TORONTO – A former intern on Parliament Hill says she was inappropriately touched and was subjected to sexual comments while working in the office of a Liberal MP, according to a report in the National Post.
But experts say workplace sexual harassment exists across Canada.
The woman does not want to be identified but alleged a supervisor repeatedly asked her on dates and said inappropriate things that left her suicidal and suffering from post traumatic stress.
When she informed office staff, she was reportedly let go from her position.
“In the case of our government we do act,” federal Minister of Labour Kellie Leitch told reporters when asked about the allegations Wednesday.
“And I can tell you if any young person came forward to me I would be acting immediately to make sure that they are protected because that is unacceptable behaviour.”
The intern alleged there was a culture of sexual harassment on Parliament Hill but wanted to come forward in the wake of allegations against former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi.
According to the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, it’s a reality all across the country. The centre received more than 1,000 calls from people seeking legal advice for sexual harassment in 2013.
“it would be a violation of the Ontario human rights code for you to be terminated for coming forward for reporting that you were sexually harassed in the workplace,“ said Victoria Sheen, the centre’s legal counsel.
Often employees are scared to come forward with allegations out of fear of losing their jobs. But legal experts say a worker can’t be fired on those grounds. Under Ontario’s human rights code, employers could be held liable if they did not take action on both sides.
“If you have someone internally that’s doing the investigation and they concluded that one person’s story is more valid than the other that can be challenged down the line as being biased,” said employment lawyer David Whitten of Whitten and Lublin.
“That’s why you want an objective party to investigate.”
According to statistics from Ottawa-based Draw The Line, one in four Canadian women is sexually harassed in the workplace. In more than half of the cases it was perpetrated by a co-worker. In almost 40 per cent of cases, it involved a manager or supervisor.
During Wednesday’s question period at Queen’s Park, Liberal MPP Daiene Vernile shared that she was sexually harassed decades ago when she worked as a broadcaster in Kitchener.
At the time she thought it was just part of being in a male dominated business.
“There would be inappropriate jokes that would be said and inappropriate remarks,” said Vernile. “I was just happy to have a job.”
At Toronto’s Workers’ Action Centre, director Deena Lad says things have improved over the years but employers still need to create an environment for employees to come forward.
“It’s about your health, it’s about your safety,” she said. “It’s about your ability to be able to work in a stress free, discrimination free environment.”
She said workers can protect themselves by documenting incidents and immediately reporting cases to their boss.