News / Ottawa

Public Servants, Hill staff getting new law for sexual harassment

Government changes rules to make process more transparent, easier.

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu speaks to reporters earlier this year.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu speaks to reporters earlier this year.

Staff working on Parliament Hill will have better legislation protecting them from sexual harassment, which employment minister Patty Hajdu said Tuesday is a workplace with all the ingredients for bad behaviour.

The bill, introduced in the House of Commons Tuesday, strengthens the process for hill staffers, politicians and all public servants who want to report sexual harassment.

Hajdu said male-dominated workplaces with big power imbalances tend to have the biggest harassment problems—which is an accurate description for people on the hill.

“This is an environment where all the factors are present that would create an environment that is rampant for sexual harassment,” she said.

The most recent numbers presented in the house indicated in the 2016/2017 fiscal year there were 19 cases of sexual harassment on the hill. Of those cases, 13 were only inquiries, two cases were deemed not harassment, two were investigated and two were resolved.

The two cases that were investigated were both deemed not to constitute harassment.

The new law requires that complaints privacy be protected, that a neutral investigator be appointed when mediation doesn’t work and allows public servants to take the case to court.

In addition to government workers, the changes apply to federally-regulated industries like banking, telecommunications and transportation.

Hajdu said there would also be awareness campaigns and other measures to try to prevent harassment from happening in the first place. She did not provide details of those campaigns.

She also said this was just part of the solution to a broader societal problem.

“Legislation is only one part of the solution, no government can legislate away this problem,” she said. “It’s going to take all of us together, employers, employees and citizens to change this culture.”

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service, said on its face the new bill is a major improvement.

Right now public servants have a process that doesn’t work, she said. 

“They’re totally inadequate. It’s very difficult to address harassment through the existing mechanisms,” she said. “The process is largely internal and left to the discretion of management.”

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