40% of Canadians bullied at work, expert says

Former Canada Border Service Agency manager in Windsor claims he was bullied

Posted: December 06, 2011
Last Updated: December 13, 2011

Former border services manager Jim Johnston says he is a victim of workplace bullying. (CBC News)

Bullying does not just happen on the playground. Experts say it's a real problem in the workplace, too.

Jacqueline Power, an assistant professor of management at the University of Windsor's Odette School of Business, has spent years researching bullies in the workplace. She says 40 per cent of Canadians has experienced one or more acts of workplace bullying at least once a week for the last six months.

Power said workplace bullying includes withholding information from a person, excluding staff from meetings, threats and intimidation.


Power called it "a serious problem."

Workplace bullying stats:

In 1999, the International Labour Organization declared workplace harassment and violence one of the most serious problems facing the workforce in the new millennium. At the time, 75 per cent surveyed said they were bullied at work.

The Canadian Safety Council reports that 75 per cent of victims of bullying leave their jobs and that workplace is four times more common than sexual harassment or workplace discrimination.

Source: CBC News.

"It leads to higher turnover and higher rates of sickness," she said. "It reduces people’s levels of self confidence."

Power said workplace bullying is "virtually never reported" to management.


"It’s partly because when people do report bullying in the workplace, they don’t get much support," Power said.

She said human resources departments and management don't often respond seriously to the allegations.

"I understand why people don't do it, because basically the strategy is to wear you down and eventually you'll walk away from it," said Jim Johnston, a former Canada Border Services Agency manager who says he is a victim of workplace bullying.

Johnston says he filed grievances and complained directly to the public safety minister's office. All to no avail, according to Johnston.

Conflicting advice

Power's two biggest pieces of advice run counter to what is often told to children who are victims of bullying.

Jacqueline Power studies workplace bullying. She says 40 per cent of Canadians are victims. (CBC News)

"The No. 1 piece of advice is to stand up to bullies. But research tells us that’s the very worst thing you can do. If you stand up to a bully, their behaviour escalates," Power said. "Your best bet is to quit your job. If you absolutely can’t do that, be passive. If you actively work (against) a bully ... it will get worse."


Johnston did just about that. He retired early when alleged bullying became too much for the former Canadian Border Services Agency to handle.

"I was forced to retire," Johnston said. "The harassment was so bad that I couldn't take it anymore."

Johnston’s attempt at conciliation with the CBSA failed last month. He now intends to take his case to a human rights tribunal.

None of his claims have been proven and the CBSA has repeatedly denied the accusations.

Power said workplace bullying is following a legal path similar to sexual harassment.

Two years ago Bill 168 was introduced to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence in the workplace. The change makes it easier for people to have their complaints heard and addressed.


Power said change starts gradually and it will likely take lawsuits to force human resources departments to make changes to policy.

Johnston said he would like some financial compensation for what he calls forced retirement, which he says led to a reduced pension.

"What's frustrating for me," Johnston said, "is that people now are not putting in harassment complaints because they are saying, ‘I don't want to see what happened to Johnston happen to me.’"