On October 27, 2015, the Ontario Government introduced legislation designed to strengthen laws addressing sexual violence and harassment and to increase protections for complainants.
Bill 132: the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment), 2015, is part of the Ontario Government’s broader three year action plan entitled “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment”, which was released in March 2015. In addition to the proposed legislation, as part of its plan the Ontario Government has committed to launching a public education and awareness campaign, increasing funding and support for community- and hospital-based sexual assault and domestic violence treatment centres, and improving the experience of and legal aid available to sexual assault survivors in the criminal justice system.
If passed, Bill 132 will create substantial new obligations and impact the rights of employers, educational institutions, and landlords. Significant provisions of the proposed legislation include the following:
- Amendments to the Occupational Health & Safety Act increasing employer obligations with respect to workplace harassment programs, creating additional duties of employers to protect workers from workplace harassment, and ensuring that incidents are appropriately investigated with the results communicated to complainants and alleged harassers. Inspectors would also be permitted to order employers to have workplace harassment investigations conducted by impartial third parties.
- Amendments to the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities Act requiring applicable educational institutions to develop standalone sexual violence policies and to review these policies every three years. The polices would need to be created and reviewed in consultation with students, and educational institutions would be required to collect and report certain information related to sexual violence to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. The required information would include the number of reported incidents of sexual violence and the number of times support services are sought by students.
- Amendments to the Limitations Act, 2002, the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act, and the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, removing procedural obstacles and increasing the rights of victims of sexual violence. These amendments would remove certain limitation periods for civil proceedings based on sexual assault as well as for compensation applications to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, and would allow tenants the right to terminate residential leases on short notice where the tenants are facing domestic or sexual violence.
Employers, educational institutions, and landlords will want to pay close attention to the progress of the proposed legislation and the new obligations it may create.