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Politics Liberal government’s harassment bill would apply to after-work hours and online: minister

Employment Minister Patty Hajdu stands in the House of Commons during question period, in Ottawa on Dec. 9, 2016.

PATRICK DOYLE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Liberal government's anti-workplace-harassment bill will apply to situations outside of the office, including bars, after-hours events and even unwanted text messages, says Employment Minister Patty Hajdu.

Ms. Hajdu told a parliamentary committee studying Bill C-65 – which seeks to prevent harassment and protect employees in federally regulated workplaces, including for the first time on Parliament Hill – that the legislation would apply to any activity linked with work.

"We know that those boundaries are very blurry, and especially in workplaces like ours," Ms. Hajdu told reporters after her committee appearance.

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"Harassment may not stop at five o'clock. It may not only be happening in the physical sense, it might be happening in a cyber sense. It might be unwanted e-mails or texts in the middle of the night."

Ms. Hajdu told the House of Commons human resources committee that is why the bill doesn't currently include a definition of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment, which she said can evolve over time, but added she is open to hearing suggestions about how to define the term without limiting it in the future.

The committee is now studying the legislation after all political parties unanimously agreed to fast-track it. Ms. Hajdu said she hopes to see the bill passed by June.

The legislation puts the onus on employers – including members of Parliament – to develop a policy that prevents harassment and protects their employees. It also outlines a process for dealing with complaints, including giving employees the option to bring a complaint to a third party, such as a human resources official or, in the case of Parliament Hill, the party whip. At any time, the employee can contact the federal labour department to initiate an investigation. If an employer fails to act or doesn't comply with recommendations, they could face fines and, in the case of an MP, a public report could be tabled in the House of Commons calling out bad behaviour.

Conservative MP Steven Blaney said his party supports the bill and wants it to be rapidly studied, although his colleague, Tory status of women critic Rachael Harder, expressed concern about the process being politicized if the minister inserts him or herself into investigations that benefit one party over another.

"How do you ensure you treat all investigations the same way, regardless of the member?" Ms. Harder asked.

Ms. Hajdu said she isn't involved in choosing inspectors that the labour department would assign to handle harassment complaints. If the complaint is about the minister, it is handled by the deputy minister, she said.

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Lori Sterling, deputy minister of labour, told the committee that there have been very few harassment complaints but she expects to see a significant increase once the bill passes into law.

The department currently has 453 investigators and Ms. Hajdu said there are enough resources to handle the added workload.

Ms. Hajdu told the committee the bill itself won't be enough to change the culture of harassment, but she said it can set an example that harassment of any kind is no longer acceptable.

"By discussing this legislation, we are sending strong message to all Canadians that indeed time is up," she said.

Employment Minister Patty Hajdu opened debate Monday in the House on legislation aiming to make federal workplaces, including Parliament Hill, safer from bullying and sexual misconduct. Hajdu says the proposed changes are “overdue.” The Canadian Press
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