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.
Most reported cases of sexual misconduct on university campuses follow a common narrative: a male professor engages in sexual misconduct with female student. This scenario pits sexual violence advocates against institutions and engages the media. But what happens when the narrative changes?
Whether advocating for a client before the Human Rights Tribunal, drafting a Respect at Work Policy or assisting a client with engaging a workplace investigator, many lawyers are familiar with providing advice about harassment at work, but how many of us have thought about harassment in our own workplaces?
The Law Society of Ontario’s Discrimination and Harassment Counsel (“DHC”), an organization whose mandate includes providing services to people who have concerns or complaints about discrimination or harassment by lawyers and paralegals, shed light on this topic in its most recent report.