One of the questions we are often asked is how much information should be disclosed to a respondent during an investigation. Some feel that respondents are more likely to provide honest and candid information if they are taken by surprise as opposed to having advance notice of the allegations and supporting evidence. The fear is that with the information, a respondent may have more time to concoct a story in response to the allegations and evidence. The problem with this tactic is that it is premised on an underlying assumption that the respondent has something to hide and is therefore “guilty” of the allegations. Such an approach is not impartial. It also risks being found to be procedurally unfair.
A few weeks ago, I was part of a panel on TVO. The discussion centred on what had changed in the two years since the #Me Too Movement had begun. Much to my surprise, I seemed to be the sole voice on the panel who thought that the needle on the sexual harassment dial had moved at all.
At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, let me explain why I believe things have changed. I do so from the vantage point of someone who leads a large team of lawyers, lawyers who investigate complaints of sexual harassment across the country, in English and in French, and in every conceivable type of workplace.
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.