Gov. Gen. Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Some Senate staffers are concerned that a new policy meant to protect them from workplace harassment is being blocked in the upper house by a handful of senators. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Some Senate staffers are concerned that a new policy meant to protect them from workplace harassment is being blocked in the upper house by a handful of senators. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Senate staffers fear new harassment policy being blocked by senators

OTTAWA — Some Senate staffers are concerned that a new policy meant to protect them from workplace harassment is being blocked in the upper house by a handful of senators.

But Sen. Marilou McPhedran, who is leading the charge against the new policy, has no intention of backing down.

She contends the new policy would silence victims and is even worse than the existing one, which did little to protect staffers from sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying, resulting in scandals that have tarred the institution’s reputation in recent years.

McPhedran was among a number of senators who said no last week when Sen. Raymonde Saint-Germain, chair of the human resources subcommittee that drafted the new policy, sought to have the existing policy repealed immediately so that the new one could be adopted.

Amanda McLaren and James Campbell, who represent staffers on the Senate’s workplace health and safety committee, say they’re worried that the policy may end up languishing on the order paper and eventually die if there’s an election.

“Our biggest concern is the roadblocks that it’s facing in the Senate right now,” McLaren said in an interview.

“The fact that it’s buried so far down on the order paper because of some procedural stuff that went down (last week), there’s a real danger that it won’t be adopted and we’ll be back at square one.”

Campbell said he and McLaren decided to speak out because they felt “it was crucial to have our voices heard on this as something that is … critical in ensuring our collective safety and well-being as employees of the Senate.”

“We find ourselves here after literally years of work, development and scrutiny on this issue with the very possible reality that we might have nothing to show for it,” he said.

For her part, McPhedran said she’s “truly, truly sorry that staffers feel that this delay is harming them.”

“I would not be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t deeply believe, based on 40 years of working in this field as a lawyer, that this is the wrong way for the Senate of Canada to go and it will not help staffers in the long term.”

The new policy has been in the works for three years, following the scandal involving former senator Don Meredith.

He was found after a lengthy investigation by the Senate’s ethics officer to have engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation of staffers, nine of whom the Senate subsequently agreed to compensate.

Meredith resigned from the Senate in 2017 before senators could vote to expel him, after an earlier investigation by the ethics officer found he’d engaged in a sexual relationship with a teenager.

Responding to criticism that the Senate’s internal handling of harassment complaints is slow, self-serving and geared more toward shielding senators than protecting victims, the new policy would give complainants the option of an independent, third-party investigation, to be concluded within six months.

It would also empower the Senate to mete out disciplinary measures, including outright expulsion from the chamber.

McPhedran’s concern revolves around the requirement that all participants in a third-party investigation would be bound to confidentiality, with vague threats of “disciplinary action” for anyone who violates it.

The enforced secrecy is akin to non-disclosure agreements, which have been used to gag victims and protect their abusers and which have been banned in other jurisdictions, she said. Complainants would be forbidden from going to the media, which is often what encourages other victims, including in the Meredith case, to come forward.

“It boils down to this: you step into this process and you are locked down with confidentiality requirements … You have to have a more open process if you’re actually going to create a prevention culture,” she said.

McPhedran also takes issue with what she calls the secretive process set up by the Senate’s internal economy committee to draft the policy, from which she said she was totally shut out.

However, Saint-Germain said her subcommittee consulted intensively with staff in the Senate’s administration and senators’ offices, as well as “many, many” outside experts in the field of mediations, conciliation and workplace issues.

She acknowledged McPhedran has expertise in the field but said: “The majority of the experts with great credentials that we have consulted think otherwise” about the policy.

“It’s the beginning of a new era in the Senate of Canada, with a sound and very robust prevention of harassment, any form of harassment by anyone, and at the same time tacking the issues if and when they will occur.”

The confidentiality requirement, Saint-Germain said, is aimed primarily at assuring complainants that their privacy will be protected. And she said it applies only during the investigation; victims are free to speak publicly before and after that process.

It’s also a matter of “natural justice,” she said, since “as long as the (investigation) process is ongoing, we are working with allegations.”

McLaren and Campbell said they believe the policy is being jeopardized by bickering over “small things.”

But McPhedran said other staffers have come to her with concerns.

One of her own staffers, Clare Shrybman, said she felt compelled to speak to The Canadian Press after she heard that other staffers had spoken in support of the policy.

“I think it mandates silence on the part of the individuals who’ve experienced harassment and that serves the perpetrator,” said Shrybman, who is working on her master’s degree in human rights law.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read