Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to speak to the proposed amendments to Bill C-65, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code regarding harassment and violence, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the members of the other place for the effort they put into studying Bill C-65 and proposing the amendments we are considering and debating today. The government believes that their work strengthened this bill.
I know that members of the other place heard testimony that impacted them, as our committee did as well. Hearing the experiences of those working with victims of workplace harassment and violence sent a very strong message to all of us as parliamentarians that we must act and work quickly, but also deliberately, to ensure that the bill works to protect victims and prevent any form of workplace harassment or violence in the first place, because we can all agree that harassment and sexual violence of any kind is unacceptable.
I would like to thank all members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons With Disabilities who extended the sittings and came back early from their constituency week to hear important testimony. As well, I extend the thanks of the House to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour and the department for evaluating and providing guidance to our committee as we evaluated each clause and section. I also thank the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso for his work in support of our committee evaluating Bill C-65 effectively.
The committee heard from witnesses, all whom spoke with passion about the urgency with which harassment and violence in the workplace need to be addressed. While everyone in the House agreed to the urgency of the bill, we understood the complexities of ensuring that employees are protected from workplace harassment and violence.
The last time I rose in the House, I spoke of the Vice News journalist Hilary Beaumont, author of an investigation into workplace harassment. As I cited then, Mrs. Beaumont interviewed more than 40 women who work on Parliament Hill, including current and former MPs, as well as lobbyists, journalists, staff and interns. Mrs. Beaumont stated at committee that it quickly became apparent that female employees were more vulnerable to harassment than their male colleagues. The women she spoke with told her their stories and experiences, including sexist comments, touching and even sexual assault. Some women said they had been dismissed or had lost job opportunities after trying to report workplace abuse. Some of the women who currently work on the Hill said they would not even know how to report harassment if they had to. Harassment such as this and sexual violence have absolutely no place in any workplace. They are not okay.
With that in mind, we agree with the principles underlying some of the amendments proposed by the other place. I would like to focus specifically on those concerning the recourse available to victims of violence and harassment. During its study of Bill C-65, the committee raised several valid concerns.
An employee of any gender who feels their rights have been violated may be unaware that they have two options for recourse. The employee can file a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act, or they can file a complaint with the employer under Bill C-65.
A member of the other place said that “we must ensure that women who are victims of sexual harassment can still choose the type of recourse, including a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act”. She went on to say that she thinks it is important to clarify that the new framework will not preclude a discrimination complaint for sexual harassment from being filed because that could end up trivializing the harassment and violence that women are subjected to in the workplace and could take away these women's hard-won avenues of recourse.
Bill C-65 is not at all intended to replace the Canadian Human Rights Act. On the contrary, the bill complements it by laying out a clear procedure for preventing and dealing with incidents of harassment and violence in the workplace. However, we do see the need for absolute clarity on this issue.
A tremendous amount of work will be done to make sure everyone understands how to proceed if an employee believes he or she has been subjected to harassment or violence at work, but the message may not reach everyone, and that could cause confusion.
In reality, the law is often complex and difficult to grasp. During our committee discussions, we often heard differing views on the same principles from equally qualified legal experts.
The law can be even more complex and difficult to digest for someone who has just experienced a stressful, even traumatic, event at work and is trying to fully understand what remedy he or she has.
It is not hard to imagine how employees who are dealing with the consequences of such an experience may not realize right away that they are protected under both the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code. They may think that they have to choose one or the other when, in fact, they are and always will be covered by both. That is why we support the amendments proposed by the Senate committee, which clearly explain that employees will not waive their rights under the Canadian Human Rights Act. More specifically, senators suggested that Bill C-65 be amended by adding a clause to the section relating to the Canada Labour Code and by amending clause 21, which deals with the way in which part II of the code applies to the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act.
The additional text proposed for the two clauses specifies that it is understood that the relevant sections will not infringe on the rights provided under the Canadian Human Rights Act. We think that is an important and valuable addition to Bill C-65 because it eliminates any ambiguity regarding the relationship between the bill and the existing legislation. Senators pointed that out and proposed the addition. In order to truly achieve the kind of cultural change needed to eliminate workplace harassment and violence, we need to ensure that all legislative measures that seek to put an end to such shameful behaviour are consistent. A consistent set of laws will help us to make a profound cultural change, a change toward civility and respect, a change that ignores differences and enables human rights to take their rightful place.
It is very important to condemn the acts of violence reported by victims, at all levels, so that these injustices do not go unpunished.
This is exactly what the bill will provide for. We must create a culture of equality in our country, so that all Canadians see themselves as equals and treat each other as equal in rights, dignity and aspirations.
It is important that we create a culture of equality in our country so that all Canadians recognize each other as equals and treat each other with the respect we all deserve.
I know that today of all days, when many members of this place have young women students from the University of Toronto shadowing them, it is important that we work together to ensure that these principles are enshrined in law.
This bill is just the first step, and it is a necessary one. We urgently need to change the culture in Canadian society so that inappropriate behaviour is no longer reinforced.
While this is just a first step, it is an important and necessary first step, one that, along with the regulatory changes prescribed by Bill C-65, will work to change the culture of federally regulated work environments and demonstrate our joint commitment to ending workplace violence and harassment.
We must also teach workers about the means of recourse available to them if they are victims of harassment or violence. Bill C-65 will add to the existing recourse options, and workers must know that they are entitled to full protection guaranteed by the various legislative tools.
I therefore support the amendment to specify that employees are not renouncing their rights under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Ultimately, we support this amendment because it strengthens Bill C-65, offering more clarity and thus more protections to those employees.
We remain committed to securing the timely passage of Bill C-65. I urge all members to support the government's position.
I would like to remind my esteemed colleagues that harassment and sexual violence of any kind are unacceptable, period. Our government made a commitment to take action on harassment and sexual violence in Parliament and in federally regulated workplaces.
With Bill C-65, the Government of Canada is taking an important step toward making workplaces in federally regulated industries and on Parliament Hill free from these behaviours.
As noted in this bill, our framework will prevent incidents of harassment and violence, respond effectively to these incidents when they do occur, and support victims, survivors and employers throughout the process.
That being said, no government can fix these problems alone. We live in a culture where power imbalances and gender norms create tolerance for these kinds of unacceptable behaviours.
It will take all of us, employers, employees, colleagues, family members and friends, to do better and change this culture.
As I was saying, it is important that we realize that harassment and sexual violence of any kind are unacceptable, period.
Our government ran on a commitment to take action on workplace harassment and sexual violence in Parliament and in federally regulated workplaces. With Bill C-65, we are taking an important and necessary step toward making workplaces in federally regulated industries and on Parliament Hill free from these behaviours. This framework will prevent incidents of harassment and violence. It will respond effectively to these incidents when they occur. It will support victims, survivors and employers.
However, no government can fix this alone. We live in a culture where power imbalances and gender norms create tolerance for these kinds of unacceptable behaviours. It will take all of us, employers, employees, colleagues, family members and friends, to do better and to change this culture.
The members of the committee worked very hard during those months to make sure that we would strengthen the legislation. Today we received suggestions and amendments from the Senate, and we believe that some of them need to be integrated to strengthen this legislation. I hope the members of this House will make sure we pass these suggested amendments, which we think can help strengthen the legislation, so we can move on and change the situation that exists in our government and in the workplace.
I will now answer questions.