House of Commons Hansard #335 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workplace.


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10:25 a.m.


Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raises the very important point that not all of us are equally vulnerable. In fact, those who have the experience of being racialized, LGBTQ community members, newcomers to this country, and people who may not have English or French as their mother tongue or first language experience a heightened sense of vulnerability. Therefore, having a baseline of legislation that would compel employers, first of all, to have a policy in place and to ensure that their employees know what their rights and responsibilities are would allow employers to take that very important step of prevention. It would strengthen a fabric that would set a baseline of intolerance for harassment and violence.

We have talked a lot about sexual violence in the context of this bill, but it would actually cover all forms of harassment and violence. Oftentimes we hear from vulnerable people that it may not be sexual in nature. They may be experiencing harassment, bullying or belittlement based on other criteria. People with disabilities, for example, often feel that they are harassed or bullied based on a perceived ability or capacity.

I thank my colleague for her work on ensuring that the folks most vulnerable in our workplaces have a strong fabric of protection and a voice to ensure that they have the fairest chance of success in the workplace.

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10:25 a.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, frequently in the House, we hear about the importance of consultation with the various groups that are going to be impacted by legislation. During the testimony at the Senate committee, the National Association of Women and the Law and the Native Women's Association of Canada both said that they were not adequately consulted. In fact, they were not consulted at all during the drafting of this bill.

Francyne Joe, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, stated:

Moreover, there has been inadequate consultation with Indigenous people. Our understanding is this will apply to federally regulated First Nations governments and if this is correct, then the Government of Canada must carry out meaningful consultation with Indigenous people.

In particular, Indigenous women have not been adequately consulted. In the harassment and sexual violence public consultation report that informed this legislation, only 28 Indigenous women were surveyed and only one engagement session with the Ontario Native Women’s Association was held. Findings from these consultations do not appear to be reflected in the legislation in its current form.

Does the minister agree with Francyne Joe that there was inadequate consultation specifically with indigenous women's groups?

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10:25 a.m.


Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am particularly proud that this legislation would protect indigenous women in their workplaces as well. The member points out that some aspects of indigenous communities are covered by federal regulations, and so that means this protection would be there for indigenous women working in those spaces as well.

We are comfortable with the consultation we held. We talked to a wide variety of different experts such as legal groups, advocates, employers, labour unions and individual Canadians about their experiences in the workplace, and what needed to be in the legislation to ensure a strong regime so people would be able to use the legislation and employers would have confidence that the tool would allow them to move forward with their endeavours without onerous measures that would not result in change.

In fact, we have heard overwhelming support from both FETCO, the organization that advocates on behalf of federally regulated employers, as well as the CLC. I am excited to hear the comment around the Ontario Native Women's Association, which has headquarters located in Thunder Bay. I have had many conversations with Cora-Lee McGuire, its executive director. Anything that protects women in the workplace is a step in the right direction. There is a scourge of violence against women in this country. It is really encouraging to hear a member of the Conservative Party take this so seriously. It is certainly something I did not hear in the decade of work I did on the streets of Thunder Bay.

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10:30 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

We have time for a very brief question, 30 seconds for the question and 30 seconds for the answer.

The hon. member for Jonquière.

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10:30 a.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague to tell us why the government rejected Senate amendment 4, which sought to add “ensure that the work place is free from harassment and violence” to clause 3 of Bill C-65. That would have been a very important addition.

I would like my colleague to quickly share her opinion on that.

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10:30 a.m.


Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, we proposed that the paragraph from amendment 4 be deleted because the addition of the proposed paragraph would mean that a single incident of harassment or violence in the workplace would be considered to be a violation of the Canada Labour Code on the part of the employer, which would undermine the framework.

We want to make sure we have a continuum of responses from prevention all the way up to enforcement and responding to survivors. However, if we had every incident be a violation of the Canada Labour Code, one could see how this would, first of all, be incredibly onerous for employers because in some cases those allegations may not be accurate. It would actually undermine the framework that puts the responsibility for prevention on the employer, which is such an important part of this legislation.

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10:30 a.m.


Lisa Raitt Conservative Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's work on this matter, and I very much appreciate all the work that our shadow minister also accomplished in this matter.

I am very happy to announce that we will be supporting the government's response, predominantly because the amendments will strengthen the legislation to prevent workplace violence or harassment. Combatting harassment is a pressing need in our Parliament today. Sexual misconduct and sexual harassment have no place in Canadian society, especially within our political system.

In January of this year, when introducing the legislation, the minister herself said:

Parliament Hill features distinct power imbalances, which perpetuates a culture where people with a lot of power and prestige can use and have used that power to victimize the people who work so hard for us. It is a culture where people who are victims of harassment or sexual violence do not feel safe to bring those complaints forward. It is a place where these types of behaviours, abusive and harmful, are accepted and minimized and ignored.

I take it that that is the motivation and the reasoning for the legislation to be introduced and where we are today in finalizing the legislation.

Those are incredibly profound words. They are incredibly disturbing words to be said by a minister, because it is talking about our workplace as members of Parliament. When I reflect on it, the fact is that it can be so easy for many of us as members to initially recoil from the language, saying that we are not all like that, and I do believe that.

At the very beginning, I do think it is important to remember that the collective reputation of all of us becomes damaged when we allow this kind of unacceptable behaviour and the allegations to be made without procedures in place for the complaints to be dealt with.

Not all of us are partaking in the actions that have been alleged against many of the members. Indeed, for the most part, we all do our work, and we all respect and truly appreciate the work that our staff members do for us. However, it has come to our attention through a series of incidents that this needed to be looked at.

I am going to take the House through a little retrospective about my experience with respect the issues surrounding sexual harassment, sexual violence and bullying in the workplace over the next couple of minutes. I hope to inform the House that this is not a unique issue. This is not something we have not tackled before in other industries. This is something that is timely now. However, we can take lessons from other places in order to ensure that we get to the right end result. I will conclude by talking about relevant recent examples, which I believe put in jeopardy the actual implementation of this act in a fair and fulsome way.

I have been working in male-dominated fields for most of my life. What I understand and what I have seen in each of these fields is a similar evolution when it comes to bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct in the workplace.

First of all, we need a simple awareness that certain language and actions are unacceptable. Sometimes people think that they are just telling a joke or are just saying something funny. Sometimes they are saying, “Well, I thought she was appreciative of what I was saying to her, or him.”

The reality is that there has to be an awareness made that not everybody thinks the same way and not everybody takes actions in the same way. That is the first step: awareness.

The second step is training and education, where we go beyond the awareness of the issue and the need to amend behaviour to being shown the way, through training and education, of how one should behave appropriately. I am very pleased to report that we have done that collectively as Parliament. We have done that as members. We all sat through appropriate training and education. I commend the committee and the House of Commons for ensuring that we did all do this, because I believe that took us to the next step.

What we see today in the government legislation is a process. What many will say is that in order for complaints to come forward, in order to make sure that the most egregious issues are being dealt with, there needs to be a structure in place, a place where individuals could go and feel comfortable and confident in being able to enumerate their complaints, with the hope of getting some kind of action.

The final and most important part is that justice is seen to be delivered either in the case where an application or a complaint is shown not to be valid or, where a complaint is shown to be valid, that there is some kind of punishment, that there is some kind of activity that discourages this going to the future.

In order for this legislation to truly be accepted and believed as something that is going to be helpful in our culture, justice has to be seen to be delivered in the implementation. While we are talking about one part of it today in the process, we should always be mindful as members of Parliament that the work has not been finished by any means. This is not a time for a victory lap and I would not assume that things will go smoothly, but I know from all sides of the House that we will be definitely working to ensure that justice will be seen to be delivered in the cases that come forward.

In the 1980s, I was in the field of chemistry. My undergraduate degree was from St. Francis Xavier University. I did an honours degree in physical chemistry, which is not an area where there would be a lot of women. Ironically enough, we were fifty-fifty. It was a small class of six, three men and three women, but we were fifty-fifty in terms of gender balance. While in the eighties StFX was known as a great partying school and it is very proud of that, we did not oftentimes discuss or we were not even aware of the difficulties around sexual harassment and sexual violence.

I often wonder whether the issue did not come home to us in our small faculty because of the gender balance in the faculty. We had no discussion of the concepts. We had no issues that I knew of and we kind of blindly went through and went off to our next levels in life. After graduation, the six of us ended up going into different fields. Some of us continued in grad studies and some of us went to professional school. I went on to grad school to study biochemical toxicology at the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo, where my eyes were opened to the fact that with gender disparity did come unique difficulties.

I noticed very clearly that women who were faculty were ignored in the mailroom. They were looked down upon for their academic abilities, they were overlooked and shouted down at faculty meetings, and they were not necessarily given their space to come up with their ideas in the field of chemistry. I took all that to heart in the back of my mind determining whether this was a field I wanted to pursue. The reality is that what we see really does impact what we believe and what our decisions are going to be. There were not very many women in the faculty of chemistry at the time and very few role models to look up to, and very few shows of success that we could aspire to in terms of staying in that chosen field.

The good part about it that I was a terrible chemist, so it is not a great loss to the field of chemistry that I ended up not pursuing that field. Academically, it may have been made apparent to me that I was not going to continue to my Ph.D. but certainly in the back of my mind it did come into play, whether it was going to be a place where I would feel validated and listened to. It was not necessarily about wanting to not be harassed; it was about not being overlooked, bullied or put down, all of those insidious things that can happen.

Maybe more women in grad school in the sciences will make a difference, but putting the pressure on women in science all the time that we have to go into science and do better because if we do better then everything will be better is a complete fallacy. What women who choose to go into science need is good structure and to see that results are delivered when they have the right structure.

A lot of times when we see someone touting gender parity within this committee or that committee, or this faculty or that faculty, it is of interest, but that is not the point. The point of it all is whether or not there is a real institutional structure to recognize the value of each individual within that faculty regardless of their gender, taking the gender outside of the box in terms of academic abilities.

Therefore, I am not here to say today that if we have more women in politics it is going to get better, because I am not convinced it will. That is a nice marketing phrase, but I do not believe it is a solution to the real situations and issues that we have in different fields where women may not feel they are welcome and where they may not feel they can have a career.

Not having had enough of a male-dominated area, I decided to go to law school. Law school is very different. It was very gender balanced. Indeed, in my first year at law school, in the incoming class at Osgoode, there were more women than men. We were definitely moving the dial in terms of the people studying there. Again, it was a wonderful facility, a wonderful space, where we did not feel there were any differences with respect to gender. We had a female dean who was extremely effective, and wonderful courses taught by both men and women. We were able to choose which direction we wanted to go in. In that space and time, I did not feel there were any difficulties around gender-based violence or gender-based discrimination, although there was, at the time, definitely a debate and discussion about whether a member of the faculty had been overlooked. Therefore, it was an issue that was circulating, but it certainly did not percolate to where our class was.

However, law firms are different. In 1998, after being called to the bar and doing some time at another summer job, I ended up articling and being placed at law firms. There, one could see that there was a real difference. That is where the stratification started to happen and where one could see that power imbalance that I spoke of in my opening remarks.

In 2000, there was an absolutely outrageous event in downtown Toronto of alleged sexual misconduct that really brought the issue of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the legal field in Toronto to the fore. Without getting into all of the gory details at the time, a senior partner was accused of sexual misconduct toward several female lawyers in a public bar. It was something that could not be swept under the rug because so many people were involved, so many people saw what happened and so many people reported what had happened. Therefore, it was an issue that the law firm of the time had to deal with, and it dealt with it very strongly. It removed the partner from that firm and made sure from that point forward there was serious education, awareness, and training within the company. I bring that up because I believe, in part, that it created a greater awareness among many of the downtown companies that perhaps had not gotten on the earlier bandwagon of dealing with sexual harassment or sexual violence in the workplace.

I was working at the Toronto port authority at the time. I was its general counsel, and I decided to try to distinguish where we lacked policies in the workplace with respect to women and men and power. The organization had been around for about 75 years by that time, and it had no maternity leave policy. I guess no women worked at the port authority for 75 years. One of my first jobs was to draft the policy, which I drafted so that it was gender neutral. We became one of the first places where our male firefighters were grateful to take some parental leave as well when their partner was pregnant and after giving birth. After what had happened with the alleged misconduct in Toronto, it became almost imperative at that point in time that boards made sure they had appropriate policies in place to deal with issues that could come up in the workplace. With 100 employees, 90% of them men, we undertook the process of bringing people to an awareness of the issues, educating and training them, setting up a process, and finally showing that, if complaints came forward, there would be justice. I wish I could say it was easy, because it really was not easy.

When people start talking about something like sexual violence, sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying in the workplace, initially there is a great tendency for people to say, “That is not me; I am not like that; why are you accusing; why do I have to go through this process?” Those are all good questions. However, it is up to the management, up to the collective group putting the policies forward and in place, to assure everyone that this is not about seeking out and trying to find people who are to blame, but rather to put in place a system to allow people to come forward so that the bad apples within the mix of 100 are sought out, and not the entire reputation of the organization being questioned.

At the end of the day, I have had 20 years in this space of trying to bring policies into play to deal with these issues. I know I have said it before, but I want to say it again, because if we underpin everything that we are attempting to do within Parliament to try to protect everyone here, if we say that we are doing it, first, to raise awareness, second, to train and educate, third, to have a solid process in place and to have justice be seen to be done, then we are on the right path.

There are some high-profile cases that took place within our parliamentary family in 2018, as well as in the legal community in Toronto in 2000, that have brought us to this place today where we are discussing this legislation. The United Kingdom had the same issue. A study was prompted by a BBC investigative report about bullying and harassment in the U.K. House of Commons. As luck would have it, that report was released yesterday at their House of Commons. How they have approached their issues are different from how we have approached ours. We have approached this by jumping right into the legislative side of it and trying to figure out the best process, because we think that if we put that process in place, it is going to fix everything. A different approach was taken by the U.K. House of Commons. It set up an independent inquiry, run by a separate person, who then had permission to interview widely the people who had complaints, to talk to all MPs, and to develop recommendations. One of the recommendations was that they needed to take the time to get it right. It is a long report, over 155 pages long. However, it is well worth reading, not for the salacious details of what happened to certain individuals or the claims made against others, but to give us more colour to the point of what could have happened or what could be happening if we do not deal with our culture in the appropriate way.

The number one issue that arose out of it was that there were obviously ineffective mechanisms for dealing with what was happening in the United Kingdom House of Commons. They focused on bullying, harassment and sexual harassment. However, what is very interesting is that they are calling for a fundamental change to rebuild trust and restore confidence, the point being that both men and women are making allegations of bullying and harassment within the U.K. House of Commons and that it should be taken seriously and dealt with in the most substantive way possible.

The most controversial part of the report, which is being covered by the U.K. media, is the last three paragraphs, which talk about who can best effect change. I am going to read them into the record because I think they give us a lot to think about.

This is how she concluded her report. She states:

If approached for advice by a constituent who was the victim of bullying or sexual harassment in their own workplace, I am confident that they would not hesitate in assisting them to take forward their complaints. I therefore hope that the recommendations I have made will receive the active support of those elected Members who will be appalled by the abusive conduct alleged against some of their number, but who will also be anxious to ensure that any process for determining disputed allegations is independent, effective and fair to both sides.

I have also referred throughout this report to systemic or institutional failings and to a collective ethos in the House that has, over the years, enabled the underlying culture to develop and to persist. Within this culture, there are a number of individuals who are regarded as bearing some personal responsibility for the criticisms made, and whose continued presence is viewed as unlikely to facilitate the necessary changes, but whom it would also be wrong for me to name, having regard to the terms of reference for this inquiry. I hope, however, that the findings in this report will enable a period of reflection in that respect in addition.

In considering how best to progress the change in culture that is accepted as essential, and how best to take forward the recommendations in this report, it may be that some individuals will want to think very carefully about whether they are the right people to press the reset button and to do what is required to deliver that change in the best interests of the House, having regard both to its reputation and its role as an employer of those who are rightly regarded as its most important resource.

It was heavy for the author of this report to come out swinging, as it were, against their House of Commons' management, but it was necessary that it be said.

One of the issues that I found very interesting when they were talked about why their culture has happened in the way it has was when they noted that it was “a culture, cascading from the top down, of deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence, in which bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed.” Those are all very important words that we should reflect on to ensure that we are not promoting that here.

The executive board of the U.K. House of Commons responded by saying that the report “makes difficult reading for all of us. Bullying and harassment have no place in the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Digital Service. We fully accept the need for change and, as a leadership team, are determined to learn lessons from the report. We apologise for past failings and are committed to changing our culture for the better.” That is by far the best response an executive board could possibly give to such a report, by apologizing for what has happened and vowing to move forward to do better.

As I said many times in my speech, legislation is not the end of the situation. Justice has to be seen to be done with a process that is working. Further, building on what the report said, we have to make sure that the people who will implement this are above reproach, that they absolutely do have the ability to say that they have clean hands and can help foster this changing culture.

How issues are dealt with and what is said will be watched carefully given the amount of press that we have received in the past about conduct in the House of Commons. This brings me to the uncomfortable position of talking about an incident that happened this summer.

This summer it came to the attention of the media through an online blogger that an editorial had indicated many years ago that the Prime Minister was guilty of inappropriate conduct. The writer in question wrote this many years ago. She was young; he was younger. In it she questioned whether or not it was appropriate for someone with that balance of power and fame to come in and be, in her view, inappropriate.

What I find interesting about this incident and why I talk about the culture of acquiescence and deference and subservience is the fact that this story had been around for months. Many people knew about the story but no one had a response or an answer to what actually happened. So, the story grew in strength and in importance, and the question then becomes, are there more rumours around? That does not do anything to help us determine whether or not the appropriate process is in place to deal with these kinds of allegations and that justice will be seen to be done.

The media was well aware of the incident. It knew what the editorial said. It refused to run with it. The Prime Minister over a series of many weeks ended up coming out with a final statement saying that the individual in response did not remember the situation as he remembered it, and that in these situations everyone remembers things differently. It was an unfortunate response and I will tell the House why.

It was not at all the full-throated apology made by the leadership team at the U.K. House of Commons. It was an explanation and an excuse. The difficulty with that is that in the midst of our introducing this legislation and debating and voting on it, and knowing the importance of showing an example to the rest of the country in dealing with these matters, the individual with the most power in the country did not do what would be expected, which was to apologize and move on. For me, that is an unravelling in the most basic form of what we can expect for this legislation to do for us going forward.

The difficulty as well is that I am protected in the House of Commons for saying things like this. I do not know if anybody is watching this speech right now, but I will definitely be noted in social media for once again bringing up this allegation of the Prime Minister and his groping that had been discussed all summer. I hope the House understands that what I am trying to convey in more than a 30-second sound bite is the fact that it does matter. It is not about a victim and it is not about whether or not something did happen; it is an inappropriate response to a real allegation that should show a path forward for other people to feel that they would get justice if they came forward with a complaint in a process against somebody of high power.

We lost an opportunity for the Prime Minister to show a path to making sure that we would have teeth and some kind of truth behind this legislation. It is a missed opportunity. I dwell on it a lot because, at the end of the day, as a woman of 30 years in this field, it does make me sad that a simple apology and acknowledgement would have gone a longer way.

We have not talked a lot about bullying. Bullying is a great difficulty as well within the House of Commons. It is a great difficulty in the workplace. For a period of time, I enjoyed being the minister of labour and we saw very clearly that sometimes overt bullying leads to violent conclusions, and we would never want that to happen. I am not suggesting that would happen here, but I am suggesting that bullying really does not have a place in any forum of discourse, including in this chamber. I would submit it is recognized in the Westminster model that bullying is not accepted, because we have this notion of unparliamentary language. In this space and this time, every member is honourable, and it is not allowed to besmirch the honourability of a member. We are all equal and we are treated as such, and it is very important to ensure that we show our honourability at all times. However, this is a protected space for that. This is where this can happen.

I want to bring up two incidents in the past eight months which show to me that, again, a government that seeks to implement this legislation does not walk the talk. As a result, I have a very difficult time having confidence that the Liberals are going to be able to implement this legislation so that people have confidence in it.

Earlier in the year, I was at a committee meeting, and in that committee meeting I was testing and prodding the Minister of Finance, as is my role as a deputy leader. I made sure that I was testing him on some of the underpinnings of his budget. They had to do with gender and whether or not certain things were taken into consideration. In response, the minister grew frustrated and at some point in discussing it, at the very end of our time, he indicated basically that people like me who are putting these questions towards him were neanderthals that would have to be dragged along.

First of all, it is laughable. I have been called far worse in my life. It was not a moment that I lost all of my self-esteem. It would take a lot for me to lose my self-esteem; I am a good politician. Nonetheless, knowing that he had no problem utilizing that word not only in reference to me tangentially but to my party as well shows us that the respect and honourability was not present in that moment. It is an important concept. It is an important issue for us to discuss.

The response from the media was that it was not that bad. It does not matter how bad it was. In that moment, in that time, instead of dealing with the issue and answering the question, the minister chose to use a personal slur in order to answer what was a substantive policy question. That is unacceptable. Again, can the government truly implement legislation that is dependent upon people being able to understand the importance of justice to be seen?

The last time it happened was in this chamber. It is still under consideration by the Speaker of the House, so I will say at the very beginning that, of course, we are awaiting the decision of the Speaker with respect to the use of unparliamentary language by the Prime Minister.

It was, again, on very difficult questioning, which was on the question of whether or not the Prime Minister had the power to move or cause to be moved a prisoner, Terri-Lynne McClintic, from one institution to another. The Prime Minister was asked many questions, first by my hon. colleague for Parry Sound—Muskoka and then by me. Instead of answering the issue, the Prime Minister became frustrated and annoyed and ended up calling me and the rest of our caucus ambulance chasers. An ambulance chaser is an unethical lawyer. The speaker before me was a lawyer and I was a lawyer. These things actually matter to us.

What matters more at the end of the day is the fact that the Prime Minister once again thought it was absolutely acceptable to go from discussing policy to throwing a personal slur across the floor.

One thing I will say is that those two incidents were not made in humour. Nobody was trying to be funny. These were directed. If I were a younger member of Parliament asking that question for the first time on my feet, the message I would receive is, “Be careful in asking that question because I am going to call you a name. I am going to embarrass you on television. You are going to be embarrassed in front of your constituents.” That is the impact and effect of allowing this.

I have been here for 10 years. I just celebrated my 10th anniversary with some of my other colleagues and I have grown a skin thick enough to deal with those kinds of things, but I am absolutely appalled that they would think it is acceptable to do that kind of thing.

Notice that in all of this discussion, not once have I mentioned the fact that I am a female member of Parliament, because it does not matter. Male or female, name calling in this place is recognized in our rules of procedure as being unparliamentary and it should also be held to account on the government side as much as it is on the opposition side. When we do not see laws being applied fairly, we lose our ability to believe that the law and the process will work for us.

That is the danger in this piece of legislation, that while we can have the best process in the world and we can have fantastic outlets for people to discuss, for people to have counselling, for people to go through hearings and have support, the reality at the end of the day is if justice is not seen to be done, everything we have done is for nothing. It is only through the conduct of the government that we can determine from the outside whether or not it will actually do what it set out to do.

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11:05 a.m.

Jennifer O'Connell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance (Youth Economic Opportunity), Lib.

Mr. Speaker, the hypocrisy in the member's comments is unbelievable. I was at that finance committee meeting and what we were actually discussing was having more women in the workforce. The member opposite and her party were talking about how it is not important and that it should not be a priority for the Minister of Finance to have women in the workforce and have equality in our economy.

That is the context of those comments. However, context and truth do not seem to matter. When the member opposite talks about being embarrassed, it is embarrassing to hear in this day and age another member in this House of any gender say that women should not be equal in our economy. This government has the most women in the workforce ever.

Given my colleague's recent statement, is the member opposite going to support this legislation? Does she believe that preventing incidents of harassment and violence in the workforce is important? Does she believe that we need to have legislation to protect employees from this behaviour? Do we need to support employees affected by harassment and support their privacy? Will the member support this legislation and stop harassment in the workplace for our employees?

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11:05 a.m.


Lisa Raitt Conservative Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, absolutely, and as I said at the beginning of my speech we are supportive of the government. I thank the minister and shadow minister for their work. What I was talking about is my concern about the implementation of it going forward.

I appreciate the member's point of view as to what happened. We can all take a look at the committee Hansard to determine what happened and what was actually said.

I would just remind members that it is easy to get caught up in trying to make sure to defend a position without necessarily thinking all of the aspects through, and as it was said with respect to this report from the U.K., the culture is deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence. In that moment when the word “neanderthal” was used, it would have been very simple for the minister to apologize and withdraw it right away. He chose not to. That is the point of contention that I have.

By the way, for the member to submit here for the House that because he was provoked it was okay is a part of a word that I cannot say, but it is shameful.

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11:05 a.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, as the saying goes, a leopard cannot change its spots. Everyone in the House agreed that we wanted to take a non-partisan approach to our study of Bill C-65. We were able to do a thorough job in committee, and I would really like to come back to the bill and its very essence.

We are talking about victims here. Some of the people who are listening at home have experienced harassment, violence or sexual intimidation themselves.

I would like to get back to the substance of Bill C-65. I moved an amendment in committee regarding the individuals responsible for an investigation providing a written report of the results of the investigation to specific people, such as the employer or employee. Following consultation with the employee, those documents could then be destroyed. My amendment was rejected.

The same thing happened in the Senate. A similar proposal was made, and the amendment was rejected. I do not understand why the government rejected both of those amendments, one at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, and one in the Senate.

I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on the fact that that amendment was rejected, as well as her comments on the importance of providing written results from the investigation to the victim and the employer, and then destroying those documents to ensure full confidentiality.

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11:05 a.m.


Lisa Raitt Conservative Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the reminder that people who have been victims may be watching and if they are, they should definitely come forward and go through the process that currently exists, as well as the future process.

With respect to the substantive question on the amendment that was proposed and not accepted by the government, I was not privy to the discussions of the committee, but having sat on a subcommittee with respect to harassment and the review of our code of conduct, I know we and the minister would have received good advice, both from the folks involved on the human resources side and those involved on the legal side, and it is not easy to decide. Amendments like this do not make it into a bill like this because we want it to be as bipartisan as possible.

I respect the point of view of the government that it chose to not accept that amendment. We support the bill as it is before us.

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11:10 a.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for her passionate speech. It was very well thought out and measured. She is somebody I respect dearly.

We have a Prime Minister who, in the last session, called the member for Thornhill a derogatory term. My colleague gave a couple of examples of where the Prime Minister thought it was appropriate to stoop to name calling. There was also the time when Motion No. 6 was being debated. Everyone remembers the “elbowgate” incident, where he felt it was appropriate, as he walked across the aisle, to swear at the opposition members and then physically grab our colleague and direct him to his seat. That was totally inappropriate.

I am a father of three beautiful daughters. With respect to the incident involving a reporter earlier on, I want to mention what the Prime Minister said in answer to this. First, he did not remember the incident and then he said, “I do not feel that I acted inappropriately in any way, but I respect the fact that someone else might have experienced that differently.” He went on to add, “This lesson that we are learning, and I’ll be blunt about it, often a man experiences an interaction as being benign or not inappropriate and a woman, particularly in a professional context, can experience it differently and we have to respect that and reflect on that.” That is not an admission of guilt. Indeed, it is a denial that the incident even happened. Is this not the same as the #MeToo movement now, when men in power are saying they thought it was consensual?

I was appalled when the Prime Minister offered that as an explanation. I expected more from the Prime Minister, regardless of who he is or where he is from. It is disappointing for me. I am glad to stand up on this and I will now offer my hon. colleague an opportunity to comment.

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11:10 a.m.


Lisa Raitt Conservative Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will go back to what I believe was the gold-plated standard on how the board in the U.K. dealt with this yesterday, which was:

We fully accept the need for change and...are determined to learn lessons from the report. We apologise for past failings and are committed to changing our culture for the better.

This is the message that should be brought up every time something like this happens. We apologize and move on, be it Neanderthal, be it ambulance chaser or be it whatever happened at Kokanee many years ago.

However, on the member's point, and what I find interesting, it is a predilection of individuals in the world in general. Every time an issue is brought up that makes the government uncomfortable, its response is basically that we are remembering it differently. It just happened again with the member opposite. She who told me that I did not remember the incident at committee the same way, so she explained what actually had happened and why I should not have been upset by it. That is exactly what happened in the last incident as well.

There is a colloquial term for it and I will not use it because it is a silly term. However, in order to bring integrity to serious legislation like this we need to see the actions of the government as being serious, considering how it appears to people, not just that justice is done but that justice is seen to be done.

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11:10 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


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

Mr. Speaker, action is important. We have before us substantial and historical legislation. We should be looking at the substance of the legislation. I believe we have unanimous support of the chamber for something that will move Canada forward on a very important file. Perhaps we should leave the personal stuff for another time. The personal stuff seems to be on the agenda of the Conservatives no matter what the debate of the day happens to be.

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11:15 a.m.


Lisa Raitt Conservative Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will not take lessons from anyone who tells me what I can and cannot say in the House of Commons. I get to say what I want to say. This is what is on my mind and in my heart. I am very concerned by the lack of balance, fair and equitable treatment when it comes to how the Prime Minister is treated with respect to obvious incidents of misconduct. As a result, I chose to use those examples in my speech, and I regret nothing.

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11:15 a.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I have said several times in the House today, my thoughts are with all the victims. To all those going through a tough time or who wonder what to do, hang on. There are people who can help you. This bill is a step in the right direction. It will not end bullying, harassment, sexual or other violence, but we are here today to improve legislation. My thoughts are with these people.

Every member of the House should have respect for the victims and I know that to be true. More often than not, victims of an unfortunate incident tend to feel very isolated. I believe I speak for all my colleagues when I say that we all stand with the victims.

I also want to acknowledge the important work done by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, and both chambers on Bill C-65, which seeks to prevent harassment and violence in the work place. This bill is of general interest and this is a non-partisan issue, as I keep saying.

Harassment and violence, especially sexual harassment and violence, are too important an issue to allow partisan politics and bickering to hamstring our efforts. On the contrary, this bill needs to free up speech once and for all and empower victims to speak out about sexual harassment, because workplace harassment and violence are still widespread today, even here in Parliament.

That is why the NDP supports the principle and spirit of Bill C-65. However, in its current form, the bill is not perfect. Sadly, I think Bill C-65 only partially meets its goal of strengthening the harassment and violence prevention regime. Bill C-65 falls well short of addressing all of our concerns or those of the many witnesses who came to testify before the Senate or House committees.

The Senate proposed some good amendments. Some were similar to what I had presented to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, although once again, the government rejected more than half of my amendments. At any rate, those amendments would have improved Bill C-65 and helped us address the concerns raised by many witnesses who appeared before the House and Senate committees.

The suggestions were for simple things, such as recognizing that every employee has the right to employment that is free from harassment and violence, advancing gender equality, addressing issues of racism, and ensuring that the rights of women workers, including those who face intersectional forms of discrimination, are respected, protected and fulfilled. There was nothing particularly radical about these proposed amendments, but they were rejected nonetheless.

On April 26, the national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees contacted me to discuss the bill. Here is what he said to me:

I am writing to you today about two serious flaws in Bill C-65 that will undermine the rights of workers affected by violence and harassment in the workplace.

What flaws could be so worrisome that the union felt compelled to urge the minister to correct them immediately?

That would be the exclusion of health and safety committees from both the complaint and the investigation processes. The process for filing harassment and violence complaints and the investigation process must both continue to benefit from the expertise of these committees. Excluding them makes no sense to me.

The surprising reason given by the Liberals to justify their measures was the purported breach of victims' confidentiality, were they to take part in the investigations by these committees. This is barely credible for many reasons, which I would like to outline.

First of all, the decision to bring these committees into the process was made by the victims themselves. The bill eliminates without a valid reason some options available to victims. It was an additional choice available to the victim, not a constraint that was imposed.

Second, to date, these joint health and safety committees have always received these complaints and successfully carried out the harassment investigations. Their modern investigative methods have always emphasized respect for victims' privacy. By excluding these committees from the investigative process, Bill C-65 is about to eliminate decades of experience, training and work, to say the least.

That is not all. If the Liberals truly wanted to protect victims' privacy and confidentiality, then why did they oppose several of the amendments I put forward at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, and why did they oppose Senate amendment 7(b)? I had the pleasure of proposing some twenty amendments to the committee, but the Liberals allowed only three of them. Many of the other amendments were not even discussed. The Liberals chose to go straight to a vote and would not even explain why they were rejecting the amendments.

One of the amendments that was voted down without any explanation was a simple proposal from the Confederation of National Trade Unions. Under Bill C-65, joint health and safety committees would not be subject to investigations for privacy reasons. The problem is that such committees still provide a wealth of expertise to victims. Witnesses suggested a logical solution: give the committees codes of practice and a code of ethics that would ensure victims' privacy.

The government opposed this recommendation without any explanation out of stubbornness or because they did not understand it. It seems to me that excluding these committees from the investigation process is a serious decision. There was certainly no shortage of witnesses who supported the amendment. Unions, associations, and law firms were all in favour, and there are more.

My speech may not be interesting to some of my colleagues, but I think that the nature of Bill C-65 calls for a little order. If those who want to talk could do so outside or in the lobby, I think my colleagues who want to listen to my speech would appreciate it. I do not think my message was heard.

I will pick up where I left off and perhaps members in the House will keep it down. The expertise of the joint health and safety committees spans decades, but that alone does not explain why witnesses adamantly defended keeping them in the investigative process. The other reason, which is rather important, is the exceptional diversity of the investigators who make up the joint committees tasked with investigating harassment cases. The right of joint committees to conduct investigations has until now made it possible for victims to benefit from an incredible diversity of investigators in terms of colour, religion, age and sex. Such diversity in the profile of investigators is invaluable in a workplace.

Unfortunately, it is clear that this aspect has been removed from Bill C-65, against the recommendations of the International Labour Office.

In investigations into sexual harassment, the victims will no longer be able to benefit from the expertise or the extreme diversity within the joint health and safety committees.

It was still possible, at the committee stage, to include a provision in the bill to ensure the diversity of investigators, similar to that made possible by joint committees, that would have applied to all investigators.

That is exactly what one of my amendments proposed. It stated that the choice of investigators, although no longer the purview of the joint committees, must reflect the diversity of Canadian society. Thus, the diversity of investigators, which until now was made possible by the joint committees, would be perpetuated even though the committees were excluded from the investigation.

A balanced representation of Canadian diversity would be assured. Apparently, the recommendation made by the UN Secretariat on labour was not good enough for the government, because it did not let Canada adopt legislation to guarantee equality and non-discrimination in the investigators' profile.

We need to remember that minorities are disproportionately affected by workplace harassment and violence. By "minority", I mean members of an ethnic or religious minority as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex workers, and migrant workers.

That is why the profile of individuals responsible for the investigation must at all costs reflect diversity. However, it seems that our legislation will not take into account national diversity in the selection of investigators, and I find that very unfortunate.

Those are some of the aspects that were especially important to me, after spending all those hours listening to and reading the recommendations made by witnesses when they appeared before the committee and in their briefs.

In order to respond to their concerns and correct the deficiencies in Bill C-65, I drafted amendments that were not even debated. There has been nothing but radio silence from the Liberal members.

I would like to now move on to other aspects of the bill that the NDP is also concerned about. There are many of them and they have to do with the development of employer policies on harassment and violence, for example.

Some employers said on several occasions that they did not understand exactly what was expected of them when it comes to workplace policies. They need guidance on writing and implementing their anti-harassment policies.

Since the primary purpose of Bill C-65 is to bring about a major change in political and corporate culture when it comes to harassment, we had hoped for more from the government in this regard.

When the witnesses appeared before the committee, they expressed their concerns about the effectiveness of employer anti-harassment policies. The witnesses came up with one solution.

In order to give employers guidance and enhance protection for employees, the witnesses recommended that the Canada Labour Code set out guidelines for what is expected of a corporate policy on harassment in the workplace.

The guidelines should include information about the process for getting immediate assistance in the case of harassment and about the fundamental principles of privacy protection and the processing of complaints.

The NDP's amendment would kill two birds with one stone. It would help guide employers in developing their internal policies and also enhance protection for employees, who would now be covered by effective prevention policies.

That amendment also would have prevented potentially ill-intentioned employers from shirking their basic harassment prevention obligations through the use of deliberately complex anti-harassment policies that ultimately end up disincentivizing victims.

Unfortunately, it seems the Liberals would rather leave employers guessing about how to write their internal policies, since not one Liberal bothered to say anything about this measure, let alone come out in favour of it.

Over the course of our deliberations today and tomorrow, I hope to find out what prompted the government to oppose this measure, which witnesses offered up on a silver platter in committee. I hope to get some answers in the next few hours in the House.

Would it not make sense for expectations around policies, specifically anti-harassment policies, to be included in the Canada Labour Code? That is another thing that is conspicuously absent from Bill C-65.

Once again, there were certainly plenty of opportunities to address the problem, and plenty of witnesses who spoke in favour of such a measure. All our efforts to strengthen the prevention aspect of Bill C-65 were apparently for naught.

The Liberals put forward an amendment to include a five-year review, which was not at all objectionable and was in fact more than welcome. We all recognized the importance of including a provision to review the legislation over the years. Reviewing workplace violence and harassment provisions every five years is a perfectly justifiable improvement. What is less justifiable is that Liberals refused to support one of my amendments to make the five-year review more effective.

I will give a quick explanation. The Liberals proposed that the department publish statistics on workplace harassment and violence every five years. This is good. It complies with almost all of the recommendations of their own report published by Employment and Social Development Canada in March 2017. Almost.

In this report, the government lamented the “insufficient data on workplace harassment and violence“, in particular regarding sexual harassment.

The report also pointed out the need for ongoing data collection in order to address this lack of data.

The Liberals remedied part of the problem by proposing that the department publish a statistical report every five years. However, the reality is that we lack data. This lack of data in the statistical report is rather problematic because we will not have the information required to assess the evolution of Bill C-65.

I will stop here, but I have a lot more to say about Bill C-65. I will have the opportunity to answer questions here in the House and to participate in several more hours of debate.

The NDP supports the principle and the spirit of Bill C-65 but still finds the legislation lacking. We will therefore support the bill on division.

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11:35 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


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

Mr. Speaker, we appreciate many of the comments from my colleague across the way. As I pointed out earlier, we look at the legislation as somewhat historical in what it would do.

I would be interested in the member's comments on the importance of other jurisdictions, specifically of our provinces and our territories. It is important that we demonstrate strong national leadership, but there is also a role for provincial and territorial bodies to look at what they might be able to do. I am curious to know the NDP's perspective on that aspect. Here, we are debating and it seems to have fairly good support from all parties inside the House, but part of that is also to continue this very important dialogue in our communities and that includes those other jurisdictions. What are the member's thoughts with respect to that?

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11:35 a.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments. Bill C-65 makes some amendments to the Canada Labour Code that will protect all Canadians. With regard to Quebec, it will be up to those working in transportation and telecommunications, for example. I am thinking of Canada Post employees, who are governed by the Canada Labour Code in matters of health and safety. Some businesses and workplaces are unionized, while others are not.

Yes, the overall objective of Bill C-65 is to raise awareness among the provinces. However, there is one important aspect and that is to have clear provisions that are easy to apply. As I said in my speech, they did not include guidelines to provide direction to employers on how to intervene and establish clear workplace policies to prevent harassment and violence. It is important that we provide direction.

I believe that we amend legislation in the House in order to provide direction. It is vitally important that the Canada Labour Code provide guidance and direction when consultations are held between management and labour. The primary goal of Bill C-65 is to eliminate harassment and violence. We want that to be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, it will always be there. At the very least, we need to have guidelines and clear direction. Unfortunately, Bill C-65 has some gaps. We could have used this bill to make clear improvements.

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11:35 a.m.


Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Jonquière for her fine speech. I want her to know that I was part of the group of people who were listening.

I just want to reiterate that we are in favour of the principle of the bill, and that this is progress and a step in the right direction.

In answering my colleague's question, the hon. member pointed out that the Canada Labour Code should have been more specific so as to provide guidelines and standards for improving the situation at workplaces in every business governed by the federal Labour Code. As the hon. member mentioned earlier, there are certain conditions unique to Quebec.

I have a question for my colleague. We all agree that guidelines would be a good thing. I know that she will speak from her experience as a leader at the company where she worked, specifically Canada Post. Does she not agree that every case is unique, that every workplace has its own set of specifics in terms of gender balance, the male-female dynamic, the authority relationships?

It seems to me that setting guidelines is kind of the same as establishing basic principles, but the fact is that it is up to each individual employer and each individual employee to work together to improve things, right?

Does my colleague agree that, regardless of whether the law says so, the most important factor is the good intentions of the people who work in those workplaces every day?

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11:40 a.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his very important comments.

That is why the guidelines are necessary, but it is true that everything depends on people's good intentions. Everyone starts out with the best of intentions, but sometimes things happen, which is why workplace training is so important. Both management and employees have to be on board. This is about providing guidance, and as a government institution, that is our job.

We have the Canada Labour Code, which is a useful tool in all kinds of workplaces every day. As I explained, Quebec is unique in that only its federally regulated workers are subject to the Canada Labour Code, but the code does provide a framework and set out measures related to training and consultation.

I said earlier that the health and safety committees could no longer intervene, investigate workplaces, and submit reports, so how will we equip workers and businesses with the necessary provisions? That is one of my questions about Bill C-65 that remains unanswered.

I have even more questions. For example, at a unionized business, can the union representative still help the person who is filing a complaint or who is the subject of an investigation related to allegations of violence or harassment?

There are many questions, but the main thing for the businesses is to get the means and the provisions. Bill C-65 is a step in the right direction, but, again, it will not solve every problem. There was an opportunity to make it better and we are still prepared to make proposals.

I hope that workers and employers will be receptive to Bill C-65 and will lead the way on prevention.

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11:40 a.m.


Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, I understand the long-standing involvement of the labour movement, with local health and safety representatives on the occupational health and safety committees, has been a very important part in ensuring that the Canada Labour Code works well and that investigations have people on the ground as part of the process.

It is my understanding that in the process of reviewing Bill C-65, the government's amendment to include harassment and violence in the workplace directly in the Canada Labour Code and make it also apply to the parliamentary precinct and the good men and women who support us in our work has been left out.

I would like to hear more about the efforts of our labour critic, the member of Parliament for Jonquière, to try to insert the advice of the labour movement into the draft version of this legislation. What is lost by the exclusion of that long-standing practice to have occupational health and safety committees and their representatives be involved in investigations of workplace harassment?

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11:40 a.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question, which goes to the main point of my speech.

Joint occupational health and safety committees are important. They consist of employer and worker representatives who often receive training. They are not experts, but they at least have expertise in their field of work as well as workplace health and safety training. These people investigate complaints about violence, harassment and bullying. We are going to lose many years of experience.

As an aside, I would like to remind members that complainants were not required to go directly the the health and safety committee. It was one of a number of options. Unfortunately, this option will not be included in Bill C-65. We are also losing cultural diversity. The complainant will no longer be able to choose whether they are represented by a woman or a man. That will not be in Bill C-65.

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October 16th, 2018 / 11:45 a.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba


Terry Duguid LiberalParliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-65.

The main goal of Bill C-65 is to ensure that all employees under federal jurisdiction, including those in federal workplaces and in federally regulated industries, are treated fairly and are protected from harmful behaviours such as harassment and sexual violence. The bill underscores our government's strong commitment to taking action that will help create healthy, respectful workplaces.

Harassment, sexism and any type of sexual violence are wrong and completely unacceptable. The tragic reality is that despite our country's progress toward a modern and respectful society, we know that harassment and violence are persistent and pervasive in Canadian workplaces and that incidents often go unreported because people fear retaliation.

These behaviours can have long-term negative effects, not just for people who experience them and their families but for employers as well through lost productivity, absenteeism and employee turnover. Underpinning these realities are the many power imbalances and gender norms still in our culture that have led to unacceptable tolerance of these behaviours for far too long and it is time they stopped.

One of the key building blocks leading up to this proposed legislation was listening to Canadians. The Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour engaged Canadian stakeholders and experts to gather their experiences and perspectives on these issues. Members of Parliament and senators were also consulted to ensure the government could fulfill its commitment to making Parliament a workplace free from harassment and sexual violence.

This engagement of Canadians resulted in the report released last November, entitled “Harassment and sexual violence in the workplace public consultations--what we heard”. In this report, Canadians indicated that incidents of harassment and sexual violence in the workplace were not only under-reported, but also they were often dealt with ineffectively when they were reported. The report found that women reported more sexual harassment and violence than men and that people with disabilities and visible minorities reported more harassment than other groups.

These discussions with stakeholders and experts provided insight on how to address these and other issues and helped inform the bill we are discussing today.

Bill C-65 would strengthen provisions in the Labour Code by putting into place one comprehensive approach that would take the full spectrum of harassment and violence into consideration and would expand the coverage to cover parliamentary workplaces, including the staff of Parliament Hill.

Simply said, the bill would prevent incidents of harassment and violence, respond effectively to these incidents when they would occur and support victims, survivors and employers.

The legislation we are discussing today also aligns with “It’s Time”, Canada’s strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence, which I was privileged to help the Minister of Status of Women launch last year. The title, “It's Time”, was selected because it was time to learn more about the pervasiveness of this problem. It was time to believe survivors. It was time to invest in effective solutions.

Developing this strategy was a key priority of this government upon taking office. Listening to Canadians was a critical first step. As part of this engagement, approximately 300 individuals from over 175 organizations shared their views during meetings held across Canada. The Canadian public was also invited to provide comments via emails and through an online survey in which over 7,500 Canadians participated.

In addition, the Minister of Status of Women created an advisory council of experts on gender-based violence and engaged with provincial and territorial colleagues to receive additional feedback to further inform the strategy.

Our government has invested nearly $200 million in this first-ever federal strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence. The strategy takes important steps to prevent gender-based violence, support survivors and their families and promote a responsive legal and justice system. The strategy will fill important gaps in support for diverse groups, such as indigenous women, LGBTQ2 people, women with disabilities and other populations.

Moreover, it takes a whole-of-government approach that engages a range of key stakeholders and partners across government, including Status of Women Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Safety Canada, the RCMP, the Department of National Defence and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

As the #MeToo and “Times Up” movements have made clear, gender-based violence is not isolated to the private or domestic sphere. It can take place in workplaces, online, on university campuses and in public environments, places where everyone has the right to feel safe. That is why legislation such as Bill C-65 is critical in making federally regulated workplaces safer for everyone by ensuring they are free from harassment and violence.

I would now like to recognize the excellent work of those in the other chamber. Following their careful study of this important bill, they proposed a number of amendments aimed at making Bill C-65 as strong as possible. Let me go into a little more detail about these proposed amendments.

The members proposed a revision of certain terminology, terminology that they felt could have an adverse effect on the very people we were trying to protect if left unchanged. Currently, the words “trivial”, “frivolous” and “vexatious” are used to describe the basis upon which a complaint can be dismissed. While these terms are generally understood in law and appear throughout the Canada Labour Code, they are, as a member of the other place so rightly pointed out, rooted in prejudice and pose a risk for a survivor's claim to be mollified on a whim. Our government understands the power of language and we fully support the replacement of these terms with the more neutral term “abuse of process”.

However, there were a number of additional amendments, which our government respectfully does not support. For example, members from the other chamber proposed an amendment to the purpose clause. This is an important clause as it sets the context for all other provisions in the bill. They suggested to include two additional elements, which would:

...recognize that every employee has the right to employment that is free from harassment and violence; and...advance gender equality, address issues of racism and ensure that the rights of women workers, including those who face intersectional forms of discrimination, are respected, protected and fulfilled.

While we agree these are laudable goals, it is important to remember that part II of the Labour Code is about occupational health and safety. Adding a specific reference to harassment and violence in the purpose clause, in addition to the reference that was already added during the HUMA process, would have the effect of creating an imbalance in the code, focusing more on harassment and violence relative to other rights under part II, such as the ability to refuse dangerous work.

We must ensure that the bill balances all workers' rights as they pertain to health and safety without favouring one over the other.

Since the purpose of the code is already clearly stated, which is to create fair and safe workplaces, which by implication includes freedom from sexual harassment, violence and discrimination, our government does not believe this clause needs to be amended.

The second proposed addition to the purpose clause would add a reference to gender equality, racism and the rights of women workers. This is also an important goal. However, it does not belong in this legislation. This amendment would create new expectations under the Canada Labour Code regarding discrimination, gender equality and human rights. Such amendments would simply be inappropriately placed in a code that does not currently address these issues in a fulsome enough manner. Furthermore, it does not include all grounds, for example, LGBTQ2, which is covered by existing legislation.

The intent of this clause is to clearly and succinctly explain the purpose of the Canada Labour Code. Adding these new expectations and additional elements would result in a lack of clarity regarding what would be expected of workplace parties in relation to these matters. More important, these issues are already addressed in numerous pieces of existing legislation, such as the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act.

The code, which is not meant to address these issues, does not supersede these laws. Indeed, their inclusion in the code could potentially have the unintended effect of lessening these rights through the confusion that could arise around who would be responsible for enforcing them and how.

Another proposed amendment that our government believes would have a similar effect of introducing lack of clarity is modifying the definition of harassment and violence. This was added during the committee process in this House, and currently reads as follows:

harassment and violence means any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment.

Members of the other chamber proposed replacing the word “means” with “includes”. This change would render the definition significantly more open-ended and result in a lack of clarity for both employees and employers, as it is essentially limitless. For example, appropriate performance management actions could possibly be captured under this revised definition. The term is far too open-ended and potentially all-encompassing.

What we consistently heard through our consultations with stakeholders was the need for clarity to the greatest extent possible. Employers in particular have consistently strongly opposed the inclusion of any definition. They believed it was already too broad without this proposal, which would make it even broader.

While all of the proposed amendments from the other chamber are noble in principle, we believe that some would be ineffective in practice. At this time, more than anything, we need clarity. If we want to create legislation that protects workers and gives them effective recourse, we cannot distort the purpose of the bill nor create open-ended and overly broad provisions. I know that protecting workers is the goal we all share.

In conclusion, the bottom line for Canadians is that harassment and sexual violence are unacceptable anywhere, including in the workplace. This proposed legislation sends a strong message that the federal government is prepared to take bold action and be part of the solution on this critical issue. The bill also aligns with the whole-of-government approach we are taking to prevent and address gender-based violence in all its forms, yet even with the important step forward this bill represents, we know that government cannot do it alone. It is going to take all of us, employers, employees, stakeholders and Canadians, to help end workplace harassment and sexual violence.

Where do we hope our collective work leads us? To a place where violence of any kind, including gender-based violence, is never tolerated, where everyone is a part of the solution, including men and boys, and where everyone enjoys their right to live a life free of violence.

Finally, making Canada a safer, more inclusive place to live and work will not be easy, and it will not happen overnight. However, we can make it a reality if we work together.

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11:55 a.m.


Fayçal El-Khoury Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech was excellent, eloquent and provided details.

Could the member possibly explain to the House how this bill will help women to be able to work in a safe, secure, free and comfortable environment, free from all kinds of harassment, including sexual harassment, physical harassment and any issue related to harassment, and whether a zero tolerance will be applied?

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11:55 a.m.


Terry Duguid Liberal Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, just to reiterate some of my remarks, today we are taking an important step towards making workplaces in federally regulated industries and Parliament Hill free from these behaviours with Bill C-65.

I would note that this piece of legislation is built on the gender-based violence framework, that I referred to earlier in my remarks, to prevent gender-based violence in the workplace, out there in Canadian society, to support survivors and their families, and to develop responsive legal and justice systems.

I would remind all members in this House that we have invested $200 million in the first-ever strategy to address and prevent gender-based violence. This is having a dramatic impact all over our country. We are supporting women's groups. We are supporting other groups that are fighting this scourge that we have in our society.

I want to assure the hon. member and other members in this House that we cannot, we must not rest until we stamp out gender-based violence and sexual harassment once and for all.