The recent, apparently racially motivated, shootings in Quebec City on January 29 2017 have given pause for reflection: how could something like this happen in such a peaceful city; in such a peaceful country? What is happening in Canadian society that could give rise to such hateful violence?

HR professionals, business managers and lawyers can all learn something from such a tragedy.

Until now, it has been easy for Canadians to feel superior as they observe events in the United States. Canada's national leader was not elected in part due to the targeting of certain ethnic groups; nor is Canada a country that bars immigrants and refugees from many other countries based in part on religion. Canada is also not a country in which race riots and demonstrations repeatedly occur in protest against police brutality, or one in which gun violence seems rampant.

However, the Quebec City tragedy brought home the fact that Canadians are not immune from the same social ills ‒ such as xenophobia, gun violence and discrimination based on race and religion ‒ that afflict other countries, including the United States. While Canadians may think that such problems are worse in other countries, the truth is that they are also prevalent in Canada.

The question that many are now asking is: what can be done to prevent these inexplicable acts from happening again?

An important consideration in a country as diverse as Canada is how to ensure that racial, ethnic and religious tension does not permeate its organisations. Some might say that Canadian laws should prevent such things. However, HR professionals and managers know that the law is a very blunt instrument. Canadian discrimination laws are already very broad and very strong ‒ some might say they are overreaching. Nonetheless, these laws are often ineffective for the most vulnerable individuals, and are routinely abused and misused by those who do not need such protection. In any event, managers know that laws can create neither a vibrant and productive working environment nor an atmosphere of genuine mutual respect among workers and managers alike.

While discrimination and harassment laws may be necessary, they are not the solution to preventing such hateful violence. The answer lies in how employees consider and treat their peers, bosses and subordinates ‒ regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or other characteristics that may make them seem different. Mutual respect is needed from the top to the bottom of organisations.

Senior managers, especially HR professionals, must be the driving force in creating and maintaining a positive, respectful work culture.

A great example of a workplace policy that addresses these issues in a positive and productive manner was established by an organisation that is consistently recognised as one of Canada's best employers: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre of Toronto. In addition to its anti-discrimination or anti-harassment policy, Sunnybrook has a 'Respect Policy'. The policy applies to its 10,000-plus employees, its senior executives and its medical staff.

The following excerpt highlights how this policy sets standards of good behaviour, instead of the normal prohibitions against bad behaviour:


The Respect Program and the Respect Policy is meant to give an appropriate focus to one of our most important values. Respectful behaviour will help us build and sustain respectful work relationships and work environments. It will improve our productivity, the delivery of the services we provide to our patients and visitors, and how we interact with each other.

This is a shared responsibility and everyone in the organization – staff, physicians, volunteers and students – must be accountable for their behaviour, actions and work relationships. We must work together as a team to promote respectful behaviour, respect work interactions, and build respectful work environments.

Our actions can make a difference in sustaining a culture of respect for each other.


Corporate Respect Agreement:

By redeveloping our corporate code of conduct, we reinforce to staff, physicians, volunteers and students that respectful behaviour produces respectful work environments. In building respectful work environments we must be committed and share the responsibility to:

RESPECT: the diversity of our staff and their cultural backgrounds.
RESPECT: how we communicate and how we listen to each other.
RESPECT: our differences; in opinion, lifestyle & lifestyle choices.
RESPECT: the needs of different generations.
RESPECT: the value of each and every job and role at Sunnybrook.
RESPECT: the vast array of different personalities that we encounter every day.
RESPECT: that good working relationships builds good work environments.
RESPECT: that good behaviour, respectful behaviour, can make a difference.

R - RESPECTFUL behaviour is everyone's responsibility.
E - ENGAGE yourself and others to build a respectful work environment.
S - SUPPORT your co-workers; their success is your success.
P - PATIENCE is a virtue, practice it often.
E - EMPATHY towards others will help us understand our differences.
C - COMMUNICATE with care, learn when to talk, learn when to listen.
T - THOUGHTFUL and tactful behaviours will improve work relationships.


1. Respectful behaviour builds good work relationships and work environments.

2. Respectful behaviour will improve our customer service. (Delivery of our services to patients, visitors and to each other.)

3. Respectful behaviour will improve productivity.

4. Respectful behaviour will strengthen our culture and organization resiliency.

5. Respectful behaviour will help us achieve our goal, 'To Be The Healthcare Workplace Of Choice'.


The Respect Policy is a shared responsibility; we all have a role in maintaining professional respectful work relationships, we all have a role in conducting ourselves within the spirit and intent of this program/policy and for contributing towards a respectful workplace."

These may be aspirational statements. However, if an employer can set these standards for its organisation and exemplify and demand them of others, then it will have improved the culture of its workplace. Such an organisation will have done its part in reducing the likelihood of more tragedies such as the Quebec City shootings.

For further information on this topic please contact Brian Smeenk at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP by telephone (+1 416 366 8381) or email ([email protected]). The Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP website can be accessed at