News

Ghomeshi scandal triggers workplace harassment debate in legislature

By Antonella Artuso, Queen's Park Bureau Chief

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. (STAN BEHAL/Toronto Sun)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. (STAN BEHAL/Toronto Sun)

The Ontario government is willing to look at new ways to address workplace sexual harassment following allegations made against former CBC radio star Jian Ghomeshi, Premier Kathleen Wynne says.

“This is an issue that affects every single one of us. It affects all of us in all our work situations across society, quite frankly, and it affects every single one of us in the sense that we all have to be vigilant and not pretend that somehow this issue has been resolved because it’s 2014 and we’ve moved on,” Wynne said.

“What has happened over the last week has made it clear that it’s very real and we have to continue to be vigilant in every way that we can in all parts of our lives.”

A CBC coworker has alleged she was sexually harassed by Ghomeshi but her employer did not respond properly to her complaint.

Ghomeshi has stated publicly that his conduct in general has been based on consent, and he faces no criminal charges.

Progressive Conservative MPP Laurie Scott raised the issue in the legislature Monday, asking for an all-party select committee of MPPs to examine workplace sexual harassment.

The “disturbing stories” about Ghomeshi in the workplace, and the alleged response of his employer to complaints, raise important issues, she said.

“In particular, that his coworkers raised concerns with their superiors about Mr. Ghomeshi’s alleged behaviour towards them and that those concerns were not acted upon,” Scott told the legislature. “That media attention is now bringing to light many other instances where complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace have not been taken seriously in Ontario.”

An assistant Crown attorney in Peel Region was allowed to resign with a $180,000 “one-year salary bonus” after several female coworkers alleged workplace harassment, Scott said.

“The problem is clearly happening in your own government under your watch,” she told Wynne.

The premier did not specifically agree to the formation of a special committee but did say she was open to ideas on how to respond to workplace sexual harassment.

The solution starts with educating children in school about what is appropriate, Wynne said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government has yet to take sexual harassment seriously in its own workplace, as evidenced by the case of the assistant Crown attorney.

“When someone is sexually harassing coworkers or subordinates in the workplace, that person should not be given a golden handshake as they’re sent out the door,” Horwath said. “It sends the wrong message to women. It sends the wrong message to victims which is, ‘Everybody should keep quiet about it.’”

Tracy MacCharles, Ontario minister responsible for women’s issues, said workplaces are required under law to provide a discrimination and harassment prevention program.

All women who are experiencing domestic or sexual violence are encouraged to seek support and report the crime to their local police authorities if they can, MacCharles said.

When asked why so many women don’t feel comfortable coming forward to authorities, MacCharles said her government has funded victim support programs to help them through the justice process.


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