or what the specific goals of the campaign would be. A campaign will not be successful unless it has defined goals and a strategy to meet them.

Similarly, there needs to be a plan for outreach to those people who have experienced sexual harassment. The plan is to help those who have been aggrieved to navigate the process of resolution and to direct victims to the support services that would be available to them. The bill needs to have an accurate costing estimate to accompany it. All Canadians have a stake in ensuring any campaign has a meaningful impact. The Liberals would do well to map out their plan for this campaign as quickly as possible to that end.

Bill C-65 also identifies a number of exemptions that need to be clarified. To give one example, there is an exemption to opt out of the regime for harassment complaints if workplaces have an equivalent regime of their own already in place. What would this look like? How would such requests be handled?

Finally, certain terms in the bill are not presently adequately defined in the law. The term “competent person” is someone a person could go to for help rendering a decision in the case of a complaint. What does a competent person look like? How would we describe a competent person? There needs to be an expansion in that part of the bill. Is it the law of contract definition of the competent person, which is someone who has the mental capacity to enter into an agreement? Is that what was meant by a competent person? Then such a person could be any individual in an office. Is it someone who has the required skills, training, experience, and other characteristics to truly be helpful? Someone in human resources or a counsellor might be more appropriate in a case like that. What does competency mean in relation to addressing complaints of sexual harassment, and for the purpose of Bill C-65?

These are all areas that could be more neatly defined to make this a better piece of legislation. Bill C-65 must be clear. It must be clear what it means. It also must be clear what it does not mean.

The intent of the bill is noble. However, it leaves many questions unanswered. I look forward to seeing the bill debated more fully at committee. I am sure that all members of Parliament, staff, and all Canadians want to see workplaces free of sexual harassment. I hope this bill, after some improvements and clarifications, will be helpful and will contribute to greater safety in the workplace.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I have a two-part question. The first part is with respect to the existing processes for learning more about sexual harassment in the workplace. My staff and I have done a webinar that relates to this topic. It is training that is available to all members and their staff in the House of Commons. Have the member and his staff had an opportunity to do this, or will they?

Second, the member raised the topic of the executive, legislative, and judicial roles of this legislation potentially being harmonized within the minister and whether that is appropriate. Does the member feel that there is a particular officer of Parliament in whom this adjudicative role should reside? Does he have an opinion on it?

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, the training the House offers to members and their staff is very good. I encourage all members and their staff to participate in that training. It provides a good framework for the basis of a healthy and functioning office, one that will give good results and provide an environment that is safe and respectful to all individuals.

As for the adjudication of complaints, I appreciate very much the part in the legislation that allows for mediation. That is a very important part. When an individual has the freedom to engage a supervisor or an employee about a sexual harassment claim, I think that is good. However, we and our staff would be better served if there were an outside third party set up where someone could lodge a complaint. The complaint could be lodged confidentially with that third party. It could then be investigated confidentially and a response given as to whether it was a complaint suitable for mediation or it needed to be escalated through the ranks.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2018 / 5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Madam Speaker, the member mentioned that he was concerned about overlapping jurisdiction and rules. I have been involved in the government since 1968. I did not want to go back that far, but that is when I first started. We have had study sessions on these matters starting in the mid-seventies through the eighties, nineties, and two-thousands. I have taken a number of different courses.

Bill C-65 has to be pulled together to make it work as one unified bill. I wonder if the member would like to speak to how we can pull it all together so there is one bill respecting different agencies within the government and within industry.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, ideally, one single process would be the best way we could provide a solution for what Bill C-65 is hoping to address. Under employment standards, if parliamentarians and senators fell under that legislation, we would be well served. There would be a clearly defined process whereby an independent third party would properly investigate a complaint in confidence so that the person bringing it forward would not need to feel that his or her job was threatened, and the person being accused of inappropriate behaviour would have the protection confidentiality would provide until the investigation was complete and further action required. A central agency looking after that under employment standards would be the ideal place for it.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak this afternoon to a bill that seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code with regard to harassment and violence.

I thank my colleague from Provencher for making valid arguments and reiterating our party's position. We support the bill at second reading. I just came from the meeting of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, where we are getting ready to receive this important bill that we would like to improve.

This bill was introduced on November 7, 2017, by the government, but in light of recent events, we see that it is quite timely. In her speech today, the minister indicated that we can find a definition of harassment in the Canada Labour Code. However, we could learn from the experience and legislative expertise in Quebec on the matter.

What do we mean when we talk about psychological harassment? We must clearly define what we are talking about. According to the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, it is vexatious behaviour. It is harmful or humiliating behaviour that is displayed repeatedly or during a single and serious incident by hostile or unwanted behaviour that undermines the dignity or integrity of the employee and which has repercussions on the workplace. It may range from ridiculing the person or their work, isolating them, preventing them from speaking, making offensive or defamatory comments or gestures about or toward them, unsettling, threatening, or assaulting them, or making them suffer reprisals. The person is discriminated against, ostracized, and isolated.

We will likely consider these elements during the committee study to ensure that psychological harassment and physical violence are properly defined in the bill.

Harassment obviously has many consequences. The person might feel victimized. Their integrity was undermined, their self-worth compromised. This has a serious impact on self-esteem, leading to a loss of motivation and potentially to physical or mental health repercussions. The person sometimes tries to stay away from a workplace where there is a risk of accident or disability, for example, or where they feel ostracized. There may be personal issues. This can even lead to job loss, firing or absenteeism due to illness, not to mention financial problems.

Harassment is a serious problem in the workplace, and we must work to eliminate it as quickly as possible, because it has negative consequences not only on the victim, but on the work environment and productivity as well.

The minister has tabled a bill that will require federally regulated companies to adopt a prevention policy and to investigate and report on all cases of harassment that are brought to their attention. They will also have to provide psychological support to employees affected by harassment.

Currently, there are no sanctions in place against the employees at fault. However, recommendations may apply to the companies. Today we discussed two components, namely employees in federally regulated workplaces and political staff. However, the initial steps are the same. Once a policy is in place, the employee can go to their employer to file a complaint. If the complaint is not resolved, there is an optional mediation process. After that, the file can be assigned to an investigator, referred to as a competent person. My colleague just mentioned the importance of properly defining who would be a competent person to handle complaints.

However, as we heard today, we want the process to protect the integrity of those who feel they were assaulted, those I believe are victims, because we care about them. That is why I asked the minister this morning to ensure that anyone who at any time believes that they have been the victim of assault to be able to report it to a third party that is not the employer. We will have to discuss that in committee. In the case of employees under federal jurisdiction, the third party would be the Department of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. That is important because we do not want anyone who feels they are the victim of assault at the hands of their employer to reach out to Employment and Social Development Canada only to be told that they need to talk to their employer. That would be unfortunate. We want to protect victims, who are at the heart of the process, and ensure that the process does put obstacles in their way as they attempt to access the main resource, which is the Department of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, the third party with investigative power. That is for employees under federal jurisdiction.

The same process applies to employees of political staff. It involves becoming familiar with the policy, talking to the employer, and eventually seeking mediation or the help of an investigator or competent person. We are in a political environment, which is bound to be significant. I am pleased to see that the government is being open about the need to ensure we have an independent process in a partisan setting. We must ensure that political staff are not the victims of partisan games. Someone gave the example of an employee of a government MP who files a complaint. We must ensure that the process is independent. We are going to look at that in committee to determine the best way of going about things and to ensure that the labour minister does not end up in a conflict of interest. As members know, there are a number of commissioners who report to the House. They are independent and could play a useful role in this regard.

Those are some of the issues we would like to raise in committee. We have listed some of them. It is important to avoid any retaliation against the victims, including political staff, during the process. It is also important to properly define the notion of a competent person. This is the expert who will be appointed to investigate a given situation. Of course, we must also always take care to avoid conflicts of interest and uphold the principle of the presumption of innocence throughout the process.

All of this takes resources. The minister was pretty vague about the resources she intends to set up at Employment, Workforce Development and Labour that will be dedicated to working with businesses to raise awareness and support them in implementing harassment and violence prevention policies.

Those are our questions for the minister. This is an important and necessary step because nearly six out of ten employees in federal workplaces report having been victims of harassment. That means there is a problem and we have to take meaningful steps toward fixing it. This is a step in the right direction, and we will certainly encourage the government to draw inspiration from initiatives and expertise related to psychological harassment that are emerging across the country. As a Quebecker, I am proud to say that the Government of Quebec has been working on this issue for over a decade now. It has developed expertise that could be very useful to us as we lay the foundation following this initial step.

To sum up, this is a step in the right direction and a constructive approach that we want to implement with the government to advance this legislation, although some questions do remain that we hope to clarify at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

The minister mentioned one thing that I really appreciated, namely, the need for a cultural shift, and she can definitely count on our collaboration in that regard.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Ludwig Liberal New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Madam Speaker, if we are looking at the incidences of sexual harassment and we take it here to the House of Commons as an example in attracting more women to politics and encouraging more women to stay in politics, how important is it that women, men, and people of minorities across the country hear that all people in the House are working together to find a solution regarding the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace?

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, we have to set the highest standard in society since we are looked at as models.

This tier of the issue, the harassment of staffers, has to be dealt with in a cautious and particular manner. That is why we feel we should prevent partisanship from being involved in that process.

As the member knows, regarding the conduct between parliamentarians, we already have defining rules for elected members.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Madam Speaker, one of the issues referred to more and more today is the victims and how we need to listen to them. As a Conservative, I know we are very proud of the Victims Bill of Rights that we passed. I know my colleague had something to do with that.

Particularly, I would like to mention the current Bill C-38. It spells out consecutive sentencing for human trafficking. This is a trend we see with the government. It talks a good game but when it comes to actually doing things, like standing up for victims, as we have seen with Bill C-38, the government seems to just avoid the issue altogether.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, the member mentioned that we were the party that brought forward the victims Bill of Rights. What we want in the process and what we will be very keen on is to ensure we not double-victimizing people who may have been involved in a harassment situation. That is why we feel the independence of the third party involved in the investigation is a very important aspect.

One other issue I would like to point out is that today we have discussed parliamentary staffers and employees of the federal government, but the government also has a lot of civil servants. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of harassment mentioned by civil servants. We have a responsibility because they are the people working for the government.

We certainly have to clean our own house, which includes the civil service. As well, there are those who are working under the federal jurisdiction. This is certainly one aspect we will ask the minister about to ensure we take care of the harassment occurring within the civil service.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Madam Speaker, does my hon. colleague feel we should be moving beyond just Bill C-65, looking at the big picture of what is happening in Canada, and why people are moving in this way?

We have had harassment policies in the civil service since the seventies, yet it still seems to continue. Does the member feel we should be looking at a broader picture to see why this is happening?

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, when it comes to harassment, there must be zero tolerance. We can draw inspiration from the mechanisms put in place to go even further than current laws and ensure that an independent third party investigates harassment cases and makes binding decisions to protect the victims.