Call for Improving the City's Institutional Framework for Responding to Gender-Based Violence

December 4, 2019

Dear Mayor Watson and Members of Ottawa City Council,

We write to express our frustration and disappointment in our collective ongoing failure to respond to incidents of violence against women and gender-based violence at the City of Ottawa.

The Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) stands in solidarity with women and other survivors who bravely come forward with their experiences of sexual violence and workplace harassment at the City of  Ottawa.  Women and people of all genders who are employed, or are seeking employment with the City deserve to feel safe and respected. In fact, the City is legislated to do so as captured in Bills 132, 168 and 14, in addition to the Ontario Human Rights Code. 

The fear of stigma and shame prevents many survivors of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence to disclose to anyone, let alone in the workplace.  Survivors deserve avenues to meaningfully launch complaints without fear of retaliation or intimidation, where the opportunity for revenge and mis-use of power is great. Workplaces should have a comprehensive framework to respond to disclosures of violence, and the burden of proof should lie with the accused to demonstrate that violence did NOT occur, not on the survivor to prove it did. Likewise, it does not need to have the same standard of evidence required as a criminal trial. Any framework should prioritize survivors by providing as many opportunities for decision-making, including moving forward with a complaint, whether and what supports to access, and options for redress and justice.  Within such a framework, we would expect to see the following:

Reporting avenues for disclosures of violence perpetrated by others in the workplace or outside the workplace. There should be multiple avenues available to meet the diverse needs and circumstances of survivors. For example, the Integrity Commissioner; HR; supervisor; etc;
Supporting survivors when they disclose with compassion and information for where to get work or community-based support. This should be coupled with resources for accessing support, including paid leave and/or funding to pay for fee for services;
Responding to instances of workplace violence with a timely accountability framework. Procedural fairness for parties involved should not be used as a shield to protect a perpetrator. Any process should account for the power imbalance involved in a situation of violence, and no survivor should be required to face their perpetrator if they do not wish to do so.

This is not a comprehensive framework, but we feel in the current climate at the City of Ottawa that this requires an urgent review. We hear too often about the concerns that a perpetrator’s life will be ruined if accountability is pursued. We don’t hear about the terrible impact that being subjected to violence has on survivors: how it can impact their relationships, career, mental health, education and more. Where is the concern for the well-being of survivors’ well-being and futures? How do we shift the focus from protecting a perpetrator from consequences, to a survivors’ needs?

We want to know what steps the City of  Ottawa and Ottawa City Council are taking to ensuring:

Survivors are believed, and supported;
Workplace safety is prioritized, and sexual harassment, discrimination, and violence are addressed as serious health and safety issues for City of Ottawa staff;
Institutional Accountability is robust and survivor-centric.

We have seen some leadership on this issue, but much more needs to be done. We urge the City and City Council to uphold its integrity and its commitment to all survivors, employees, residents and partners within the community to challenge gender-based violence in the workplace and beyond.

Sincerely

Erin Leigh
Executive Director
Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW)
613-237-1000
ed@octevaw-cocvff.ca