In 2015, the Ontario government announced a new action plan entitled “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment. The purpose of Ontario’s proposed Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment), 2015 (the “Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act”) is to protect all Ontarians from the devastating impact of sexual violence, sexual harassment and/or domestic violence as well as all other forms of abuse, for which the Ontario government has imposed a no tolerance policy. The Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act is said to be a top priority and Ontario legislature states that it is essential for the achievement of a fair and equitable society. Currently the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act has passed a first and second reading in the House (the Legislative Assembly of Ontario) and as of December, 2015 has been ordered referred to a Standing Committee on Social Policy.
As we know, the Committee stage is an opportunity to call witnesses, examine the bill in detail and make amendments. Committees may travel to facilitate witness testimony and learn more about the issue. After the witnesses have been heard, the bill is examined clause-by-clause, during which time any amendments are voted on. Once the parts of the bill have been considered, the committee votes on the bill as a whole, and whether to report it to the House.
The major amendments proposed in the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act relate to the three primary areas, employment, education and victim rights. Most relevant to the employment context for Ontarians are the following amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “Act”):
Employers would be well advised to follow the progress of the proposed legislation and where it is passed, they will face new obligations which they will need to implement with respect to their employees.
In addition, it should be noted that the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act aims to remove existing procedural obstacle in the justice system and increase the rights of victims of sexual violence, including the removal of certain limitation periods for civil proceedings based on sexual assault pursuant to the Limitations Act, 2000. This would affect, among others, the rights of employees who have been the victims of sexual assault, harassment and/or other sexual misconduct in the course of their employment.
If the amendments are accepted, the categories of claims relating to assault, sexual misconduct and/or sexual assault in which no limitation period will apply will be broadened beyond those currently existing such that, among other things, no limitation period will apply with respect to any proceeding based on a sexual assault, whether or not at the time of the assault one of the parties to it had charge of the person assaulted, was in a position of trust or authority in relation to the person or was someone on whom he or she was dependent, whether financially or otherwise.
This should assist in easing the legal and procedural limitations currently faced by litigants when considering the commencement of an action arising from this type of sexual harassment, assault and/or other misconduct.