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Our Story

Our team was created in September of 2021 by our common interest in the following C4 project prompt; “What training and initiatives would you propose for people working in the Senate in Ottawa to change awareness and impact around workplace harassment?”. Likely because all of us are in one way or another learning about systemic and social issues as part of our interests and disciplines. From the first class we realised we were one person short, but we were ready to tackle this challenge with our group of four.


Initially we didn’t totally understand the question, it seemed as if we were tasked with addressing Senators in their role as lawmakers with training and initiatives that may help them to properly address the issue of harassment across Canada’s workplaces. However, with clarification from the teaching team it was understood that Senators and Senate staff themselves along with other Parliamentary employees are working in a culture of harassment, and that we are to try to change it.


In October we’d have a special addition to the team, Carolina S. Ruiz from York’s Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion (REI) who’s been a great mentor and motivator for our team.


With the project challenge calling for training and initiatives, we thought for most of the fall semester that our project would likely be a series of training modules aimed at educating Senate staff on the detriment of workplace harassment in order to encourage a culture of mutual respect. It seemed at the time like the most obvious solution - possibly we could fill some absence of sensitivity training and promote adherence to new anti-harassment policy developments proposed earlier last year. As the Fall semester progressed however, we came to acknowledge several factors that made it evident that a training program would be out of our depth for the time being, and too far ahead of the Senate’s current progression towards a harassment free workplace. 


For one, the last proposed anti-harassment policy remains far from adequate, making it a poor reference for our theoretical training module. The proposed amendments remain full of holes that fail to maintain accountability and transparency; there is not yet external oversight over policy cases, victims/survivors cannot know the disciplinary outcomes of their case, non-disclosure agreements are not prohibited, parliamentary privilege continues to apply to accused Senators, and the Ethics Code has not been extended to cover harassment and bullying. Clearly, there is more work to be done before we can expect some training to change workplace relations where accountability is lacking.


We’d also lost another team member in late October. Now just three people strong, we would still ultimately manage to re-design our project to fit our capabilities and interests. 

In December we were back to the drawing board.


Our initial misunderstanding back in September about the issue at hand revealed a fundamental part of it; many people simply do not know what is going on in the Senate let alone that harassment shapes its workplace culture. The issue has not been discussed much outside of just a few publicised scandals such as that of Senator Don Meredithin, and Trudeau’s dismissal of two MP’s from the party caucus in 2015 after findings of their workplace misconduct. For a moment, it was blatantly clear that there was nothing in place to govern or address sexual harassment on Parliament Hill. These incidents shone a light on the need to further amend the Senate Policy on the Prevention and Resolution of Harassment in the Workplace from 2009.


We started 2022 with a new project vision in mind; to raise awareness around workplace harassment occurring in the Senate and the policy faults that allow it to continue. We decided that from the critical reviews available to us, we can synthesise these into a documentary film and website that introduces to a wide public audience the existence of this issue, reasons why it persists, and what needs to change. 


  • The website was to provide a space for us to present the full story and timeline of incidents and policy changes, along with criticism we’ve gathered and a progress bar that can show what steps the Senate has taken and has yet to take in achieving a healthier workplace.

  • The film was to be aimed at establishing the importance of a harassment-free Senate as a workplace to existing and future public sector workers, and as a case study in the broader MeToo and TimesUp social movements. 

    • Of course in trying to effect change for a specific group of people, it’s difficult to do so without their direct involvement. Owing to the sensitive nature of the issue however, it made a more sensible route to instead contact other people working with the policies and issues we aim to address, rather than victims themselves. This also being because besides the ethical concerns of contacting victims, it’d be difficult to actually get a hold of them. As the rest of our journey demonstrates, even people working in the broader sphere of workplace harassment have proven difficult to speak with.


We’d also gained Mariana as another valuable member to our team who would provide us with guidance in the creation of our video content.


We got to work emailing Senators involved in policy debates and drafting, lawyers dealing in workplace harassment, Ombuds for the Parliamentary houses, and other professionals and academics writing about this issue. In mid-February we had once again arrived back at the drawing board as we were yet to receive a positive response to our invitations to interview and the clock was ticking.


We decided to take a different approach with our video and waste no more time in writing a script for an explainer video. Fortunately, many of our contacts are academics and authors whose work has been published online and informed much of what we know about this problem today. We realised we still have a wealth of information from which to present policy critiques and recommendations in an easy to understand way. 


In particular, Professor Tracey Raney of X University, writing for the Parliamentary Study Group, has written a paper compiling the demands of critical actors within the Senate who have been pushing for policy amendments for years. Our mission is now to elevate those voices and apply the same public pressure that got the Senate to make some revisions in 2018 and 2021. Nowadays, such pressure is applied through the sharing of links to activist pages, sharing videos explaining the problem, and infographic-eque instagram posts, so we’ve set to continue in this spirit.


With the teaching team’s support for our project’s new direction, we felt comfortable to make this change and move forward with it. Over the next month and half, we recorded our video narration, edited it, and got our website in shape for public sharing along with an instagram account.


Overall, we are trying to get it out there that there are clear needs that are yet to be addressed. The issue is important to all Canadians - considering Senators are unelected representatives, we cannot accept that there is harassment and bullying putting undue pressure on some of our representatives, further obscuring the Senate’s role in Canada’s democracy. It is also immediately relevant to young women, people of colour, indiginous people, and LGBTQ+ youth who make the future of the public sector and government - Canada risks losing their invaluable voices if this issue persists.


Our project’s trajectory was unclear and hard to define in the first half, and had some turns in the second, but ultimately it’s been an amazing and fun experience and we’ve enjoyed being able to define it for ourselves. We are extremely happy and grateful for our small team of three, and the unrelenting support we’ve received from Mariana, Carolina, and the teaching team:)

Meet The Team

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