Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, speaks during an event on workplace harassment and violence prevention fund in Toronto on Friday, July 5, 2019. Hajdu remembers encountering an angry — and racist — person at the doorstep. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Lahodynskyj

Campaigns strengthen harassment training in the wake of #MeToo movement

The #MeToo movement revealed Canadian politics is not immune from these issues

Patty Hajdu remembers encountering an angry — and racist — person at the doorstep.

“I hit a door where someone said, ’Oh, you’re a Liberal?’” Hajdu, the federal employment minister seeking re-election in Thunder Bay, Ont., recalls of her experience in the 2015 campaign.

“(He) went on to make some of the most horrifically racist statements about Indigenous people that I have heard in a long time — and I’ve heard a lot.”

She says she told him that his views were repulsive and that the conversation was over.

One of her young volunteers was surprised by her response and asked whether she was really allowed to do that.

“It stunned me that he didn’t know,” she says.

Ensuring that everyone involved in an election contest is aware of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to discrimination and harassment, sexual or otherwise, is part of new mandatory training sessions for all Liberal candidates and campaign managers across the country.

The #MeToo movement revealed Canadian politics is not immune from these issues and that the people, often young volunteers, who do a lot of the grunt work to run the party machines are particularly vulnerable — and demanding better.

ALSO READ: #MeToo at work: B.C. women share horrifyingly common sexual assaults

The Conservatives are also running the biggest training program in party history as part of their response to a report on how former Conservative MP Rick Dykstra remained on the ballot in 2015 even after party insiders learned he had been accused of sexual misconduct. He has denied wrongdoing.

The New Democrats also have an anti-harassment policy, but did not say whether they are doing extra training for candidates when The Canadian Press asked.

Dallas Thompson, who runs a consulting firm that has been helping U.S. political campaigns to develop anti-harassment policies, says campaigns often know little about human resources, given they pop up to fight an election and then disappear once the votes are counted.

“They are not built for the long term, and so they lack a lot of the traditional structure, which other workplaces have,” says Thompson, the founder of Bright Compass. “(That) oftentimes leads to workers not being as protected as they could be.”

She says sharing best practices on things like alcohol consumption at after-hours events or dating in the workplace can help save campaigns from having to reinvent the wheel — or flail about in a crisis.

A “Safe Campaigns” online training module developed by the Liberals touches on how politics can be different from the average workplace.

“Social activities are a key part of political culture — it’s how we form relationships and build a sense of community,” says one of the slides from the training. “But the rules apply there too.”

It also urges campaign leaders to “amplify” the voices of those who appear to be repeatedly dismissed or ignored, making sure to give them credit for their ideas — a practice commonly promoted by feminists and other social-justice advocates.

“What we want to have are respectful organizations and a campaign is no different,” says Hajdu.

The Conservative Party of Canada updated its own workplace anti-harassment and discrimination policy in July, and it also has a code of conduct for volunteers, campaign staff and those who work for electoral district associations.

Spokesman Cory Hann says the party is putting the finishing touches on an anti-harassment policy that will apply specifically to candidates in the Oct. 21 election, and expects to be done in time for the campaign to officially begin.

Julie Lalonde, a public educator who often conducts anti-harassment training, says that since it is not feasible for political parties to thoroughly vet the thousands of volunteers who stream into local campaign offices, it is important to have robust policies that can force problematic people to leave.

“That’s an issue when you’re talking about being desperate for folks to help with your campaign,” she says.

“Oftentimes, a huge reason why people don’t get the boot is they need those volunteers.”

Arezoo Najibzadeh, executive director of the Young Women’s Leadership Network, helped create a toolkit for campaigns seeking to make their environments safer for staffers and volunteers.

She says it can be as simple as making sure to avoid sending young volunteers to knock on doors alone and giving them bus tickets or other ways to get home or otherwise leave risky situations quickly.

“We’ve had stories of indecent exposure or sexual harassment that volunteers have experienced while they are door-knocking,” she says.

Najibzadeh says efforts to understand why harassment is happening can be more effective than any policy on how to respond to it.

“I believe that sexual violence, like every other form of oppression and violence, is a cultural one and policies can only go so far as to reacting to allegations and stories of sexual violence once survivors do come forward,” Najibzadeh says.

“I don’t think that political parties or a lot of political spaces have been proactive in ensuring that we are addressing this issue at its roots,” she says.

ALSO READ: Province launches sexual violence prevention campaign at B.C. universities, colleges

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Homeless count is coming to the Fraser Valley to help track the numbers

Training Feb. 27 in Chilliwack to help volunteers adopt respectful and compassionate approach

Mya Onos gears up for B.C. Winter Games

The decorated speed skater starts competing Friday

UPDATE: ‘Chain reaction pile up’ closes southbound traffic on Coquihalla Highway

Black Press Media has reached out to RCMP, paramedics for details

Woman in Fraser Health region confirmed as sixth COVID-19 case in B.C.

Woman remains in isolation as Fraser Health officials investigate

IIO called to Chilliwack after man goes into medical distress in RCMP cells

Male was arrested for assault at CGH, cleared by hospital, then had medical issue next morning

Fashion Fridays: The 8 best quality online stores! Shop the ultimate sales

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

VIDEO: 2020 BC Winter Games kick off in Fort St. John

More than 1,000 of B.C.’s best athletes will be competing over the next three days

Meet the Wet’suwet’en who want the Coastal GasLink pipeline

Supporters of the pipeline are upset only one side is being heard nationwide

‘Usain Bolt he was not’: B.C. gang police seize drugs, cash after foot chase

‘The man took off running when he saw our officers approaching,’ CFSEU BC says

Suspect at large after stealing seaplane before crashing into another in Vancouver

Police responded to the incident at 3:30 a.m. on Friday at Vancouver Harbour

Canadians released from coronavirus-ridden cruise ship in Japan fly home

Those who were cleared to travel are to be screened again at Canadian Forces Base Trenton

Trudeau promises update on blockades as Wet’suwet’en chiefs meet Mohawk supporters

B.C. hereditary chiefs are thanking the Mohawks for supporting them in opposition to Coastal GasLink

Woman missing in Metro Vancouver

Police seek public’s help locating Atefeh Jadidian, last seen in Maple Ridge

Petition seeks to remove B.C. police department from case of murdered 24-year-old real estate agent

American woman starts online petition in hopes of helping Buziak family

Most Read