DND, Veterans Affairs workers say harassment complaints not taken seriously: unions

DND, Veterans Affairs workers say harassment complaints not taken seriously: unions

OTTAWA — It has been nearly two years since a civilian employee at the Defence Department says she first lodged a workplace harassment complaint against one of her superiors and she says the bureaucratic stonewalling ever since has left her feeling defeated.

The woman, whom The Canadian Press agreed not to identify because she fears reprisal while she remains employed by the department, says it all started when she was asked to do work outside her job description, which she refused to do.

“As soon as I said, ‘No,’ there was a change in my entire work environment and how I was handled,” she said Tuesday in an interview.

When she stepped forward to report harassing behaviours by her male superior, the woman said she “stupidly assumed” someone would help her, given all the programs and services within the department aimed at addressing workplace violence and harassment.

Instead, she said she was labelled “sensitive” and her job — as a mental health support worker — was threatened by those who outranked her. She said the behaviours escalated with everything she tried to do to fix the situation.

“Basically at this point I feel I’ve already lost my career,” she said. “My confidence in the department is basically non-existent at this point because I know how many people have been affected.”

The woman’s experience is far from an isolated one, according to the unions that represent civilian employees at both the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. The unions arranged the interview with the unnamed complainant.

June Winger, national president of the Union of National Defence Employees, says civilian employees from every region are contacting union representatives with “horrific” tales of bullying and abuse, especially after recent high-profile allegations of sexual misconduct against top-ranking members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

“Harassment is alive and well at National Defence,” she said in an interview.

“There’s a common theme of harassment right throughout the department, and you can look at any section … It’s a common thread everywhere.”

Winger cited cases involving public servant firefighters working on military bases who have had their complaints of severe forms of harassment investigated and deemed “founded.”

She said there have been cases where complaints of severe harassment have been investigated and deemed to be “founded,” but recommendations that stem from these internal investigations are non-binding and often only superficially address concerns.

Often, these recommendations are simply ignored, she added, leaving employees with no further recourse except to go on stress leave, which she said is an increasing trend.

Virginia Vaillancourt, national president of the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees, says similar allegations, and treatment of complainants, is happening among a large number of her members too.

When the aggressors are not stopped, more people are victimized, she said.

“When you’re having repeat offenders and nothing is being done and departments are turning a blind eye to those situations, that’s where the systemic problems keep coming in,” Vaillancourt said.

“They don’t fix the situation, they blame the victim and they make the victim feel like they’re the ones that have done wrong in that whole process.”

The Trudeau government has faced mounting criticism of its handling of the issue of harassment in the military following recent allegations against former chief of defence staff general Jonathan Vance, and other high-ranking members of the military.

Vance has not responded to requests for comment by The Canadian Press, but Global News, which first reported the allegations in February, says that he has denied any inappropriate conduct. He is now being investigated by military police.

The Liberal government has tasked former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour with reviewing how the military handles sexual assault, harassment and other forms of misconduct. It marks the second review by a retired Supreme Court justice in about six years.

Daniel Minden, press secretary for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, said neither the department nor the military deem any form of harassment acceptable.

“Though important steps have been taken to address the overall health and well-being of the defence team, we clearly have much work to do to bring about enduring change,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

“Eliminating all forms of misconduct and abuse is a top priority for our government.”

He added that recent changes to the Canada Labour Code that came into effect this year will help government to be “better equipped to prevent, respond to and provide support to those affected by harassment and violence in the federal public service.”

Cameron McNeill, a spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay, noted the minister has previously said harassment and discrimination have no place within the department.

“Ensuring a safe workplace for everyone remains one of his absolute top priorities,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Winger paused and laughed quietly to herself when asked if she thought the government’s recent efforts and newly launched review by Arbour would finally address the concerns of employees she represents.

“I’ll be the first one to be happily surprised, but too often it’s just a half measure,” she said.

“When it comes down to it, very little changes. People go back to where they’re comfortable.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2021.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

workplace harassment

Just Posted

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Red Deer Emergency Services responded to an explosion at a duplex on Rupert Crescent Saturday morning. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters respond to explosion in Red Deer early Saturday morning

There was an explosion at a Red Deer duplex early Saturday morning.… Continue reading

Terry Betts, of Kananaskis, looks at the vehicle he was hoping to sell during the Quick Times Red Deer Swap Meet in the Westerner Park parking lot Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Quick Times Red Deer Swap Meet held outdoors

A big automotive swap meet was held outdoors this year in Red… Continue reading

The Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum is set to re-open on July 2. (File Photo)
Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum to reopen Monday

The Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum will reopen for visitors… Continue reading

Huzaifa (left), Saif (middle) and Zoya (right) were among the 60 or so Red Deerians who participated in a vigil for the victims of a recent terrorist attack that killed four people in London Ont. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Red Deer vigil honours victims of London, Ont. terrorist attack

About 60 people gathered at the corner of 49 Ave. and 50… Continue reading

A man wears a face mask as he walks by a sign for a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, May 16, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canada paid a premium to get doses from Pfizer earlier than planned

OTTAWA — Canada paid a premium to get more than 250,000 doses… Continue reading

The Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., is shown in this 1930 handout photo. HO — Deschatelets-NDC Archives
Calls grow for Ottawa to review settlement decisions for residential school survivors

Lawyer Teri Lynn Bougie still cries when she talks about the final… Continue reading

Syringes are readied at a COVID-19 mobile vaccination clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, Friday, April 30, 2021 in Montreal. Most of the federal contracts for COVID-19 vaccines allow for Canada to donate some of its doses to other countries or international aid organizations and in at least three cases, for the doses to be resold.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada’s vaccine contracts allow for doses to be donated, in some cases resold

OTTAWA — Most of the federal contracts for COVID-19 vaccines allow for… Continue reading

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, responds to the report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in Vancouver, on Monday June 3, 2019. As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Two sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

VANCOUVER — As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after… Continue reading

A woman sits and weeps at the scene of Sunday's hate-motivated vehicle attack in London, Ont. on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Four members of a family in London, Ont., are set to be buried today. The public has been invited to help celebrate the lives of Talat Afzaal, 74, her son Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins
Funeral to be held today for London family killed in attack

LONDON, Ont. — Four members of a Muslim family killed in what… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden listen to United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliver opening remarks at a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, United Kingdom Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau to discuss foreign policy with G7 leaders at second day of summit meeting

CARBIS BAY, CORNWALL, ENGLAND — Foreign policy is on the agenda for… Continue reading

Multivitamins are shown on the packaging line at the Pfizer plant in Montreal, Thursday, July 12, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canadian drug companies want new pricing regs delayed again until after pandemic

OTTAWA — Almost three dozen Canadian pharmaceutical companies made a direct appeal… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — The massive $70 million dollar Lotto Max jackpot remained unclaimed… Continue reading

Most Read