The Liberal government’s workplace harassment legislation, Bill C-65, is making its final steps through the House of Commons this week. It’s a landmark achievement for all Canadians in the fight against harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and violence, in federally-regulated workplaces.
But while Bill C-65 has made important strides to improve victims’ rights, there are within it a couple of serious shortcomings that will actually take existing rights away from victims of harassment and violence at work.
Bill C-65 would strip victims of violence and harassment of the right to bring their complaint to their workplace health and safety committee. Under C-65, survivors of harassment and sexual violence will have to take their complaints to their supervisor, even in cases where their supervisor is the alleged perpetrator.
The government has claimed this is about protecting the privacy of victims. For a minute, let’s ignore the fact that health and safety committees already adhere to rigorous privacy practices. Then let’s reflect on the time we are in. Bill C-65 is making its way through Parliament in the era of social movements like #MeToo, a movement focused on rejecting the shame and fear that so many victims experience when they confront harassment and violence. The Liberals have regularly cited #MeToo to raise the urgency of passing Bill C-65.
Let’s also consider the fact that almost two thirds of workplace harassment in the public service, as an example, is committed by someone who has authority over the victim. Removing the option of reporting to a health and safety committee means the Liberals are effectively forcing victims to confront their harasser without any support.
Well, the Liberals can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim to support victims while simultaneously taking away options for victims to report harassment and violence at work.
We agree that privacy is a major concern in matters as sensitive as workplace harassment and violence. But taking away safe avenues for victims to report is the opposite of what the federal government should be doing.
Allowing victims to report to their health and safety committee doesn’t mean allegations or incidents become public. In fact, health and safety committees deal with sensitive information on a need-to-know basis nearly every day. The notion that they can’t be trusted is not just disrespectful to the great work these committees do in workplaces across Canada; it’s flat out incorrect.
While labour and employer groups don’t agree on everything, it’s widely recognized on both sides that health and safety committees are the best vehicle for resolving precisely these kinds of issues.
While Bill C-65 makes its way through Parliament, there’s still time to fix this legislation and make it truly progressive and responsive to the needs of victims in 2018. But the Liberals are running out of time.
The reality is that the agency of survivors must be respected. We should be growing the number of ways for victims of violence and harassment to come forward with their story - not dialing them back.
Mark Hancock is the National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing 650,000 workers across Canada, including 30,000 federally-regulated workers in the transportation and communications sectors.