Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in the Workplace: Is this Something New?

Author:McKay-Panos, Linda

There has been a great deal of attention in the media lately about allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace. The current "#MeToo Movement" was thought to have started after public accusations of sexual misconduct by former American film producer Harvey Weinstein. The hashtag #MeToo actually developed from the term "Me Too" coined by American civil rights activist, Tarana Burke, who had used the term since 2006 to raise awareness about sexual abuse and sexual assault in. In October 2017, when after allegations were made against Harvey Weinstein, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged social media users to tweet #MeToo (or its equivalent in other languages) widely in order to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

The #MeToo Movement in the United States has been followed by allegations against public figures in many countries, including Canada. For example, Michel Brule, a mayoral candidate for Plateau-Mont-Royal, Quebec, dropped out of an election due to several allegations of sexual abuse made by women. In January 2018, allegations of sexual misconduct ended the tenure of Progressive Conservative leaders in Ontario and Nova Scotia. This was followed by Federal Minister Kent Hehr's resignation from the Federal Cabinet amid allegations of sexual harassment that had occurred during his time in office in Alberta's provincial legislature. All of the current attention in media and social media is focused on public figures who are accused of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault and not on every day figures.

Are sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace a new phenomena? Hardly. These are not just experienced in public life or in Hollywood. They occur in all workplaces. Sexual harassment was first legally recognized as a form of gender (sex) discrimination under human rights law in the Supreme Court of Canada decision of Janzen v Platy Enterprises Ltd., [1989] 1 SCR 1252. Further, sexual assault (or a similar offence) has been a crime since Canada incorporated British law into our own Criminal Code in 1892 (Criminal Code, SC 1892, c29). This is not to say that the crime of sexual assault has not needed to be amended to reflect feminist and other concerns. For example, in the 1980s, the offence of "rape" (a man having sexual intercourse with a woman who was not his wife) was changed significantly to the broader "sexual assault", and no longer excluded males or wives as...

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