Harassment on the Hill: Roundup of reviews underway, new details on changes to come
Both chambers of Parliament have faced, or are currently dealing with, allegations of harassment or sexual misconduct against sitting or past MPs and senators.
OTTAWA -- Over the last several months, allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct have hit the four main federal political parties. Both chambers of Parliament have faced, or are currently dealing with, allegations against sitting or past MPs and senators.
This conversation, in part prompted by the #MeToo movement, has led to both political and parliamentary pledges to do better. Here’s a summary of what’s been updated, and some new details on changes expected to come.
Amendments expected to MP-to-MP code
In short order, MPs may be operating under a revamped harassment code of conduct. Members of the subcommittee tasked with reviewing the existing sexual harassment code of conduct regarding MP-to-MP instances of alleged impropriety say their report should be tabled imminently.
The subcommittee of Liberal, Conservative, and NDP MPs that was probing the policy has concluded its work and reported back to the larger Procedure and House Affairs Committee with its findings earlier this month.
When asked when the report will be tabled in the House of Commons, committee chair and Liberal MP Larry Bagnell told CTVNews.ca: "Very soon, hopefully." Bagnell said he doesn’t anticipate it’ll be public this week, but shortly after. He said the committee had a few more consultations to complete before wrapping up its work.
MPs that CTVNews.ca spoke with said they expected, or hoped that the 14 MPs who are independent or affiliated with the smaller parties in the Commons would be given a chance to see the proposed code and offer their input before it’s tabled.
The review was prompted in February, by Liberal deputy whip Filomena Tassi, who got all-party support for a subcommittee of members of Parliament to review the policy first drafted in 2015. It spells out how to report, the process for mediation, privacy protections, and the involvement of the House of Commons’ Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO).
"The time is right and the time is now that we have a renewed focus on this code," Tassi told the committee in moving the motion, citing the rapid pace of cases that were being brought to light at the time.
In an interview with CTVNews.ca, Tassi said "it was clear changes needed to be made." Without discussing the contents of the study, which was fully conducted in-camera, she said priorities from her perspective were creating a safe environment to come forward, and installing a fair process.
Over the course of its 10 closed-door meetings on the topic, the subcommittee heard from the House of Commons Chief Human Resources Officer Pierre Parent, Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel Philippe Dufresne, and other legal and HR experts.
"These are living documents and so what happens is, experiences occur and then what you have to do is go back and take a look at what is in place, and determine, OK does this work, or doesn't it work? And is it relevant, and is it helpful in the current situation and time?" Tassi said.
During a panel on CTV’s Question Period that aired May 13, Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, who was one of two members of the Conservative caucus on the subcommittee, said the report includes recommendations on how to amend the code.
"We're all trying to keep up with what's going on. We've had complaints between MPs and staffers. We've had complaints between MPs. We have complaints, or we have concerns about MPs and members of the press. We have complaints about people in bars during an event that's happening around a caucus event. Every single time you have a circumstance like that, we seem to be trying to make up new rules, or come up with the response. And I think the parties are doing the best that we can, given the complexity of our role as an MP," Raitt said.
Update soon on Senate harassment policy
The Senate has also been reviewing its workplace harassment policy. This winter, Independent Sen. Elaine McCoy told her colleagues during a Senate internal economy committee meeting that a group of senators would pick up the initiative. She said they’d be hiring an independent consultant to help with the review.
McCoy, who at the time was the chair of the human resources subcommittee that was taking on the review, said in updating the policy, a priority would be providing staff in administration and in senators’ offices an opportunity to participate.
Current committee chair Independent Sen. Raymonde Saint-Germain's office did not provide any specifics in response to CTVNews.ca's request for comment, but did indicate that there would be "an important announcement" this week on the issue.
According to her office, on May 24 she is set to speak about the Senate harassment policy review in the Senate. That morning, the Senate internal economy committee is scheduled to meet, but it is unclear what is specifically on its agenda, other than "consideration of financial and administrative matters," which is how the committee has referred to various discussions, including those on the harassment policy, in the past.
In addition, Independent Sen. Marilou McPhedran has set up a confidential forum for current and past Senate staffers who want to discuss their experiences of harassment in the workplace, and has offered to help connect those who come forward with legal counsel.
In an interview on CTV's Power Play in February, McPhedran said that while the Senate does have some procedures in place, the missing piece is "a safe and confidential place where expert consultation can take place for the person who has experienced the harassment, where in their own words, in their own time, they can talk to a lawyer."
Training for MPs, staff
Over the last few months the House of Commons has beefed up its approach to anti-harassment training.
In March the board decided that employees, other House staff, interns and volunteers would be provided with information about the House of Commons Policy on Preventing and Addressing Harassment as soon as they enter the job.
There is an online training session for Hill employees both in Ottawa and in constituency offices, as well as any House interns and volunteers on harassment prevention, that goes over the available resources and includes potential scenarios. There is also a relatively new mandatory three-hour in-class session for members of Parliament and the online training sessions will be mandatory.
According to House Speaker Geoff Regan's office "a little more than two thirds of the MPs" have completed the in-person training. This session is offered in the parliamentary precinct by an external expert, and takes about 20 MPs at a time.
The training "provides an overview of what could constitute harassment in the workplace and provides MPs with an opportunity to discuss together what can be done in their environment to better prevent and address inappropriate behaviour and harassment. … It also provides a space to discuss how to move from awareness of the factors that support a respectful workplace to actions that will improve and maintain a healthy workplace," said House spokesperson Heather Bradley.
At the party convention in April, Liberal Whip Pablo Rodriguez told CTVNews.ca that Trudeau was one of the first MPs to complete the training.
Despite not having a seat in the Commons, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh did participate in the training, along with members of his caucus in April.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is scheduled to receive the training on May 29, and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May’s office said she is also scheduled to receive the training by month's end.
The Liberal Party of Canada
For the first time, at the recent national policy convention in Halifax, the Liberals had signs up throughout the halls detailing the party's convention code of conduct. They spelled out what is considered unacceptable behaviour, defined what the party considers sexual harassment, and outlined potential ramifications of breaching the code.
The convention schedule included two sessions on safe spaces and ending harassment, run by educator and advocate Julie Lalonde. The English session was attended by Trudeau, and Calgary Liberal MP Kent Hehr, who resigned from cabinet pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.
The party also has a "Respectful Workplace Policy" that addresses sexual harassment, workplace violence, and abuses of authority. According to Liberal spokesperson Braeden Caley, the policy is included in every employee's contract and handbook, and applies to candidates and election campaign teams.
New nomination rules outline how candidates can be disqualified from running under the Liberal party banner for breaking the rules.
The Conservative Party of Canada
The Conservatives have updated their candidate questionnaire, which previously asked about any past personal or professional experiences that could embarrass the party, or if they’ve ever been under investigation from professional or law enforcement agencies. Now, prospective Tory candidates will have to answer: "Have you ever been accused of improper sexual behaviour?"
Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann said the independent review -- ordered by Scheer into how former Ontario MP Rick Dykstra was able to run in 2015 despite past sexual assault allegations, which he denies-- is still with the third-party reviewer. He said once that report is finalized, it will be made public.
The findings will also help the party determine whether any changes are needed to their existing anti-harassment and whistle-blower policy, Hann said.
As of late April, Lalonde said she had not received an invitation from the Conservative Party of Canada to run a workshop at their convention, but she would welcome the opportunity, whether it’s her or through another educator.
The New Democratic Party
Last month the NDP updated and published its new anti-harassment policy after spending months making the existing policy "more robust," as NDP spokesperson Guillaume Francoeur put it.
The party is also working to install anti-harassment training for staff and party members. The New Democrats were the first to bring in Lalonde to provide anti-harassment training for delegates at its federal convention in February.
Weir has since been removed from caucus for speaking publicly about the investigation into him, which was prompted by second-hand harassment allegations raised by NDP MP Christine Moore, who herself is now subject to a third-party probe over allegations of inappropriate conduct stemming from an alleged sexual encounter with a veteran in 2013.
The NDP has also updated its candidate recruitment guidelines and the nomination and the vetting processes are being reviewed to better dig up past sexual misconducts, Francoeur said in an email to CTVNews.ca
"One of the changes we are implementing is that we are redrafting the candidate’s questionnaire to include questions specifically about any past sexual misconduct, harassment or assault," he said.
House no longer covering MPs' legal fees in founded cases
In February, the historically secretive all-party Board of Internal Economy decided it would no longer reimburse MPs legal fees if a member of Parliament is found to have committed harassment.
The board of MPs handles internal House of Commons matters and has for years paid MPs' legal fees if they are dealing with cases in relation to the execution of their parliamentary duties.
Now, in order to qualify to have their legal fees paid for, the allegations against them must be found to be unsubstantiated. As well, the MP can’t have initiated the legal proceeding, and the application to cover the fees must come at the end of the legal proceedings. Though, the Board can still exercise case-by-case discretion.
In addition to this, the Board is pursuing new supports for harassment complainants that are MPs or House employees, and will report the amounts spent reimbursing legal fees, including the number of requests for reimbursement.
The Board is also now able to provide the complainant up to $5,000 when the allegation is made to obtain independent legal advice, if requested. The defendant member of Parliament can also apply for this $5,000 upfront for legal assistance.
If the allegation is upheld and substantiated, the complainant can also now apply to the Board to have their legal fees reimbursed.
Bill C-65 tackling harassment, violence in federal workplaces
MPs have passed Bill C-65, aimed at tackling harassment and violence in federal workplaces, and are sending it over to the Senate for further study. It is currently at second reading in the upper chamber.
The bill aims to give workers and their employers a clear course of action to better deal with allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, exerting more pressure on companies to combat unacceptable behaviour and punish those who don't take it seriously.
Bill C-65 enjoyed a relatively expedient journey through the House of Commons, compared to many of the government’s other pieces of legislation. Tabled by Labour Minister Patty Hajdu in November 2017, it was fast-tracked through second reading debate and passed into committee amid the #MeToo conversation on Parliament Hill in January 2018.
The House Human Resources Committee then tabled an amended version of the bill in April 2018. Among the changes the tri-party committee made: including a definition of harassment, broadening how complaints can be made, and clarifying various aspects, including making sure both employers and employees receive anti-harassment training.