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'Stop normalizing this behaviour:' Advocate calls for culture shift around workplace harassment

A year-long consultation by the federal government hints at how deep of a problem workplace and sexual harassment still is.

#MeToo, a campaign encouraging women to denounce experiences of sexual harassment and assault has swept across social media in the wake of the wave of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

BERTRAND GUAY / AFP/Getty Images

#MeToo, a campaign encouraging women to denounce experiences of sexual harassment and assault has swept across social media in the wake of the wave of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

The results of a year long consultation by the federal government on workplace and sexual harassment suggest they often go unreported because employees are scared of what will happen to their careers if they make complaints.

"No one should be subject to harassment or sexual violence of any kind in their workplace, whether it comes from an employer, a manager or a colleague," wrote Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, in a report on the consultations.

"Canadians responding to our online survey told us that harassment and sexual violence in workplaces are under-reported, often due to fear of retaliation, and that when they are reported, they are not dealt with effectively. We know that these incidents have profound negative effects, such as harming workers’ health and safety, increasing absenteeism, and costs for employers."

The consultation included round-table discussions and written submissions from people in federally regulated workplaces.

The online survey was not a representative sample of the Canadian population, the report notes, but 60 per cent of respondents said they'd experienced some kind of harassment. Thirty percent reported experiencing sexual harassment, 21 per cent violence and 3 per cent sexual violence in the workplace.

Most reported having a workplace harassment policy, but less than half said they received proper training on it. Of those that reported an incident, 75 per cent said they faced obstacles while trying to resolve it, including management not taking them seriously or retaliating.

The input gathered during the consultations is being used to develop a plan to end this type of behaviour, which will be announced in the near future, said spokesperson Amélie Maisonneuve.

Tamar Witelson, legal director of METRAC, a Toronto-based organization that combats violence against women, said it's not surprising that so many of the survey respondents said they'd experienced workplace and sexual harassment.

She said there needs to be better training in workplaces so that everyone understands what sexual harassment is and how to report it.The responsibility shouldn't only be on people who face it, but others in workplaces who see it.

There needs to be a shift in culture, like what's happened on college campuses around consent, she added.

"A similar thing should occur in workplaces across the country," she said.

"So that we stop normalizing this behaviour."

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