Mr. Speaker, I am extremely proud to speak to Bill C-65, which amends the Canada Labour Code and the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act to help ensure that federally regulated workplaces, including the federal public service and parliamentary workplaces, are free from harassment and violence. With this legislation we can all look forward to a time when Canadian workers are better protected against workplace violence and harassment. We can look forward to a time when no worker in Canada has to fear coming forward after experiencing these inappropriate behaviours to protect themselves or their families.
I want to begin by thanking the hon. Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour for bringing this very important legislation before Parliament. While it is not often that we enjoy support from our opposition colleagues, the way in which we have worked together across the aisle to support this legislation shows that it is truly time for change. Whether it is how sexual violence in the workplace is handled, or how power imbalances are reinforced in our culture, violence and harassment in the workplace are not partisan issues. They are issues that affect us all, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this bill is that it benefits vulnerable minorities who are much more likely to be harassed in the workplace. Sexual minorities, including people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or two-spirit are at a particularly high risk of being victims of harassment and violence in the workplace. To me that is totally unacceptable.
Historically, LGBTQ2 community members have been targets of workplace violence and harassment. Progress is being made, but we need to continue to do more.
One example of such societal progress is the historic apology made to LGBTQ2 Canadians last summer by Prime Minister Trudeau. When most of us see Canada as a progressive and accepting nation, our past has not always been so open-minded. We know that from the 1950s to the early 1990s, the Government of Canada undertook a horrifying campaign of oppression against citizens suspected of being part of LGBTQ2 communities, setting a course for decades of discrimination in the Canadian workforce and destroying the lives of thousands of workers, including public servants and soldiers in the process. As we know, the Prime Minister made a historic apology that day. I apologize for using his name in this chamber.
Although we now see workplace violence and harassment as issues that need to be solved, this shows that for these communities in particular, workplace violence and harassment have been part of the lives of people for too long. Today, as a legacy of this dark period of our history, LGBTQ2 Canadians are still subjected to discrimination, violence and aggression at alarming rates. In fact, trans people did not even have explicit protection under federal human rights legislation until 2017. Occurrences of mental health issues and suicides remain higher among LGBTQ2 youth as a result of violence and harassment. In fact, LGBTQ2 youth are four times more likely to attempt to suicide than their straight counterparts. The homelessness and joblessness rates that face the LGBTQ2 community are high. Therefore, the steps we are taking today will encourage LGBTQ2 Canadians to be full participants in our workforce.
I must also mention the treatment of indigenous workers, for whom violence and discrimination are part of their daily lives. According to the 2014 Statistics Canada General Social Survey, violent victimization among indigenous people is more than double of that of the non-indigenous population. Research shows that regardless the type of violent offence, whether it is sexual assault, robbery or assault, the victimization rate is almost always higher in indigenous populations than in Canada's non-indigenous populations.
It is vitally important that indigenous peoples and LGBTQ2 citizens feel able to be 100% themselves without the fear of being harassed, treated poorly or made to feel insignificant.
Before I came out, I felt like I could only operate at about 60% or 70%. I spent 30% to 40% of my brain space trying to be a straight guy. It did not work and it ate me up from the inside. Once I came out, I was able to be 100% me. Even some of my friends said, “Could we just have the 80% Randy back? You're a lot to handle.” Quite frankly, I am 100% now. I am not going back in that closet.
Guess what? We want LGBTQ2 Canadians to be 100% themselves, and that includes in the workforce. When we get this kind of legislation passed, when we practise what we preach inside this chamber, all Canadians can feel like they belong in our workforces.
As I have said to friends and colleagues in the workplace since coming out, “Joke with me, not about me. I am a bald, gay guy. They can make lots of jokes about that, but just do it with me in the room, not when I am outside the room grabbing some coffee.”
The results and the stats are real. A 2018 Human Rights Campaign foundation study noted that a little more than half of employees surveyed, 53%, hide their sexual orientation or gender identity at work, and a little over a third, 35%, do not disclose their personal lives. Could members imagine going through a week in this place not talking about what it is like to be part of a family, not talking about their kids, not talking about their loved ones, not talking about whether they are an aunt or uncle, and whether they are a proud member of a partnership that has lasted for 10, 15, or 20 years? That would be unthinkable to me, and yet it happens to far too many Canadians. That means they are not bringing their full selves to work.
The transgender community especially faces staggering challenges. Transgender people face an unemployment rate three times higher than average. Twenty-seven per cent were not hired, were fired or were not promoted in 2015, due to their gender identity or expression, according to the U.S. Transgender Survey, the largest of its kind looking at the American transgender community. In 2015, an astounding 80% of transgender people were harassed or mistreated at work or had to take steps to avoid it. We do not have data at the national level, but we are getting there. The Trans Pulse project in Ontario studied the impact of social exclusion and discrimination on the health of transgender people. Of those surveyed, 13% said they were fired specifically for being transgender; another 15% suspected that it might have been the reason for their dismissal; 18% said they were turned down from a job for being transgender, while another 32% suspected this was the reason.
I have faced this kind of discrimination in advance of the campaign trail. I was on a study tour, learning how to speak Spanish in Latin America. I was in Buenos Aries, and serendipity happened to lead me to hear a voice of a distinguished member of my community of Edmonton. We met in the kiosk at the local museum and we agreed to have lunch the next day. It was a long lunch. After about two and a half hours, I mentioned that I might someday like to be in politics and mentioned my partner at the time. He said, “Wait a second, you are gay?" I said yes, that I had been out for almost 20 years. “And you're francophone,” he said. I said that I was. He said he could tell me what I needed to do, that I needed to take my francophone, gay self and go back to Montreal where I came from because I did not stand a snowball's chance in hell of ever being elected in Edmonton. I found that really interesting because my family does not come from Montreal. It comes from Quebec City and had moved to Alberta 126 years earlier. Therefore, I took what was overt discrimination and used that as fuel. I used that as fuel at the doors and won that election. Within a couple of days of winning the election and becoming a Liberal, gay, francophone person in Edmonton Centre, I found a postcard, en français, that said, “thinking of you”, “pensant à vous”. I wrote on the inside, “Looking forward to lunch soon. Can't wait to see you”, and signed my name with “Edmonton Centre, member of Parliament”.
We had a meal together and it went very well.
He totally fell on his sword and said, “I can't believe I said that to you. I was wrong, and please forgive me.” Discrimination happens, but so does reconciliation.
What we are talking about here is stopping it, preventing it, and addressing it properly. Bill C-65 can help to further our fight for equality. The legislation builds on existing violence and harassment provisions in the code to create a comprehensive approach that would cover the full spectrum of harassment and violence, from bullying and teasing to sexual harassment and physical violence. This legislation extends the full suite of occupational health and safety protections, including harassment and violence protections, to parliamentary workplaces, such as the Senate, the Library of Parliament and the House of Commons, including our own political staff.
I was surprised, mystified and shocked when I was elected to realize the few protections afforded to parliamentary staff. As a new member of Parliament, coming from business, I was shocked. I am proud to be part of a Parliament that is taking steps to address that. As a result of this legislation, a single, integrated regime would be created to protect all federally regulated employees from harassment and violence in the workplace, including LGBTQ2 and indigenous workers, preventing incidents of harassment from occurring and supporting those employees affected by harassment and violence, including respecting their privacy.
I know that the other chamber has done extensive study of this bill and that it engaged in discussions with witnesses from many organizations to help in the study.
Having read the amendments made to Bill C-65, I find that these changes clearly help strengthen a powerful framework that will support every Canadian worker from coast to coast to coast.
The other place heard concerns that Bill C-65 would prevent employees from complaining to the Canadian Human Rights Commission when they experience workplace harassment or violence. As such, they proposed an amendment that explicitly states that “nothing in this Part shall be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from the rights provided for under the Canadian Human Rights Act.” Indeed, it is not the intention of this legislation to prevent someone from going to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. As such, we support this amendment.
The Government of Canada reiterates that it is essential for Canadian employees to know that they can file complaints without fear of those complaints being buried under a pile of red tape. Reprisals are already prohibited under the Canada Labour Code. Accordingly, a complainant who feels they are being punished for coming forward can contact the labour program for help.
This amendment also guarantees that the information concerning any complaint of workplace harassment or violence remains confidential, whether it is brought before one tribunal or another.
The other chamber has proposed additional amendments. A member of the other place proposed that the terms “trivial, frivolous or vexatious” be replaced with the term “abuse of process” to limit the negative associations of coming forward with a complaint. Language matters. It is important that we show the government that people who experience workplace harassment or violence will have their claims taken seriously and that experiences will not be dismissed as trivial, or frivolous, or vexatious. We know that it takes strength and courage for someone to come forward when they have experienced inappropriate behaviours in the workplace. We know that we must make it easier for those people to come forward.
This amendment shows that the government recognizes that abusive language can harm anyone who has been a victim of sexual harassment and wishes to file a complaint, but who is ashamed of what happened to him or her.
There were other amendments proposed by the other place that we were not able to accept, and I will address one such amendment in particular.
A member of the other chamber proposed that persons who investigate the complaint shall inform the employee and employer in writing of the results of the investigation. We agree with the intent of this amendment, which was thoughtful and positive. However, we are unable to accept this amendment because of its location in the legislation. The section of the Canadian Labour Code that would be amended by the other chamber pertains to investigations by workplace committees. In Bill C-65, incidents of workplace harassment or violence are not subject to this part of the code, in order to protect the privacy of individuals in cases of harassment and violence. Bill C-65 prohibits the involvement of workplace committees in the investigation of specific incidents.
If this amendment were included the Canada Labour Code, it would not apply to incidents of harassment or violence, and that is why it was not adopted. If an incident of harassment or violence is not resolved, the workplace committee investigates and proceeds directly to an investigation by a qualified person.
This concern is not lost. The process related to the investigation by a competent person will be set out in the regulations. That point was raised by the other chamber and will be included in the regulations as well. What we propose is that these regulations include who receives a copy of an investigative report, including the employee. Since the entire process related to the competent person investigation is set in the regulations, there is nowhere in the code where a reference to who receives the investigative report could be added.
Further, the reason why the process is set out in regulations is that it builds on the existing violence prevention regulations that were developed through tripartite consultation. The new regulations for Bill C-65 are also being developed through tripartite consultation to ensure that the process meets the needs of all parties and will result in timely resolution of incidents.
I am also glad to see that this legislation will apply to employees of Parliament who were not previously protected, as we discussed. It is also important to know that staff are being supported both on the Hill and in constituency offices like my own in Edmonton Centre. This legislation now extends all safety protections to Hill and constituency staff.
The fundamental objective of this bill is to prevent not just physical illness and injury, but also mental health issues. This bill will apply to the entire spectrum of workplace harassment and violence. The amendments to the code will apply to federally-regulated workplaces, including international and interprovincial transportation, banks, telecommunications, most Crown corporations, the federal public service, ministerial exempt staff and interns employed in these sectors.
The proposed changes to Bill C-65 will show Canadians that these behaviours will not be tolerated.
There is a misconception brought to the House by the member for Foothills that I would like to address. The issue pertains to the possibility of perceived political interference in processes related to political staff and their employees.
Let me be really clear on this. To avoid any perception of conflict of interest where a matter involves a member of the Senate or their staff, or a member of the House of Commons or their employees, the powers, duties and functions of the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour will be exercised by the deputy minister of labour. This includes the ability to extend the length of time for a former employee to bring forward a complaint. It is the deputy minister of labour who will grant this extension. There will be no political influence or interference in such matters, full stop.
It is important to circle back to why this matters so much. The federal government employs some 300,000 Canadians, as the largest employer in the country. A 2014 World Bank study estimated that the cost of intolerance in the Indian economy was $31 billion U.S. a year. What does that mean in the Canadian context? If we take the average company, the average NGO, the average provincial workforce or, in our case, the federally regulated agencies, and we take 15% of the bottom line, 15% of the staff costs, and add up what that number is, it is the cost of exclusion. That is what intolerance in the workplace costs us as Canadians every day. Add up how much is spent on salary and benefits, take 15% of that, and ask how much is it worth to get workplace harassment under control, to stop it, to prevent it and to help people who are victims of it.
That is what we are talking about. I would like to be here in the future to talk about the benefits of inclusion, not the costs of exclusion. That is exactly what this kind of legislation will help us to achieve here today.
Here is a magical thing that happens. When an inclusive workforce is created, when people know they are protected, when the 15% of those who feel marginalized because of racism, bullying, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and biphobia feel welcome, that workforce will include 100% of its employees. Something magical happens, because the other 85% know they are in a healthy ecosystem as well, and the whole workforce does better. The pie increases.
What we want to do here is to have workplaces where people can bring 100% of themselves to work. We want to have workplaces where people can be their full selves. We want people to be safe. We want them to have a good day at work and to go home to their loved ones and to be able to talk about how awesome it is to work for the Government of Canada, because we have put in place a system and a piece of legislation that keeps them protected.
I am honoured to serve in the 42nd Parliament. I am even more honoured to know that we are working on an issue that not just Canadians face, but also people around the world. Workplace harassment is serious. We must stamp it out. With this legislation, we are taking great strides. We know that the measures in Bill C-65 will help make these changes possible. I hope that the bill will serve as a historic reminder of Canada's dedication to equality and strength here and from coast to coast to coast. I encourage all colleagues in the House and around the country to bring their 100% selves to work. Canadians would ask no less of them.