Template for anti-bullying policy among measures to achieve 'zero harassment' in Sask. municipalities
At least 29 RMs did not have legally required anti-bullying policies in 2018
An anti-bullying policy has been created as a template for Saskatchewan urban and rural municipalities, in the hopes all of them will adopt policies that encourage people to come forward with harassment complaints.
In 2018, a CBC News investigation found that at least 29 of Saskatchewan's 296 rural municipalities had failed to meet the legal requirement to have workplace harassment policies for employees, despite the law having been in place since 1996.
Employees and councillors also spoke out about bullying and harassment in RMs and called for more protections.
Ray Orb is the president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, which created the template policy in partnership with the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association.
"I think probably we want to be seen as a leader in providing more information as to what a good policy would look like," said Orb.
"Something that I think has been asked by our members [is] to provide more clarity."
For example, "the template refers to 'written reports' and [an] 'individual who alleges harassment' instead of 'filing a complaint' or 'complainant,'" said a joint news release from the two municipal associations.
I feel that if people hadn't [spoken] up, there would be never anything done.- Brenda Duhaime, widow of worker who took his own life
SUMA president Gordon Barnhart said the creation of the policy was not prompted by any specific incidents, adding that society in general is becoming more aware of the harms associated with bullying.
"Sometimes harassment is hidden or people are afraid to admit that it's happening, and we need to get rid of that attitude and make sure that people are discussing it," he said.
"Perhaps sometimes people aren't even aware that they are being offensive or harassing someone else.… That awareness needs to be there."
Covers complaints about harassment from public
The template also applies to complaints made by council members or staff about members of the public.
"I think today, especially with Facebook and that sort of thing, working for a municipality sometimes can be really very difficult if people are on their case or harassing them about some particular thing," said Barnhart.
The issue of bullying and rural municipalities came to the fore in Saskatchewan in February 2018, when the Workers' Compensation Board concluded that the suicide of a worker at the RM of Parkdale was the result his employment.
The RM denied Robert Duhaime was bullied and appealed the WCB decision to the highest level available within the board. A board tribunal ultimately upheld the original decision.
An Occupational Health and Safety investigation did not lead to any charges against the rural municipality.
Duhaime's widow, Brenda, was among those who spoke out at the time to raise awareness about the issue of bullying at small municipalities.
"I feel that if people hadn't [spoken] up, there would be never anything done," said Duhaime.
"I'm happy that they're moving forward and finding ways to improve what has happened."
In late 2018, the province acknowledged bullying and harassment at RMs as a problem in Saskatchewan.
Minister for Workplace Safety and Labour Relations Don Morgan said in November that more "aggressive" measures would be considered if the problem persists.
"I have met with some of the councils and told them that what they are doing may well be inappropriate, and may well lead to charges being laid against them," he said at the time.
In an emailed statement last week, the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety said "Occupational Health and Safety continues to monitor reports of harassments and will respond to all complaints received related to bullying or harassment in the workplace."
The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities provides anti-bullying and harassment training, but Orb said travel from isolated areas is one of the barriers to people taking it.
He said mandatory training has not been ruled out, but for now SARM is trying to "entice" new councillors to do the training voluntarily.
He said his organization wants to work toward "zero harassment."
"We expect that every RM council will adopt this harassment policy," said Orb.