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Allegations of sexual harassment in Manitoba civil service substantiated: report

Last Updated Sep 24, 2020 at 6:38 pm EDT

Manitoba premier Brian Pallister speaks at an emergency COVID-19 physically distanced session at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government says there’s been an increase in investigations into sexual harassment complaints made by civil service employees and 20 allegations have been substantiated.

A report for 2019-2020 says those cases resulted in disciplinary action 10 times, mediation was required twice, and the others ended with education or training.

Cathy Cox,  minister responsible for the status of women, says she hopes the slight increase – up from 19 the year before – shows that employees feel safe coming forward with concerns. 

The report says the province received a total of 417 allegations that included harassment, bullying, sexual harassment or other forms of misconduct.

Of those, 288 were substantiated

The government committed to the annual reports on respectful workplace statistics in 2018 after female staff came forward with allegations that a former NDP cabinet minister had tickled and groped them.

The women alleged that their complaints about Stan Struthers, who left politics in 2016, were never addressed. 

Struthers previously apologized for any behaviour that may been inappropriate and said his intention was never to treat women as anything other than equal and respected. 

Also in 2018, backbencher Cliff Graydon was kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus over allegations that he asked two female staff to sit on his lap and suggested another lick food off his face. Another woman alleged Graydon groped her at a party function.

Graydon acknowledged at the time he had an outdated sense of humour and had made inappropriate remarks, but he said he had not sexually harassed anyone and had no memory of inviting anyone to lick his face.

The government commissioned a report that found hundreds of civil servants had experienced sexual harassment while working but most did not report it. The most common complaint was leering or invading space, but others said they’d also experienced inappropriate physical contact.

The government also updated its respectful workplace policy to provide clearer ways to report and address harassment concerns, and implemented a “no wrong door” approach that requires managers to forward any complaint to the province’s civil service commission. 

“We want employees to know that we take complaints of harassment and sexual harassment very seriously, and will not tolerate this type of behaviour in the workplace,” Cox said in a news release Thursday.

Last year, a Tory member of the legislature was given sensitivity training after he was found to have violated the respectful workplace policy on five occasions, including one in which he phone his assistant while he was in the bathtub and another during which he showed her a picture of naked women.

Rick Wowchuck was allowed to remain in the Tory caucus and was re-elected in his Swan River constituency in September’s provincial election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2020.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press