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Letter to Hon. Kathleen Wynne regarding sexual harassment in the workplace

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November 7, 2014

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Hon. Kathleen Wynne
Legislative Building
Rm 281
Queen’s Park
Toronto ON M7A 1A1

Dear Kathleen,

I was grateful, though hardly surprised, to hear your remarks in recent days about the serious societal impacts of sexual harassment.  As you can imagine, this has been a topic of much concern at the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) of late, although our work in the area goes back many years.

The Human Rights Code clearly prohibits sexual and gender-based harassment in employment and other social areas such as housing and services.  In 2011 the OHRC released our updated Policy on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment which explains the protections under the Code, and how organizations can prevent and respond to discrimination. Although the policy is useful in help identifying what sexual harassment is and how it can be responded to, there are larger systemic barriers to tackling the problem.

Sexual and gender-based harassment is part of the continuum of violence against women. It’s clear that many people find the idea of formal complaints or legal process to be daunting at best, as we have seen depicted in so many recent accounts. New approaches may be needed to help remove any real or perceived barriers to justice.

The anti-harassment and violence provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act support the Human Rights Code. You may recall that we presented before the Standing Committee on Bill 168, which added the harassment and violence provisions to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. We made a number of recommendations for strengthening the legislation including:

  • Recognizing workplace harassment is a risk factor to workplace violence
  • Requiring employers to assess and report on the risk of workplace harassment, not just workplace violence, as well as put in place measures and procedures to control the risks identified

The OHRC would welcome the opportunity to take part in any ongoing work on this issue. We know the legal landscape around this very well and can certainly speak to the human rights aspects of the issue. I would be happy to speak with you or others to help advance this issue as a matter of urgency.

Warm regards,

Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
Chief Commissioner

CC: The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur, Attorney General
The Honorable Tracy MacCharles, Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues


OHRC presentation to the Standing Committee on Bill 168

Letter to the Minister of Labour regarding Bill 168 Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act (Violence and Harassment in the Workplace) 2009

OHRC Policy on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment

2.3.4 Sexual harassment and violence

Occupational Health and Safety Act

PART III.0.1 Violence and harassment

See in particular s.32.0.3(1) Assessment of risks of violence

Ministry of Labour Workplace Violence and Harassment: Understanding the Law