Cross Country Checkup

How widespread is sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment in the workplace: The case of Jian Ghomeshi has raised concern about the extent of such behaviour in all workplaces. This week it reached right into the halls of Parliament, where two NDP MPs accused two Liberal MPs of harassment. What do you think? How widespread is the problem? And what should be done?
Listen to the full episode1:53:02

Sexual harassment in the workplace: The case of Jian Ghomeshi has raised concern about the extent of such behaviour in all workplaces.  This week it reached right into the halls of Parliament, where two NDP MPs accused two Liberal MPs of harassment. What do you think? How widespread is the problem? And what should be done?


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INTRODUCTION

Over the past two weeks, there has been much attention tuned to a stream of allegations against CBC host Jian Ghomeshi ...that his relations with women were marked by violence and abuse both in his private life and at work.  It has triggered a broader conversation about violence against women and sexual harassment in the workplace. We intend today to take a closer look at one aspect of the discussion, largely because it burst out into the open on Parliament Hill this week with the news that two, as yet unidentified, NDP Members of Parliament have made allegations of sexual harassment against two Liberal MPs.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is normally thought of as something a superior inflicts upon a subordinate, where seniority becomes a shield against retaliation or other consequences.  But in the case of the MPs the complaints are made against equals.  Harassment is generally considered behaviour below the threshold of criminal law, but if left unchecked it can lead to criminal behaviour. It is a challenging problem because many women who experience harassment are reluctant to report it. It is intensely personal and there is potential for retribution. It is that reluctance that many feel allows the practice to continue.  So how can women be made to feel more comfortable reporting such transgressions?

When Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was informed of the two complaints he moved swiftly and suspended the two Liberal members from the caucus, despite the fact little has been revealed about the specifics of the allegations.  He said, "We give the benefit of the doubt to those who come forward."

The issue of benefit of the doubt is central here because the presumption of innocence is a fundamental legal principle. But many have said it is time to start pushing the balance the other way in order to make complainants feel more comfortable in coming forward.

One commentator, John Ivison wrote this week that it feels as though the axis of power on Parliament Hill has shifted slightly in favour of the young women who have often been targets of certain male predators.

Not everybody applauds Mr Trudeau's swift action to give the benefit of the doubt to the victims in this case.  The two MPs making the complaints did not want their allegations made public ...and now NDP leader Thomas Mulcair accuses Mr Trudeau of re-victimizing the victims because they would rather have let it go.  Should people who have been the object of bad behaviour determine the process by which the perpetrators of that bad behaviour is judged?  Is there a larger societal interest in dealing with these matters in the open?  Or is finding a resolution between the accuser and accused in a more private and discrete manner the best way to proceed?  

How should such cases be handled? What is the best way to ensure that legitimate complaints can be lodged without women fearing the consequences?  What is the best way to resolve cases of sexual harassement?  How much secrecy should a resolution process maintain? Does low key work better or should such complaints be dealt with in a more public manner?

Our question just to begin the discussion today: "How widespread is sexual harassment in the workplace?"

I'm Rex Murphy  ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius XM, satellite radio channel 169 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


GUESTS & LINKS

Nycole Turmel
NDP Whip and MP for Hull-Aylmer, Quebec
Twitter: @nycole_turmel

Judy Foote
Liberal Whip and MP for 
Random-Burin-St. George's Newfoundland and Labrador 
Twitter: @JudyFooteMP

Shona Moore
Lawyer with the firm Moore Edgar Lister in Vancouver, specialising in labour and administrative law  

Janice McKinnon
Former Finance Minister of Saskatchewan. Professor of History and Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.

 


LINKS

CBC.ca

National Post

Globe and Mail

Canadian Labour Relations

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety


TWITTER & EMAIL