Liberal staffers' anti-harassment trainer worried about 'more silence' pre-election
The sun sets behind Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, November 5, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA – Hundreds of Liberal parliamentary staffers, including those in ministers' offices, attended mandatory training sessions on sexual harassment prevention in Ottawa on Wednesday.
The training was the latest in a series of new steps taken by parties and Parliament in the year since the #MeToo movement made waves, but the educator running the sessions said that she’s concerned there's "even more silence right now" with a federal election nearing.
The closed-door sessions were run by educator and advocate Julie Lalonde, and organized by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Liberal Research Bureau. The training focused on preventing workplace harassment and bystander intervention.
Lalonde noted that among the 700 staff in attendance, it was "very clearly on people's minds" that it’s an election year, with some raising concerns about whether they would handle situations differently. For example, Lalonde said it was raised that if a staffer reports or discloses harassing behaviour, it could get out and damage the party during a campaign.
She said that such a fear, while valid, speaks to how the political environment can make navigating workplace harassment scenarios more complicated. Though, Lalonde said the conversation also included ways to try to improve the environment rather than learn how to just navigate it as it is.
Held at the Sir John A Macdonald building across the street from Parliament Hill, Lalonde conducted a couple two-hour sessions, one in French followed by another in English.
The training included discussing consent, what an ideal workplace would look like, and practically discussing how to navigate specific scenarios, like how to handle if a colleague discloses an experience to you.
Lalonde said that many who spoke said they knew what to do generally, but that if the perpetrator was an elected official, they wouldn't know what to do.
"That's a unique dynamic in politics… there's power differentials in a big way in politics that’s different from a regular office," Lalonde said.
While no other plans are in place to offer further training on the Hill, Lalonde said it's important that addressing harassment is a continuing conversation and not done to tick a box, or in response to a specific case arising.
This training is in addition to harassment prevention training run by the Chief Human Resources Officer of the House of Commons for Hill employees and MPs.
"Everyone has the right to a safe and respectful working environment, and we do not take this responsibility lightly," said PMO spokesperson Eleanore Catenaro in an email. "We continue to work to ensure the Hill is a respectful and positive work environment for everyone."
Lalonde has provided similar training sessions to politicians in the past.
At the Liberal party's April convention in Halifax, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a handful of Liberal MPs attended one of the two closed-door sessions she ran on creating safer work environments.
Lalonde offered a similar session at the NDP convention in February 2018.
Over the last year, reporting on past allegedly inappropriate behaviour of members of Parliament prompted both political and parliamentary pledges to do better.
This conversation has led to changes to the MP-to-MP code of conduct, the Senate harassment policy, enhanced training for staff on the Hill, new rules within the respective political parties, and new harassment protections for federal workers.