Recognizing Sexual Harassment Awareness Week
Remarks for The Honourable Laurel Broten Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues
Minister Broten recognizes Sexual Harassment Awareness Week.
June 6, 2012
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I rise to recognize Sexual Harassment Awareness Week in Ontario.
Five years ago, our government declared the first week of June as Sexual Harassment Awareness Week.
The term sexual harassment did not emerge until the 1970s, when the voices of women’s advocates and court decisions in jurisdictions around the world began to reach a tipping point.
In 1989, in one of the leading Supreme Court of Canada decisions on sexual harassment, Chief Justice Dickson stated that:
“When sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, it is an abuse of both economic and sexual power… sexual harassment in the workplace attacks the dignity and self- respect of the victim both as an employee and as a human being.”
This decision was a major turning point, as it gave legal recognition of sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination.
Here in Ontario, Sexual Harassment Awareness Week has its origins in the memory of one woman who represents too many others.
For years, Chatham resident Theresa Vince was a victim of persistent sexual harassment perpetrated by her supervisor. On June 2, 1996, this same supervisor murdered Theresa Vince – and this week we mark the tragic anniversary of Ms. Vince’s death.
We do not want this tragic death to have been in vain, Speaker.
Sexual Harassment Awareness Week exists to increase public awareness, foster change in attitudes and behaviour, and to prevent another tragedy from occurring.
In 2010, our government took action, and strengthened Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act to bring in more protection with respect to violence and harassment.
Employers in Ontario are now required to develop workplace violence and workplace harassment policies and programs, and are responsible for responding to sexual harassment.
Protecting women at work is an important step. But there is still more to be done to ensure that we all live free from the fear of harassment and violence.
At its extreme, women have lost their lives because of sexual harassment.
However, for most women who experience it, sexual harassment takes a much more insidious form. Each and every day, there are women who dread the thought of setting foot in their workplace. These women are deprived of their basic entitlement to earn a living – they are deprived of a safe space to ensure their own economic security.
For women who have experienced sexual harassment, they know first-hand how gross an abuse of economic and sexual power this act can be.
Speaker – our Government will not tolerate sexual harassment.
I am proud to be part of a government that has taken action to better the lives of women on so many fronts:
Through our comprehensive Domestic Violence Action Plan: which is helping women and children to live free from fear of domestic violence.
Through our Sexual Violence Action Plan: which is working to prevent sexual violence and improve supports for survivors.
And, we have now passed the Accepting Schools Act: which makes it clear that bullying and harassment based on sex is not acceptable in our schools.
Along with this, we are teaching healthy equal relationships to our young people through a range of school-based programs – recognizing that attitudes and behaviours formed at a young age are immensely important.
Through our strong public education campaigns, such as Make it Our Business, we continue to raise awareness about how we can all contribute to a safe workplace.
And that is part of what former Liberal Member, Pat Hoy wanted to accomplish in declaring this week as Sexual Harassment Awareness Week. He knew the importance of raising awareness when he said that:
“Sexual harassment interferes with a woman’s safety, her dignity and her equality. It creates long-term emotional, physical and economic consequences for women.”
I would like to be able to say that since Sexual Harassment was first given a name in the 1970’s, or following the 1989 Supreme Court decision, that we no longer have to contend with this issue in 2012.
Unfortunately, that is not the reality.
Earlier this year, several female law-enforcement officers brought forward allegations of sexual harassment from their supervisors. Regardless of how far we have come, sexual harassment is still present in our workplaces.
And that means we still have more to do to raise awareness and take action on this issue.
Everyone — government, educators, parents, students, employers, managers, and colleagues — has a role to play.
All of us can help to build a healthy and respectful workplace.
All of us can learn how to recognize the warning signs of sexual harassment, and how to respond.
It is incumbent on each and every one of us to remain vigilant when it comes to sexual harassment: not just during the first week of June, but each and every day.
Speaker, only by working together in a positive environment, can we eliminate Sexual Harassment both in the workplace and in society.
And when we have done that, we will have made our province stronger, and will have accomplished something we can all be proud of.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Quoted from Ontario Women’s Directorate