The Liberal government has introduced a new bill to prevent and better respond to sexual harassment and violence against federal employees, including those on Parliament Hill.
The legislation, Bill C-65, would replace the "patchwork" of laws and policies to create a clear process for dealing with complaints in the public service and federally regulated industries. It puts the onus on employers to respond to allegations and protect their employees. If the complaint is against one's boss, the employee would be able to consult a third party, according to officials.
For the first time, complaints made by staff on Parliament Hill would be treated in the same way as other federal-sector workers.
"The time is now to act," Employment Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters on Tuesday.
It will take about a year to develop regulations, government officials said, but Ms. Hajdu said workplaces can immediately work on prevention, including training tools.
The move comes as women across North America have opened up about their own experiences using the #MeToo hashtag, after a number of harassment and assault allegations were levied against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Parliament Hill hasn't been immune. Most recently, Edmonton MP Darshan Kang quit the Liberal caucus in August amid allegations of sexual harassing a young female staffer. He has denied the allegations, and an investigation is continuing.
The House of Commons, however, has its own process for MPs who launch complaints about fellow MPs, which is not covered by current laws or the proposed bill.
Ms. Hajdu said Bill C-65 spans the "full range of unacceptable behaviours," from teasing and bullying, to sexual harassment, to physical and sexual violence.
She said it was important to include Parliament Hill staff in the legislation, calling it "an environment ripe for harassment and sexual violence."
"When we have workplaces where there is a distinct power imbalance … it creates a propensity for sexual harassment and violence," she said.
The new bill would affect about 8 per cent of the country's employees, government officials said. Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef said she hoped it would serve as an example to the private sector.
Both opposition parties said they would be reviewing the legislation, but appeared positive.
"All employees deserve to be respected and to feel safe in their workplace," Rachael Harder, Conservative critic for the status of women, said in a statement.
NDP labour critic Sheri Benson said she welcomed the government's leadership on the issue, but hoped the Liberals will be open to amendments once stakeholders such as unions are consulted. Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff, for instance, said he is concerned the legislation does not contain a clear definition of harassment and violence.
The changes would apply to the federal public service and federally regulated public and private industries such as banking and telecommunications, Crown corporations and parliamentary workplaces, such as the Senate, the Library of Parliament, and the House of Commons. It would also apply to interns.
The bill requires employers to put in place a prevention policy; investigate, record and report incidents of harassment; try to resolve the situation and, if that can't be done, appoint a "competent person" viewed by both parties as neutral to investigate, implement recommendations and offer support to victims.
It doesn't list sanctions for harassers, but would instead compel employers to respond to allegations. Employees would be given options for third-party investigations or dispute processes, and could at any time complain to the employment minister about the process. If any employer doesn't act, he or she could face consequences, such as fines, Ms. Hajdu said.