Last Saturday, during its convention in Halifax, the Liberal Party held a session for its delegates called “From #MeToo to #NeverAgain: Creating Safe Work Environments.”

While the session was closed off from the media, the Liberals made sure it was highly publicized. Trudeau attended the session, along with his principal secretary Gerald Butts and Kent Hehr, a Liberal MP who is presently being investigated for claims of sexual harassment against a staffer.

Something isn’t right with this picture.

Since 2013, six Liberal members of Parliament have been accused of sexual misconduct, and one top PMO staffer. And the party’s response to these types of allegations is not improving.

Thus far, the Liberal Party brass’ response has been inconsistent and confusing, which are cardinal sins when dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct. While some of the MPs accused of sexual misconduct have been suspended from caucus, Kent Hehr still remains in caucus.

Trudeau himself appears baffled about how to respond to claims of sexual misconduct within his own ranks, and has said, “I don’t have a rule book that’s been handed down to me from Wilfrid Laurier as leader of the Liberal Party on how to handle these situations” and “this is new for organizations to have to deal with in this way and we are doing the best that we can on a case-by-case basis.”

But the thing is, it’s not new. Workplaces have had to deal with sexual harassment and abuse for a long time. There is an entire section of employment law devoted to this. There are countless human resources consultants who specialize in crafting sexual harassment policies and conducting training. This was all available before the #MeToo movement hit.

Trudeau’s government recently tabled Bill C-65 which amends Canada’s Labour Code, as well as other legislation, to include harassment and will apply to Parliament Hill. However, the bill, inexplicably, didn’t even include a definition of “harassment” when it was tabled. The bill is still in the committee phase and, after much wrangling, it appears a definition of harassment, albeit vague, has been added.

Further, Bill C-65 provides zero protections for soldiers in the Canadian Armed Forces, despite the fact that that sexual harassment and assault within the Armed Forces has been reported to be a major problem that the government is well aware of.

In fact, the government is currently fighting a class-action against current and former members of the Armed Forces who alleged they were the victims of sexual harassment, violence and discrimination.

One of the defences put forward by government lawyers is that it does not “owe a private law duty of care to individual members within the CAF to provide a safe and harassment-free work environment, or to create policies to prevent sexual harassment or sexual assault.”

Trudeau has said that this argument does not reflect his personal views. It is puzzling, then, that nothing is being done to protect Armed Forces members in Bill C-65.

To deal with sexual harassment allegations in the PMO, Trudeau announced that two “senior aides” will be responsible for receiving complaints of sexual harassment from ministerial staffers.

The Liberals are badly stumbling in the dark when it comes to taking action on workplace sexual misconduct, and they are making a lot of errors.

Firstly, only trained human resources professionals should be tasked with receiving harassment complaints. Not “senior aides.” How can a staffer feel comfortable and secure going to another staffer with a serious complaint of harassment?

Secondly, a clear, standalone sexual harassment policy needs to be implemented immediately. This policy should be plainly written and contain a clear definition of what behaviour constitutes sexual harassment. There should never been any confusion about what behaviour is not acceptable in a workplace.

Thirdly, every complaint should follow the exact same process, no matter who makes the complaint or who it is against. Consistency is key. It should not be “case by case,” as Trudeau has said. The policy should be the same for everyone for the sake of procedural fairness.

The #MeToo movement isn’t just lip service. It is an overdue wake-up call and demands immediate action, which must be done right.

 

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Domestic and sexual violence leave is now a job protected leave of absence in the workplace. Here are some things that employers can do to support employees who are victims of domestic and sexual violence:

Checklist for Employers:

1. The employee should have access to resources such as helplines, trauma centers, counsellors, legal help and medical assistance. Put together a list of resources and support the employee in accessing help.

2. Ensure the employee has access to somewhere safe to stay and has alerted close friends and family members who may assist.

3. Ensure the office is safe. Access to the office should be restricted to employees. If the washroom is shared with other offices on the same floor, access to it should also be restricted to individuals who have a key or know the door passcode.

4. Be vigilant in protecting the privacy of the employee. The employee’s home phone number/cell number should not be listed on the employer’s website and should never be given out to individuals calling the office. It is not uncommon for domestic abusers to attempt to access their victim through his or her place of employment.

5. Human Resources staff should be trained in how to support victims of domestic and sexual violence. Consider inviting someone with expertise in the field to attend your office and conduct a training seminar to management.

6. Ensure that all employees know about their right to a leave of absence in the event of sexual or domestic abuse – this should be included in the company employee policy.

7. Have clear policies on what evidence, if any, you require from employees taking this leave. In addition, have clear policies on what, if any, notice you require.

Checklist for Employees:

1. Understand your right to a domestic or sexual violence leave, the eligibility criteria and the notice requirements. These can be found here.

2. Seek medical assistance and trauma support and ensure this is documented.

3. If you intend on taking leave, give your employer notice and ensure it is documented in writing.

4. Understand your employer’s written policy for taking a leave of absence and ensure you have a copy.

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It’s official. The #MeToo movement has hit Canada. It is sweeping politics and has hit the media sector as well.

It is unlikely that any major industry will be left untouched by this powerful movement. So some have been asking — when will #MeToo hit the legal sector? It is hard to find any woman in law who hasn’t experienced some sort of sexism. But law is a discreet industry: lawyers, by training, keep things quiet. I think it’s unlikely that the #MeToo movement is going to affect the sector in the same way it has impacted other industries.

That said, the Law Society of Ontario is alert to this movement. It recently sent an email to all of its members, reminding us of its Discrimination and Harassment Counsel Program. This program confidentially assists anyone who has experienced discrimination or harassment by a lawyer or paralegal.

This program is one of the few windows we have into harassment and abuse in the profession. It publishes semi-regular reports about the complaints it receives. In its most recent report, which details complaints issued in the second half of 2016, the anecdotes are striking. There is, for instance, the female articling who reported she “was sexually assaulted by her male principal at an after-hours work-related social event.” There is the female lawyer who complained about “a male opposing counsel’s paternalistic and sexist communications.” And then there is the female articling student in private practice who reported that her firm’s partners “mis-handled her complaint about a sexual assault by a client and committed reprisals against her for having made the complaint.”

It would be interesting to know what the outcome of these complaints was — and if complaints have spiked in recent months.

I anticipate that the greatest impact this movement will have in the legal industry is a subtle shift in workplace cultures. Law firms may be taking a look at their own internal sexual harassment policies to ensure they are effective and up-to-date. There may be less tolerance given to behaviour that would have been brushed off several years ago.

One of the most interesting things about the #MeToo movement is the timing. Why now? The major waves of the feminist movement happened decades ago. Women have had legal protection from sexual harassment in the workplace for years.

The timing likely has to do with the fact that women have finally reached a critical mass in power positions in the workforce. There are more women CEOs, presidents, partners and executive board members than ever before. This creates a more supportive environment for women to come forward with allegations of misconduct.

I believe our social-media culture has also played a role. People have gotten used to sharing just about everything on social media, including sensitive issues that were once stigmatized (like mental health). There is something very empowering about being able to share your story in your own words, on your own terms, which many of the more prominent #MeToo champions have done. The act of sharing personal stories online creates an instant community of support when others share your post, comment positively and “like” it.

There has been criticism of the #MeToo movement. Some have called it a witch hunt and have complained it promotes a presumption of guilt. All major social movements that come in with a bang face push back. I think it’s is a fair point that there is a certain “mob mentality” that the social media world tends to facilitate. Due process and fairness are important and cannot be overlooked.

But on the whole, this movement will probably have a bigger impact on women’s rights and equality than anything else in the past 30 years. And it’s about time.

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As a female and a soon-to-be lawyer, you will receive many invitations to “women in law” events during your first few years of practice.  Most of them tend to feature female powerhouse lawyers talking about how to manage the elusive “work-life” balance — how to get all your work done and still make it home on time for family meals and dance recitals.

I still remember one event I attended, where a lawyer said she would meditate forty-five minutes every morning before her kids woke up, to help her become more productive at work. I would scribble down pages of notes, and marvel at these women who seemed to have mastered everything in life. Now, four years into private practice and one kid later, I laugh at the ridiculousness of it all when I barely have time to eat breakfast, let alone meditate.

While there’s nothing wrong with events that focus on lifestyle topics, I believe what’s more valuable for young women in law is to learn how to promote themselves at work and build a book of business. To get anywhere in the legal world, we need to overcome our social conditioning and get comfortable with being assertive and bold. Life after law school is just around the corner, so start working on these skills now.

Lawyers are business people. Learning how to market yourself and sell your expertise to clients early on in your career will make you an asset to any firm. Doors will always open for you if you can do good work and keep bringing in clients.

Once you start working, get your name out there by finding ways to publish your work and by signing up to speak on panels. Get out in the legal community and volunteer. Don’t just hide away in your office.

Other things to keep in mind are your relationships. The legal world is a small one and you will encounter the same people again and again. Get to know other lawyers, your clients and the various people in your industry. While you’re still in school, build a strong relationship with your peers. Because in five years, you may be working with some of them on a file, or calling a former classmate for help on a case.

Lastly, get yourself a mentor to guide you through major career decisions and smaller things like salary negotiation and work arrangements after you have a child. Mentorship is especially valuable for women, since you’ll probably find yourself at a firm where most, if not all of the partners are men.

Finding a mentor who’s good for you is sort of like dating. It may take some time, but once you meet the right person, it will click. There’s a strong mentorship culture in law, which is one of the best things about our chosen profession. Make the most of it.

This article was originally published in Precedent Magazine.

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In a few short months, many young Canadians will be starting university or college.

They will be excitedly pouring over glossy school brochures and booking their campus tours.

In preparation, they will probably have lots of questions. Things like where to find the quietest study spots, where to buy the best latte and what kind of meal plan to get.

Though these are valuable questions for first time students, given recent events, there’s one question that should be immediately asked by each and every incoming post-secondary student: do you have a stand-alone sexual assault and harassment policy? If so, can I read it?

This is a question that depressingly many schools will have difficulty answering. Despite it being 2016, many universities and colleges in Canada do not have an official, stand-alone policy to address incidents of sexual violence on their campuses.Many schools simply slot their sexual assault and harassment policies into a broad student code of conduct. Out of 100 Canadian post-secondary institutions, only 12 have stand-alone policies. These numbers are simply unacceptable.

Sexual violence and harassment on campuses have reached an epidemic level. It is a real and pressing issue for both female and male students, and post-secondary institutions have a duty to take action and ensure that their students are safe.

North American research suggests that 15 to 25 percent of university aged women will experience a form of sexual assault in their academic career.

At Canadian universities, four out of five female undergraduate students surveyedreported having been the victims of dating violence and, of that number, 29 percent reported experiencing sexual assault.

These stats are alarming, but we don’t need stats to tell us that we have reached a crisis point. All we need to do is turn on the news or read the paper. In the past several months alone, there has been a steady stream of distressing stories about instances of sexual violence and harassment on Canadian campuses.

At Brock University, it was recently revealed that a faculty member had allegedly sexually harassed one of his students.

Last month at the University of British Columbia, a student was allegedly attackedand sexually assaulted while walking through campus.

In February, a University of Victoria student was arrested after four victims came forward saying they had been sexually assaulted.

Several weeks ago, police arrested a man in connection with a series of sexual assault allegations at McMaster University.

Cases like these have highlighted the severity of the problem of sexual violence and harassment on Canadian campuses. They have also exposed the truth that many campuses are woefully unequipped.

Many schools lack the basic policies, protocols and tools to prevent and adequately address sexual violence and harassment, as well as properly support victims. In fact, many schools adopt a policy of ‘silence’, forcing victims of traumatic sexual assault and harassment to keep their mouths shut.

Brock University came under fire after it was revealed that the school had told the victim not to speak about an internal investigation that had determined her professor had sexually harassed her.

Students at the University of Victoria have alleged that their school is encouraging a “culture of silence” when it comes to sexual assault victims speaking out. The University of Victoria is one of the campuses that does not currently have a stand-alone policy to deal with sexual assault.

Assault victims at Brandon University have alleged
they were required to sign an agreement stipulating that they could not speak about their assault to anyone except for counsellors. The consequences of failing to abide by this agreement allegedly involve expulsion.

Several weeks ago, Brandon University stated that they would do away with these silencing agreements. This is a good first step. However, Brandon University has continued to come under fire after they did not produce minutes or meeting agendas for the university’s sexual violence task force that allegedly convened last fall. They have also been accused of plagiarizing parts of their task force report on sexual violence.

There are some post-secondary institutions that have taken positive steps to improve upon, or in some cases implement, stand-alone sexual assault and harassment policies.

However, the fact remains that most post-secondary institutions have more robust policies to deal with plagiarism than they have to deal with sexual assault and violence.

It is time to take a stand against sexual violence and harassment on Canadian campuses. No more excuses — every post-secondary institution from coast-to-coast should have a strong stand-alone sexual violence and harassment policy.

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.

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