Hon. Jane Cordy:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-65, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (harassment and violence), the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1.
I would like to begin by thanking Minister Hajdu and the government for bringing forward this legislation. Honourable senators, this legislation is long overdue. As the minister said at committee, this bill will not solve all the problems, but it is a great start. It should, hopefully, serve as a catalyst to change the culture of harassment on Parliament Hill.
Honourable senators, I would also like to thank the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, Senator Hartling, for her work in getting this bill through the Senate. This legislation, as I said earlier, is long overdue, and she has been an excellent champion of the bill. I would also like to thank the critic of the bill, Senator Ataullahjan, who has been very supportive of this bill throughout the process.
The protection of employees and ensuring a safe workplace is truly a non-partisan issue, which has been demonstrated by the unanimous support in the other place for Bill C-65. I want to thank the Human Resources Subcommittee of Internal Economy who released a report last week on harassment. And I think that working together with this bill, hopefully we will make a difference.
I also want to recognize the excellent work of the Human Rights Committee, of which I am a member. Facing the end of June and the summer recess, we were under a tight deadline to study this important bill. Nonetheless, we heard from many compelling witnesses and heard some very emotional testimony bringing to light the realities of the harassment, be it sexual harassment, psychological harassment or physical violence which unfortunately has been taking place on Parliament Hill for far too long.
Bill C-65 is an important first step to provide employees of federal regulated workplaces, including the Senate, the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament, with a comprehensive, integrative harassment reporting and investigative regime. Currently, there are separate policies to deal with workplace violence and sexual harassment under the Canada Labour Code. These two regimes are not equal. Each has its own set of requirements and resolution provisions.
Also, they do not cover the same workplaces. The sexual harassment provisions apply only to federally regulated private sector industries, while the violence provisions cover these plus the federal public service.
Shockingly, honourable senators, neither of these provisions applies to the employees of Parliament Hill.
In committee, we heard evidence of how the lack of harassment provisions for employees of Parliament has allowed harassment in all its forms to occur far too frequently, fostering a culture of fear for victims and impunity for perpetrators.
Employees who reported harassment often felt they could face very real reprisals. They worried that their reputations could be tarnished or that they would be labelled as troublemakers, essentially making them unemployable in the parliamentary precincts.
The balance of power on Parliament Hill is one-sided, and without a complaint process with independent investigative authority and confidentiality many acts of harassment simply go unreported.
I was very pleased that Senator Hartling spoke earlier today about bystander intervention. Honourable senators, if we see harassment happening to someone else, we must speak out; we cannot be silent. We also have to ensure that those bystanders who speak out are protected and do not receive harassment for their actions. Employees and employers should receive bystander intervention training. This was one of the observations that passed at committee, brought forward by Senator Hartling.
I also want to thank Senator Pate for her work in bringing forward amendments at committee.
My hope is that the passage of Bill C-65 will help shift the culture on Parliament Hill to that of a safe place for employees, free of harassment. This is a human rights issue, honourable senators. We need employees to feel safe reporting incidents of harassment and to help bring to light these actions.
Moreover, if these allegations are proven, we must ensure that adequate actions are taken in a timely manner. There has to be justice for victims, and it must be done in a timely way. We heard testimony that complaints made four to five years ago remain unresolved today. Honourable senators, this is unacceptable.
Colleagues, Bill C-65 is not perfect. We heard testimony about the shortcomings of the legislation and how it can be improved. I believe that amendments and observations go a long way to improving this bill. The committee listened to the testimony and passed several amendments and observations for the government’s consideration.
I want to thank all the witnesses who provided such valuable testimony to our committee. I particularly want to thank the employees who testified in camera for their bravery in giving us a picture of harassment taking place on Parliament Hill. We have to do better.
Honourable senators, Bill C-65 is a great first step. Parliament is a unique place to work, and we are blessed to work here. However, we as senators must be vigilant and listen to our employees in order to make our workplace a safe and supportive place in which to work.
We have to do better for our employees, and I believe that Bill C-65 is a great first step. I strongly support this bill, and I hope we can pass it and send it to the other place quickly.