I can’t think of a better day to send this letter than on Human Rights Day, the day we celebrate the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. We have come a long way since then, in recognizing and protecting human rights in Ontario, but we still have work to do. This is especially clear in the area of discrimination on the basis of sex, and in particular sexual harassment. The Ontario Human Rights Code makes it very clear that sexual harassment is a type of discrimination based on sex.
It is not a joking matter, nor something to be taken lightly. Sexual harassment affects not only the individual who is the direct victim, causing great personal impact, but also the broader workplace, creating a toxic environment for anyone to work in.
According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Employers that do not take steps to prevent sexual harassment can face major costs in decreased productivity, low morale, increased absenteeism and health care costs, and potential legal expenses.” If you are unclear as to what constitutes sexual harassment, the Ontario Human Rights Code is very clear, defining sexual harassment as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.” If the comment or conduct is serious enough, only one occasion is necessary to qualify as sexual harassment. It should also be noted that the intent of the perpetrator does not outweigh the impact on the victim.
Some examples of sexual harassment (according to the OHRC) are:
asking for sex in exchange for a benefit or a favour
repeatedly asking for dates, and not taking “no” for an answer
making unnecessary physical contact, including unwanted touching
using rude or insulting language or making comments toward women (or men, depending on the circumstances)
calling people sex-specific derogatory names
making sex-related comments about a person’s physical characteristics or actions
saying or doing something because you think a person does not conform to sex-role stereotypes
posting or sharing pornography, sexual pictures or cartoons, sexually explicit graffiti, or other sexual images (including online)
making sexual jokes
bragging about sexual prowess.
I raise this due to the recent reports of substantiated complaints of workplace harassment and sexual misconduct. Everyone deserves to work in a safe environment and this deeply concerns me that city staff do not feel protected in their own place of work. As a union steward myself, I recognize the need to stand up for the rights of others or we run the risk of becoming complicit through our own inaction which enables such dysfunctional behavior to continue. Character and decency needs to be the hallmark of our elected officials.
We must hold our politicians to a higher standard since we have entrusted them to represent the best interests of our city.
Unfortunately, the display of late has given me serious doubt about the priorities of this council. The need to protect human rights goes beyond the easy optics of flag raisings or shared media posts to what happens behind chamber doors, during in-camera sessions and in the day-to-day workings of our municipal government. The next election in 2022 is not far away and I am among many who are watching and taking notes regarding the conduct of our elected officials on all levels. We want to see a change that reflects the values and principles of exemplary leadership for the betterment of our community and especially in regards to the treatment of women and the marginalized in our city.
Personally, I would like to see action that doesn’t continue to erode my faith in this council. In this, I echo the sentiment of several social media posts made by women in our community, calling on our Council to provide better protection for their staff, more education for themselves and greater consequences for those that violate human rights.
I do not expect a written response. Your actions and decisions will be response enough.