Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex. It happens everywhere: at work, at school, in housing and in public places (streets, public transit, swimming pools, parks). It also occurs online (e-mail, social media, etc.)

Sexual harassment is a violation of human rights, including basic rights such as: the right to safeguard dignity, the right to privacy as well as the right to integrity. All these rights are protected in Québec by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

 

Sexual harassment is an abuse of power by one individual (harasser) against another (victim).

Sexual harassment is:

a behaviour (words, actions or gestures) of a sexual nature

  • unwanted : causing discomfort or fear
  • repeated (asingle, serious act can also be sexual harassment)

which undermines the dignity and the physical or psychological integrity of the victim

For example :

  • Absence from work, needing to quit one's job, denial of a promotion
  • Skipping classes, failing classes or stopping studies
  • Developing a physical or mental health problem - psychological trauma, such as: loss of self-esteem, feelings of guilt, stress…

Sexual harassment can be:

Non-verbal

Looks, whistles, posting pornographic material, e-mails, text messages

Verbal

Sexist jokes, comments on physical appearance, questions about someone’s private life, threats, unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favours

Physical

Rubbing, touching, sexual gestures


What is the difference between sexual harassment and…?

Sexist harassment

Like sexual harassment, sexist harassment is based on prejudices and sexist stereotypes. However, sexist comments or acts are not of a sexual nature but based on gendered roles and attitudes assigned to men and women.

Definition

Sexist harassment is a conduct that shows up in repeated words, gestures, or behaviours that are vexatious or contemptuous of someone because of their sex. These acts refer to traits alleged to be uniquely feminine (or masculine), for example: women’s intellectual inferiority, women’s strong emotions, men’s insensitivity, etc.

Examples: Crude language, dirty jokes, insults, graffiti, etc.

Sexual assault

Unlike sexual assault, sexual harassment is not a criminal offense.

Definition

A sexual assault is an act of a sexual nature, whether or not it involves physical contact, carried out by an individual without the consent of the person to whom it is addressed or, in some cases, notably those involving children, by manipulation of feelings or blackmail.

It’s an act that aims to impose the assailant’s own desires on another person through the abuse of power, through the use of force or constraint, or through implied or explicit threats. Sexual assault interferes with fundamental rights, notably the right to bodily security and inviolability, and to physical and psychological security.

Examples: Touching, incest, sexual exploitation, child pornography, exhibitionism, voyeurism.

Source : Information Guide for Sexual Assault Victims This link redirects you to an external Website

Psychological harassment

Psychological harassment can take many forms, including sexual harassment.

Definition

Psychological harassment means any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee.

A single serious incidence of such behaviour that has a lasting harmful effect on an employee may also constitute psychological harassment.

Examples: Offensive remarks, bullying, rumours, humiliation, disparagement.

Source : Act respecting labour standards This link redirects you to an external Website, RLRQ, c. N-1. 1, art. 81.18


Sexual harassment: prohibited by law

In Québec, two laws prohibit sexual harassment:

Note that these laws protect victims, including both women and men. The victim may be of the same sex as the harasser.

No one may harass a person on the basis of any ground mentioned in Section 10



Namely: race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.

Sections 10 and 10.1 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms


Who can stand up to sexual harassment?

Anyone who witnesses a situation of sexual harassment can take action to prevent harassment, whether in a position of authority or not.

  • in the workplace: managers, union members, colleagues
  • in academic institutions: school principals, teachers, etc.
  • in housing: landlords, witnesses

How can sexual harassment be prevented?

Here are some examples of measures for preventing or addressing sexual harassment when it occurs.

In an establishment (business, school, college, university, organization), a building, a union or an organization (e.g. board of directors)

  • set up internal policies to fight discrimination and sexual harassment
  • set up a mechanism for filing complaints and handling sexual harassment claims
  • make people in positions of authority (managers, faculty, etc.) aware of policies and mechanisms, in addition to informing staff members, students, etc.
  • maintain an environment that does not tolerate any form of discrimination or sexual harassment on any basis, including gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression
  • raise awareness, inform, train. For example, organize training sessions on sexual harassment and, more broadly, on discriminatory harassment, sexism and sexist stereotypes, and on rights protected by Québec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms

Psychological support and assistance

You can ask for help from various organizations to cope with the aftermath of sexual harassment and to support you in legal proceedings.

Legal recourse: file a complaint

You can have access to various remedies to stop sexual harassment and get compensation. Depending on the place where you have been a victim of sexual harassment, you can contact the following organizations:

If you have been the target of sexual harassment in the context of your work, the legal remedies available to you vary, depending on:

  • your job category: management, unionized or not
  • the harasser’s job category: a superior or a colleague, supplier, sub-contractor
  • the desired remedial measures

You can contact:

The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse
The Commmission hears complaints because sexual harassment is a form of discriminatory harassment.
Call us to explain your case and learn if you can file a complaint:
Toll-free line: 1 800 361-6477
E-mail: information@cdpdj.qc.ca
www.cdpdj.qc.ca

The Commission des normes, de l'équité et de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST)
This body hears complaints because sexual harassment constitutes discriminatory harassment:
  • constitutes psychological harassment at work:
    Any paid employee at any level of an organization who experiences harassment may file a complaint against their employer within 90 days of the last occurrence of harassment.
  • causes an occupational injury (work accident):
    If the victim is on a leave of absence due to depression resulting from sexual harassment by a colleague, it is possible to make a claim.
Toll-free line: 1 844 838-0808
Online: www.cnesst.gouv.qc.ca/nous-joindre/Pages/nous-joindre.aspx This link redirects you to an external Website
www.cnesst.gouv.qc.ca This link redirects you to an external Website

Your union
If you work in a unionized environment, you should file a grievance with your union. The grievance arbitrator will review and apply the collective agreement.

The Commission de la fonction publique
If you are employed by the Quebec government, you should send your complaint to the Public Service Commission.
Toll-free line: 1 800 432-0432
E-mail: cfp@cfp.gouv.qc.ca This link redirects you to an external Website
www.cfp.gouv.qc.ca  This link redirects you to an external Website

The Canadian Human Rights Commission
If you are employed by a company under federal jurisdiction (public service, banks, telecommunications companies, transport services, air, rail or marine).
Toll-free line: 1 888 214-1090
Online: www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/fra/content/contactez-nous This link redirects you to an external Website
www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca  This link redirects you to an external Website

A lawyer to appeal to the Court of Québec or the Québec Superior Court
In some cases it may be possible to sue the person who sexually harassed you in a civil procedure in order to get financial compensation for the damage you suffered.

Strategies to adopt when you think you are being sexually harassed at work:

  • Show your non-consent to the presumed harasser;
  • Speak to your colleagues or to a trustworthy person;
  • Write a journal of events (places, dates, times, facts and gestures, witnesses);
  • Contact a support group.

Source : Groupe d’aide et d’information sur le harcèlement sexuel au travail de la province de Québec inc. This link redirects you to an external Website

The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse
The Commmission hears complaints because sexual harassment is a form of discriminatory harassment.
Call us to explain your case and learn if you can file a complaint:
Toll-free line: 1 800 361-6477
E-mail: information@cdpdj.qc.ca
www.cdpdj.qc.ca

Intervention bodies at your university or Cégep
Refer to the resource list available on the Sans oui, c’est non! websiteThis link redirects you to an external Website (in French only)

Your school principal or your school board’s student advocate

A lawyer to appeal to the Court of Québec or the Québec Superior Court
In some cases it may be possible to sue the person who sexually harassed you in a civil procedure in order to get financial compensation for the damage you suffered.


The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse
The Commmission hears complaints because sexual harassment is a form of discriminatory harassment.
Call us to explain your case and learn if you can file a complaint:
Toll-free line: 1 800 361-6477
E-mail: information@cdpdj.qc.ca
www.cdpdj.qc.ca

In cases of sexual assault, contact the Régie du lodgement, your local police department or the Sûreté du Québec at 1 800 659-4264.

The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse
The Commmission hears complaints because sexual harassment is a form of discriminatory harassment.
Call us to explain your case and learn if you can file a complaint:
Toll-free line: 1 800 361-6477
E-mail: information@cdpdj.qc.ca
www.cdpdj.qc.ca

A lawyer to appeal to the Court of Québec or the Québec Superior Court
In some cases it may be possible to sue the person who sexually harassed you in a civil procedure in order to get financial compensation for the damage you suffered.

Your local police department or the Sûreté du Québec at 1 800 659-4264

The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse
The Commmission hears complaints because sexual harassment is a form of discriminatory harassment.
Call us to explain your case and learn if you can file a complaint:
Toll-free line: 1 800 361-6477
E-mail: information@cdpdj.qc.ca
www.cdpdj.qc.ca

Your local police department or the Sûreté du Québec at 1 800 659-4264
Your local police department or the Sûreté du Québec
Contact the sexual assault unit investigators of your local police department or the Sûreté du Québec at 1 800 659-4264.

The Régie du logement
If your safety or that of a child living with you is at risk because of violence by a spouse (current or former), or because of a sexual assault, even by someone who is not your spouse (current or former), you can terminate your lease.

For details on how to proceed, see Spousal Violence or Sexual Aggression This link redirects you to an external Website .
Toll-free line: 1 800 683-2245
Online: www.rdl.gouv.qc.ca/en/contact-us This link redirects you to an external Website
www.rdl.gouv.qc.ca/en This link redirects you to an external Website

An employer has a legal obligation to guarantee an environment free of sexual harassment for all employees. These legal obligations are set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter) and the Act respecting labour standards.

In fact, the employer is obliged to:

  • Provide a work environment free from discrimination and harassment (Sect. 10 and 10.1 of the Charter)
  • Provide fair and reasonable working conditions (Sect. 46 of the Charter)
  • Provide a workplace free from psychological harassment (Sect. 81.19 of the Act respecting labour standards)

In order to prevent sexual harassment and discriminatory harassment in general
the employer must agree to:

  • Reject any form of harassment, be it sexual, racial or based on any other type of unlawful discrimination.
  • Protect any staff member experiencing discriminatory harassment, using internal mechanisms for assistance and remedy.
  • Protect all staff members from discriminatory harassment that is perpetrated by outsiders in the course of work.

When informed of a sexual harassment situation, the employer is:

  • Required to put an end to this behaviour
  • Held responsible for the actions of their staff

While handling and resolving a sexual harassment case, the employer:

  • Must not reveal the names of people involved in the harassment situation unless this information is needed to carry out the investigation or to apply disciplinary measures.
  • Must ensure that the victim of harassment does not suffer prejudice or reprisals in any way while the problem or conflict is being handled and resolved.

To find out more about employers’ obligations, see the tools provided by the Commission to prevent harassment in the workplace.

Tools offered by the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse

The Commission has several tools to combat gender stereotypes and to understand and prevent harassment in the workplace.

Webinar
Understanding harassment in the workplace to better prevent it (in French only)

This webinar addresses issues related to discriminatory harassment and sexual harassment; the legal obligations of employers and the basics to set up and implement a workplace harassment prevention policy; and the remedies set out by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.


Training session
Discriminatory harassment: nobody deserves this!
(in French only)

This session addresses the notion of discriminatory harassment, its features and its negative impacts on the rights of everyone involved.


A Policy against discriminatory harassment in the workplace

This document provides business managers as well as union officials with the elements of a standard policy, its main components and prerequisites for effective implementation.


Document to better understand sexual harassment and the Commission’s role
(in French only)

This document presents the Commission's recommendations for preventing sexual harassment and facilitating access to justice for victims. These were issued as part of the consultation on the report on the implementation of the government action plan on sexual assault.

Other sites and documents of interest


Click for more information.

Stéphanie’s boss often calls her into his office to talk to her about his personal life. At a work event, he tells her that he finds her pretty. Another time, when he asks her to accompany him to his car to give her some documents, he takes the opportunity to tell her that he loves her, he would like to "have" her and asks her to give him "a little kiss". These behaviours disturb and scare Stéphanie, who eventually resigns.

Did you know?

An employer can be held responsible by their staff or by third parties (clients, suppliers or others) for acts committed in a work context. The employer must therefore act quickly to address the problem.

Click for more information.

Jasmine started her Ph.D. with a well-known female professor whom she greatly admires. The professor always praises her work and often invites Jasmine to her office to talk about it. One day the professor touches Jasmine’s buttocks while suggesting they continue their conversation at the professor’s home. Jasmine refuses. From that point on, the professor is very cold and routinely disparages Jasmine’s work. She blocks Jasmine from applying for a scholarship by refusing to provide her with a letter. Discouraged, Jasmine decides to give up on her doctorate.

Did you know?

Many student victims don’t file complaints out of fear of retaliation by faculty members. Retaliation may take the form of poor grades, unwarranted criticism or hindering access to scholarships, for example.

Click for more information.

Three months after arriving in Québec with her daughter, Joy found an apartment, but she is still looking for work. The janitor in her building seems to take a liking to her. He helps to carry her groceries or her daughter’s stroller upstairs and also does small house repairs. At first, she was happy to rely on his help, but then he started making sexual advances. As he has the key to her place, he started coming into her home whenever he wanted and without prior notice. Joy no longer feels safe at home, but she doesn’t have the resources to move.

Did you know?

Sexual harassment particularly affects women facing other forms of discrimination: immigrant women, older women, racialized women, women with disabilities, Aboriginal women or lesbians.


Click for more information.

Lea sees the same man every time she leaves the yoga studio. He sits on a sidewalk bench and stares at her chest when she passes him. One day she realizes he is following her. He whistles to get her attention, says she is pretty and makes crude remarks about her physical appearance. The next time, he also suggests she come to his house. Lea feels demeaned and decides to switch to another yoga studio so she won’t cross paths with him anymore.

Did you know?

Whether it happens on the street, in parks, at a pool or a bus stop, there’s very little research that has been done on sexual harassment in public places. However, a 2017 poll conducted by the Centre d’éducation et d’action des femmes de Montréal (Montreal Women's Education and Action Centre) reveals that 90% of the 240 women surveyed said their right to walk outdoors without being harassed is not respected.

Click for more information.

A girl in Peter’s class sends him private messages on Facebook. The girl makes jokes, teases Peter and asks questions about his private and sex life. After a few days, Peter responds by telling him to stop. The girl posts Peter’s response on his Facebook wall and ridicules him in public. Peter isolates himself from his classmates because no one stood up for him.

Did you know?

Online harassment is an increasing occurrence among young people. Communication tools such as e-mail, social media and text messages are extending the boundaries of sexual harassment. It is very important not to erase incoming messages that show sexual harassment so that the victim has proof if they complain.

Click for more information.

Sara works on a construction site as one of 50 employees, an almost all-male environment. Right from her first day on the job, the foreman managing the site told her she was too pretty to be doing this type of work. The following week, he made it clear that construction sites were for "real men". She told herself that this was just the beginning and that over time, her supervisor would appreciate her work for what it was worth. However, at the end of the third week the foreman told her point-blank that women had no place on a construction site and she should leave her job.

Did you know?

The construction industry is the place where women are most likely to encounter sexism. In Québec, the sector counted 2,174 female workers in 2012. Women working on construction sites are still quite rare, representing only 1.3% of the workforce. Almost twice as many women as men leave the industry: almost 60% of them give up after 5 years because of the barriers they face.
(Source : CCQ This link redirects you to an external Website - In French only)

  • File a complaint at the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse

​​​