Hon. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Lib.)
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak to this particular bill because I think it has been a long time coming in this House.
We know that staff on the Hill have had no recourse and we know also that parliamentarians have no protocols, recourse or processes with which to address sexual harassment, physical violence, intimidation of any kind and/or just basic workplace safety in the sense of fair play and justice in the workplace.
Why is that so? Mainly because most employees were afraid to speak up as they were afraid that they would lose their jobs and afraid of further intimidation. We know that these are the real reasons to deal with these issues.
We also know that there had been nothing in place for parliamentarians to discuss any sexual harassment, physical violence, intimidation or inappropriate behaviour from other parliamentarians.
Therefore, this is something that this government is trying to set right. We are trying to do this to address the problem not only in the federal public service and in the federal workplace but for parliamentarians, their staff, ministerial exempt staff and the Prime Minister's exempt staff. We will have the whole group covered then, who have never been covered before.
I guess most Canadians would find this extraordinary that this was not in existence before. However, we know that the reality is that where there is power there is also an abuse of power. That is what we see happening here, whether the power is based on gender, i.e., men in positions of power who tend to intimidate women who are under their jurisdiction or who work for them.
We must also address that while we have talked a lot about women and girls and gender in this particular bill, we need to recognize that this does not only apply to women and girls. We do know that young women, however, are about three times as likely to have these issues of sexual harassment and violence, etc. addressed to them.
We also know that systemic racism has really been a problem here within this House, within most institutions, and within most places that are federally legislated with people in positions of power.
We know that disabled persons also face this kind of intimidation, harassment and bullying, to use the appropriate term.
We know that people of different sexual orientations, the LGBTQ, have often been afraid to come out or to let people know of their sexual orientation because they fear bullying and harassment.
This is an issue that is becoming more and more complex as we look at the problems of the workplace with issues such as the use of social media. Especially as parliamentarians, we know that the use of social media can be very damning to parliamentarians. One can be found guilty even before one has been shown any due process.
This bill will take aspects of two separate bills and the labour code to have a comprehensive way to address this particular problem in its entirety so that we are not looking at sexual harassment only. We would be looking at violence. We would be looking at bullying and we would be looking at intimidation. Under that there are three specific things we are hoping to address. One of them in the labour code is that employers will now be bound to protect their employees from harassment and bullying and from the kind of intimidation and fear of reprisal that we know that employees now feel.
That is an important part of it that there can be no reprisals, rather that people can come out and speak freely. At the same time, this must be balanced to show that there is a fair and objective way of dealing with complaints when they come through. Of course, I think we have all found in this House that complaints against parliamentarians need to be very careful. When results of investigations occur and we find out that people are not guilty, we are going to be able to say so.
Having the ability to sully a name, especially a parliamentarian, is really important when we look at how we balance the objectivity of any kind of legislation.
Although parliamentarians are not necessarily employees, per se, they are part of this institution and this institution needs to look at how we deal with parliamentarians as well.
When we look at preventing this, which is what we are looking at as part of the bill, we are looking at things like how we prevent it, how we make the workplace a safe place and how we make it a place for people to feel free to speak out without fear of retaliation and reprisals. Making it easy for people speak out is one element. The second is to prevent it, which means the creation of a safe workplace and letting everyone know very clearly there are processes in place in which they can feel safe in coming forward.
However, the idea is to also have an objective way to look at it. I know people have been concerned that existing tribunals, etc. may be replaced. I do not think the bill says that. It does not say that they will be replaced. If they exist and are able to do the work and get the full amount of that work done, it would be fine. However, if there was none in existence, they may need to be replaced by one which would be able to deal with the whole issue. This is what we are trying to talk about here. There is no point in having people doing the same thing, as we now see, because the whole issue has been dealt with in two separate regiments. We would then need to bring them together, which may mean rejigging how we do this and who the people are who will look at this.
We need to ensure that at the end of the day there is a clear process, everyone knows what the process is, the process is objective and is carried out by people who have expertise and understanding of some of these issues. As I said before, a lot of people who have different sexual orientations are very afraid of social media outing them or of being moved from their place. Even though the Prime Minister stood in the House and apologized for all the damage done to people in the LGBTQ community who had worked in the armed forces and other areas of government, we still need to guard against it. Everyone in the House knows that it is not just legislation that makes a difference. Legislation has to be backed up by policies and by clear, fair, open and transparent programs.
The bill also talks about that openness and transparency. It is very important that there is annual reporting on how the bill is going through, how it is being implemented and what the outcomes are. However, it is also important to do this five-year review. At the end of five years, we will have to do exactly what is done in medicine. We need to look back to see if it has worked, if it has achieved its results, if the objectives have been met, or if there are problems, glitches or areas we can tighten or have things fell between the cracks.
As any legislation, it is also very important to have a look back and see if it worked and if it was effective and transparent.
I have been in the House now for 25 years, which is been a long time. I have seen so many people who have fallen by the wayside because they were afraid and did not want to come out. For me, it is why the issue of LGBTQ was really important. I knew many people who worked in the public service who were very afraid to come out and say what their sexual orientation was because they feared reprisals. Reprisals do not have to be in the form of firing, but can include shunning, how one treats someone, perhaps with a certain amount of psychological manipulation, disdain, making them feel lesser or making them feel they do not belong. We know about that with people with mental disabilities and physical abilities. It could also be that the workplace is not ready, or making room for them or not showing them they are welcome to be part of that workplace. There is a sense that one does not belong and is really out of place. These are some the most important things.
It is important that we will look at policies and programs, which will make it effective, that we will report on it every year and that in five years we would go back and look at if we achieved the results we said we would. That is a simple way of dealing with a long-standing problem.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Canada Labour Code