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sexual harassment

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 19, 2017.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Employment Minister Patty Hajdu said the recent sexual-assault and harassment allegations against U.S. movie mogul Harvey Weinstein are having an impact in Canada, making women more likely to come forward with their own stories.

Ms. Hajdu's comments come as her department released a report on Thursday detailing harassment and violence allegations in the workplace, which noted such incidents are underreported, often due to fear of retaliation.

"If women gain more confidence that their voices are going to be taken seriously, that there will be consequences for behaviour, that they will be protected … they'll be more likely to come forward and more likely to share their experiences," Ms. Hajdu, the former status of women minister, said in an interview.

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"We saw that with the #MeToo hashtag. I think where I'd like that conversation to evolve to, though, is for men to start talking about the actions they're going to take in the workplace and in their daily lives, to be reflecting on how their behaviour impacts women."

Ms. Hajdu said it's important to talk openly about the harassment issue and gender equality, and especially for men to voice their objection to the mistreatment of women.

"We need to send a message as a society that this is no longer tolerable," she said.

"It's not a message that's sent solely by women, but it's men saying that as well."

The report from Employment and Social Development Canada summarizes the results of year-long consultations and an online survey that asked Canadians to weigh in on violence and harassment in the workplace.

According to the online survey, 60 per cent of respondents experienced harassment at work, and 30 per cent had experienced sexual harassment. Another 21 per cent experienced violence and 3 per cent said they had experienced sexual violence in the workplace.

The survey took place between Feb. 14 and March 9, and 1,349 people volunteered to take it. Most of the respondents identified as female.

According to the report, 75 per cent of those who experienced harassment or violence took action, but some 40 per cent of them said it was never resolved at work.

"The main reason for not reporting the incident by those who experienced harassment or violence was concern that their supervisor and/or employer would retaliate against them," the report said.

The report said half of the survey respondents experienced harassment or violence from an individual with authority over them, and 44 per cent experienced it from a co-worker.

Ms. Hajdu said such power dynamics can lead to situations where victims feel helpless.

"There's a higher propensity for these kinds of things to happen – especially when you're talking about sexual violence – when we've got high-powered individuals as the perpetrators, and low-powered individuals as the victims," she said.

"You can see that many people said they felt that their situation wasn't taken seriously, or wasn't addressed. So if you've experienced that once in your lifetime, it may prevent you from ever reporting again."

Ms. Hajdu said her government takes the findings seriously and will soon propose a federal framework to address different elements of the harassment issue, including support systems for victims.

But she cautioned there is no silver bullet for putting an end to harassment, and the data are insufficient. Stakeholders consulted by the government, which included unions, police forces and communications companies, suggested more training and education would help employers understand and respond to such incidents.

"Legislation alone … does not necessarily solve problems that are as systemic and long-standing as this," she said.

She said it's important to promote women into positions of power and create a workplace where bullying, harassment and violence are unacceptable.

"It's about a culture change," she said.