Mr. Speaker, I hope to meet those very high expectations you have set with your remarks.
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-65. This legislation would address harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence, in federally regulated workplaces, and for the first time, importantly, right here on Parliament Hill.
Our government’s position on this is no secret. We have been saying it for some time now: harassment and violence of any kind are unacceptable and we have a clear, zero-tolerance stance on the issue.
Bill C-65 uses the most effective legislative and policy levers possible to help put an end to workplace harassment and violence and their consequences, in Parliament and in all federally regulated workplaces. We all know that the distinct power imbalances found here on Parliament Hill can cause damage to working relationships and also to the people who work here. These imbalances perpetuate a culture where some people with a lot of power use it, knowingly or unknowingly, to victimize others. However, this culture is not exclusive to the world of politics.
According to a 2018 Angus Reid study, 52% of Canadian women have experienced workplace sexual harassment and 28% were subject to non-consensual sexual touching. While those numbers are outrageous, what is maybe most staggering is that 89% of the women surveyed reported they have taken steps to avoid unwanted sexual advances. That is nearly nine in 10 women having to deal with inappropriate behaviour when they are trying to do their job.
If the recent #MeToo and Time's Up social media movements have taught us anything, it is that workplace harassment and violence, and in particular sexual harassment and sexual violence, are toxic behaviours that affect a shocking number of people. This issue is pervasive, not only in the workplace but across our entire society. It is a problem that has been going on and tolerated for far too long. Only now are we calling out this behaviour and saying, “No more. This has to end here.”
Having these conversations and changing the discourse are extremely important, but we cannot let this momentum die. We also have to take concrete, lasting action. That is precisely what we want to do with Bill C-65.
Essentially, the bill would help put an end to workplace harassment and violence by requiring employers to take action on three specific fronts: preventing incidents of harassment and violence, responding effectively to those incidents when they do occur, and, finally, supporting affected employees.
I am incredibly proud of the House for the unanimous support the bill received at second reading, as well as the positive feedback it received at committee. Now we are calling on the House to continue that full support of Bill C-65 at third reading.
It is our job as a government to stand up for the rights of all Canadians. Everyone deserves to work in an environment free from harassment and violence. This is why we introduced Bill C-65 in November of last year after consulting stakeholders, experts, and Canadians across the country.
Canadians told us that incidents are still vastly under-reported. They told us that, when incidents are reported, the follow-up, if any, is often ineffective and flawed.
We also consulted with MPs and senators, who made it clear that these behaviours need to be addressed. We heard similar sentiments through many committee consultations with experts and interested parties.
The message has been incredibly clear. What we have in place today is not doing the job. We need a comprehensive approach that focuses on preventing behaviours before they happen, responding effectively when they do, and supporting survivors after the fact. With Bill C-65, I have confidence that we are doing just that.
The basis of this initiative is the protection of employees through preventative measures that would ensure that harassment and violence do not happen in the first instance. The amended Canada Labour Code would specifically require employers to prevent such incidents and protect employees from these behaviours. I would ask members to allow me just a moment to explain.
Employers would be required to have a workplace harassment and violence prevention policy that is developed with employees through their workplace committees. Employers would also need to ensure that their employees receive training, and that they themselves undergo training, on the prevention of harassment and violence in the workplace.
Employees who believe they have been victims of harassment or violence, or have witnessed these behaviours, as a first step would report the incident to their employer or a person designated in the workplace harassment and violence prevention policy, and they would have to work to resolve the issue.
While informal resolution would be emphasized, the employee-driven resolution process would provide employees with the option of bringing in a mediator or having a competent person appointed to undertake a formal investigation.
If a competent person is appointed, following the investigation that person would issue a report, and the employer would be obligated to implement all recommendations or corrective measures set out in that report. Details regarding the informal resolution and investigation processes, including time frames for completion, would be set out in the regulations.
If the employee believes that the employer has not respected any part of the code or the regulations, he or she could file a complaint with the labour program. Labour program officials would then investigate and take enforcement action if they found that a contravention of the code or its associated regulations in fact occurred.
Reporting an incident requires a lot of courage. I have an enormous amount of respect for those who do choose to come forward, because fear of reprisal and stigma associated with being a victim of harassment or sexual violence can be a powerful deterrent to those who want to report an incident. The proposed amendments to the Canada Labour Code would protect the privacy of employees but encourage those who are victimized to come forward at the same time.
Finally, under Bill C-65, employers would be required to support affected employees, with details to be identified through the regulatory process.
In addition, the labour program would put in place an outreach hub and a 1-800 call support line, as well as education materials and tools to further support employees.
Everyone deserves to work in an environment free from harassment and violence. These are far-reaching measures that I believe will make the workplace better for everyone; a place where personal growth is fostered and where people are permitted to express their talents and their skills.
I want to thank the members of the committee for their thoughtful review of Bill C-65 and their efforts to improve the proposed legislation. Members’ collaboration across party lines has led to important amendments that will strengthen our bill.
During the course of this study, it was my pleasure to sub in during a few meetings to really see the non-partisan nature of the important work that was taking place. For example, after careful consideration of the points raised by witnesses and members of the committee, we included a clear definition of “harassment” and “violence”. We also included a provision regarding mandatory training for employees and employers and specified that the department would now be responsible for producing an annual report. These measures are going to help ensure that everyone understands their rights and responsibilities and that we are kept accountable by measuring our progress and addressing negative trends if and when they arise.
Thanks to the hard work of the committee and those who shared their insights and expertise, I believe that what we have before us today is a strong piece of legislation that will make a real difference in the lives of millions of Canadians. While Bill C-65 will only apply directly to federally regulated and parliamentary workplaces, it will send a clear and important message that these behaviours are not acceptable, anywhere, and we cannot afford to tolerate them any longer.
I call on all members of Parliament, regardless of political affiliation, to do the right thing once again, as they did at second reading, and show their support for this important bill. Together, we can finally help eradicate harassment and violence in the workplace in Canada.