OTTAWA – Members of Parliament could soon be operating under a revamped sexual harassment code of conduct, as MPs from all sides have proposed a slate of changes that are likely to be adopted by the House of Commons.

A seven-member subcommittee of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee comprising Liberal, Conservative, and NDP MPs had been reviewing the sexual harassment code of conduct for MP-to-MP instances of alleged impropriety. It presented its recommended 10 changes to the House of Commons on Monday.

The changes are:

  • Amending the definition of sexual harassment in the code to include that a power imbalance or abuse of power between two MPs is relevant but not necessary for a finding of sexual harassment;
  • Allowing the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) to "screen out" complaints that don’t meet the definition of sexual harassment;
  • Permitting a fellow MP “support person” to assist the complainant in the process provided they abide by confidentiality and subject to discipline if that privacy is breached;
  • Clarifying that a third party can initiate a complaint on an MP’s behalf, but the subject can halt the probe at any time;
  • Setting a time limit that allows allegations to be brought forward up to, but not later than a year, after the alleged incident took place, though that can be extended if the CHRO deems fit.
  • Creating a new "conduct of investigations" protocol in the code that spells out the investigative steps that are to be taken, and the information that will be communicated to those involved;
  • Allowing an external investigator to deem complaints founded without first getting input from the CHRO, as is the practice under the current code;
  • Expanding the appeal process to allow a complainant or respondent to challenge a finding, or proposed discipline, by bringing the matter to the House affairs committee;
  • Spelling out that an investigation can only continue as long as the respondent is an MP, though a complainant can continue participating in an investigation after they cease to be an MP. This change comes with a caveat for complaints that are vexatious or in bad faith. If that’s found to be the case, the complainant will be disciplined.
  • Amending the code to “specifically prohibit retaliation against participants or potential participants” in the process.

The report: “Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Commons: Sexual Harassment Between Members” also includes a recommendation to study other, non-sexual forms of harassment on Parliament Hill, such as verbal or psychological harassment.

In order to install the updated code in the rule book that governs MPs and the House of Commons, the committee report needs to be adopted by the House. This is expected before Parliament adjourns for the summer later this month.

The full definition of sexual harassment in the proposed updated code is: "any conduct of a sexual nature, including, a comment, gesture or contact, whether on a one-time or recurring basis, that might reasonably be expected to cause offence or humiliation. A power imbalance between a complainant and a respondent or an abuse of power by the respondent is a relevant factor for a finding of sexual harassment; however, it is not a necessary element."

One of the final stages of consultation was to brief the 14 MPs who are independent or affiliated with the smaller parties.

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 male and female legal and HR experts.

The group concluded its work and reported back to the broader committee with its findings in May.

Tabling the report in the House of Commons, committee chair Larry Bagnell thanked the witnesses and several members of the House of Commons administration for their input.

"People think it is an excellent report. The members worked totally in a non-partisan fashion to come up with this report," he said.

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 that first came into effect 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).

In an interview with prior to the report being made public, Tassi said "it was clear changes needed to be made."