When we ask complainants in a workplace investigation whether there were any witnesses to the events that form the basis of their allegations, it is not uncommon to hear, “Well no, but I told my partner/best friend/colleague everything.” This is especially true in cases of sexual harassment or assault, where the events in question often take place in private, without witnesses present.
I recently attended a talk at Hot Docs on the book ‘Had it Coming: What’s fair in the Age of #MeToo’ authored by journalist Robyn Doolittle. In this book, Doolittle challenges the social attitude around sexual behaviour and sexual assault. She advances the notion that the “laws aren’t the problem,” as Canada has some of the most progressive sexual assault laws. Instead, the problem is our attitudes, more particularly the negative attitudes of police officers and those in the justice system, and the myths that pervade those institutions. These attitudes have adversely impacted the way sexual assault complaints are handled in Canada.
I am the Harassment and Discrimination Officer for my community sport club. Unlike my club peers who volunteered for the board of directors or fundraising committee and who are busy organizing weekly bake sales, seeking sponsors and promoting online fundraising campaigns, my volunteer role has required little of my time. But that is likely changing and for a good reason. Amateur sport in Canada is undergoing a cultural transformation, specifically around safety in sport and the creation of a safe environment for all participants, particularly children.
When I do respectful workplace training, one of the responses I often hear is, “Does this mean I can’t compliment my co-worker’s hair/clothes/eyes/jewelry?” My answer is always an annoyingly lawyerly one: “It depends.”
A comment that pertains to a colleague’s appearance has the potential to create a welcome personal connection. It can also cause harm. A set of recent decisions from the British Columbia Health Professions Review Board (the “Board”) provides some insight on when comments on a person’s appearance are inappropriate.