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After #MeToo, time for action on gender-based violence: Senators McPhedran, Bernard, Coyle
January 3, 2019
image Marilou McPhedran
Marilou McPhedran
ISG - (Manitoba)
image Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard
Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard
ISG - (Nova Scotia - East Preston)
image Mary Coyle
Mary Coyle
ISG - (Nova Scotia - Antigonish)

It’s been one year since the #MeToo movement put sexual harassment in the national spotlight at home and abroad.

We applaud the courage of everyone who came forward to share their stories — and, as senators, we know we have a role to play to ensure all people are respected and safe in the workplace, and to eliminate gender-based violence and harassment everywhere.

We have many tools at our disposal: committees, inquiries, studies, motions, bills and amendments can all advance the rights of women.

When the government’s anti-harassment legislation, Bill C-65, arrived in the Upper Chamber, senators proposed amendments to make the legislation more in tune with the realities of the modern-day workplace and to ensure complaints of harassment are handled appropriately.

For example, we amended the bill to make it an employer’s duty to ensure that the person designated to receive complaints about violence and harassment in the workplace “has knowledge, training and experience in issues relating to harassment and violence and has knowledge of relevant legislation.”

From left: Status of Women Deputy Minister Gina Wilson, South African High Commissioner to Canada Sibongiseni Dlamini-Mntambo and Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka participate in a round-table discussion as they marked the UN’s annual global campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, in Ottawa on November 27, 2018.

Another bill, C-69, the Impact Assessment Act, also includes provisions that would require federal environmental assessments to consider, among other things, “the intersection of sex and gender with other identity factors.”

We support the inclusion of a gender-based analysis in this piece of legislation to make sure women’s rights are acknowledged and respected when developing policy. 

More broadly, we can use legislation to help eradicate gender-based violence and harassment. This is how the federal employment sector can be a leader in Canada for other employers to follow. No workplace is immune to the harm done by gender-based violence and harassment.

The Senate, as an institution, is taking a proactive approach to this complex issue.

The Senate Subcommittee on Human Resources is reviewing the Senate Policy on the Prevention and Resolution of Harassment in the Workplace, which hasn’t been updated since 2009.

Over the course of its work, and after hearing testimony from expert witnesses, union members and Senate staff representatives, the subcommittee recommended introducing mandatory workplace training on the prevention of harassment and violence. The Senate acted swiftly to make this a reality for all senators and Senate management. Already more than 90% of senators have participated in training sessions; more Senate staff are expected to participate in the mandatory training next year and a detailed report on the Senate’s anti-harassment policy is being prepared.

As senators, we have resources to promote dialogue and it’s our responsibility to create more space for the voices of feminist leaders and civil society groups.

That’s why senators, with the High Commission for South Africa, welcomed UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to Ottawa on November 27 for her first stop in the UN’s annual global campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, with the hashtag #HearMeToo. 

This international campaign, which ended on Human Rights Day on December 10, calls on everyone to challenge cultural norms and perceptions of gender. We urge all Canadians to use their power to advocate for change, including challenging misogynistic comments or “locker room talk,” volunteering time with a local organization and sharing information about gender-based violence in their homes and workplaces. 

We don’t approach this issue as outsiders; some of us are survivors of sexual assault and some of us have investigated cases of sexual exploitation in education and health settings.

We believe that all women and girls, no matter where they live in the world, have the right to a life free of violence at home, at work and in their communities. 

People of all genders have come together over these 16 days to assess progress and map out actions to ensure these issues of inclusion, engagement and safety are addressed.

Now, it’s our job to provide ongoing support to them. 


Senator Marilou McPhedran is a human rights lawyer and Order of Canada recipient in recognition of her co-leadership in the successful campaign for stronger gender equality protections in the Canadian Constitution. She represents Manitoba. 

Senator Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard is a social worker and former member of the National Coalition of Advisory Councils on the Status of Women. Senator Bernard, who represents Nova Scotia, chairs the Senate Committee on Human Rights 

Senator Mary Coyle has championed gender equality, women’s economic inclusion and women’s leadership internationally and in Canada, in her previous roles in the post-secondary and non-profit sectors. She represents the Antigonish region of Nova Scotia.