Government Response To Sexual Misconduct Claims Misses #MeToo Lesson


April 29, 2018

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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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