The system does not adequately deal with sexual harassement.


I can relate to Justin Trudeau’s conundrum.  Did he rush into an action too fast by suspending two M.P’s in the latest sex scandal?  I made the same mistake.  When a woman comes to you reporting sexual harassment, you want to do the right thing quickly, but can end up overlooking the due process.  Is it your mistake or is the system faulty?

During the early 1990’s I sat on an administrative position of the United Church in Ottawa and Montreal region.  One of the terms of reference of the job was to facilitate the disciplinary process of church employees including clergy.  It was the time when sexual abuse by clergymen was in the media.  It was also the time the whole outrage of “Indian Residential School” came into open.  We in the church administration were scrambling to do the right thing fast.

In two separate cases, women reported to me that they took complaints of sexual harassment by their ministers to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.  We wanted to do the right thing as quickly as possible; so not waiting for the decision of the Commission, we suspended them from their pastorates.  Those ministers took the church administration to the civil court.  It took two years, and the church lost.  We had to reinstate them and pay the cost.

The court decided that the church did not diligently follow the procedure prescribed in “the United Church Manual.”  We were too eager not to repeat the past mistakes: lack of transparency and a long, arduous and adversarial process that punished the victims further.  Also, if the truth be told, we wanted to be seen to be sympathetic to women.

We did have a legal advisor.  But the system that requires presumption of innocence, adversarial disciplinary proceedings, and worst of all, the time consuming process did not work for the already traumatized victims.  Media frenzy traumatize the victims further.  No wonder those NDP M.P.’s wanted to stay anonymous.

The Parliament, incredibly, does not have a process.  But even the existing processes of other organizations do not work because the systems often victimise the victims.  Criminal proceedings are worse because they are extremely adversarial and brutal.  There’s got to be one that enables a quick and decisive yet humane action to deal with the offence against the vulnerable.

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