The Gendered & Raced Perspective
Inappropriate gestures and remarks in Canada's Parliamentary houses has long been sustained by old sexist and racist norms going back to Westminster traditions.
Workplace Harassment is Gendered & Raced...
The harassment faced by women, persons of colour, indigenous people, and LGBTQ+ members of politics is often of a sexist and/or racist nature. Just take a look at how MP's have been treated by members of the public taking issue with their taking up office:
A 2016 report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union covering 39 countries found that 82% of women politicians worldwide experienced psychological abuse, and 44% had received threats of rape, death, beating, or abduction.
In the UK’s 2019 general election, several MP’s cited increases in death and rape threats, as well as racism for their decision not to run again.
And in 2021, a report out of Scotland found that compared to their male counterparts, women representatives were more likely to receive these kinds of threats.
Violence against politically active members of vulnerable groups serves to frighten and deter members from engaging in politics.
Member to member, things are not much different:
Ex-senator Don Meredith's staff to be compensated $498K for harassment, abuse
Social Sharing - Meredith harassed or sexually harassed half a dozen Senate staffers and a parliamentary constable
Is there no end to Tory MPs’ sexual misconduct? - In the UK, 56 MP's are currently under investigation for sexual harassment
Old gendered norms live on...
One of the critical papers that has been key in our understanding of how race and gender relates to workplace harassment has been Cheryl N. Collier & Tracey Raney's 2018 paper titled Canada's Member-to-Member Code of Conduct on Sexual Harassment in the House of Commons: Progress or Regress?
In this paper Collier & Raney (2018) discuss the way that despite a face of "gender neutrality", assumptions that dictate appropriate behaviour in the public service are 'masculine' and serve to deter women's participation in debate. They further explain that this style has been carried over as a old and deeply entrenched norm from Westminster Parliament to Canada's Houses. For example, on the house floor, the accepted style of debate is loud, argumentative, and brash. In particular, they see this tradition reflected in Canada's concept of "Parliamentary privilege".
Parliamentary privilege enables the Senate and senators to perform their constitutional functions free from external interference, and govern their own affairs. It means freedom of speech on the house floor, with no further accountability for inappropriate conduct than the House Speaker or Chair's remarks. When a senator or Senate employee harasses a coworker or subordinate, disciplinary matters are ultimately decided by senators themselves as they fill the seats on all decision making committees.
Collier & Raney (2018) also warn that policy amendments are usually capped in their ability to bring about substantial change as they are often overpowered by those old and deeply entrenched norms. Take for example, how Canada's Senate did enact mandatory anti-harassment training with their 2018 anti-harassment policy revisions. However, this does not hold abusers any more accountable as it doesn't tackle parliamentary privilege or enforce serious consequences.
For this reason, the Senate Workplace Harassment Awareness Project aims to amplify the recommendations already made by Senators who've taken on an activist role in their workplace. With implementation, these recommendations have the potential to uproot norms that allow misconduct to persist. These include but are not limited to:
Providing external oversight over all harassment and violence cases
Exempting the usage of parliamentary privilege for senators accused of harassment
Revise Senate's ethics code to denounce derogatory language
(see our "progress meter" page for more)
All of which would go a long ways in our push for a Senate that is most welcoming to women, persons of colour, indigenous people, and LGBTQ+ community members - all of whom deserve to be represented and feel safe participating in Canadian politics.
Tracey Raney - Addressing Violence and Harassment in Canada’s Senate: Critical Actors and Institutional Responses