Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, harassment is “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.” The University of Ottawa complies with the provisions related to harassment that are contained in Ontario’s Human Rights Code, Occupational Health and Safety Act and Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act. In some situations, harassment and sexual harassment are considered criminal harassment under Canada’s Criminal Code.
Types of Harassment
Ontario’s Human Rights Code prohibits sexual harassment. Sexual harassment means a course of comment or conduct, often hurtful, related to a person’s sex or gender identity that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.
Section 5.2 of the Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits workplace harassment “by the employer or agent of the employer or by another employee because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability.”
Under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, workplace harassment means “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”
Workplace sexual harassment
The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits workplace sexual harassment by the employer, an agent of the employer agents or another employer, such harassment defined as workplace harassment because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Under the Act to amend various statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and related matters, workplace sexual harassment is defined as:
- engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome or;
- making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome.
Although the term “poisoned environment” is not defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code or Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Ontario Human Rights Commission defines it as an environment “created when comments or actions based on grounds listed in the Code make [a person] feel uncomfortable at work….Sometimes all it takes is one comment to poison the environment.”
The Criminal Code prohibits deliberate conduct that is psychologically harmful to others, such as criminal harassment. According to the Handbook for Police and Crown Prosecutors on Criminal Harassment, “criminal harassment often consists of repeated conduct that is carried out over a period of time and that causes its targets to reasonably fear for their safety but does not necessarily result in physical injury.”
The following conduct is prohibited under the Criminal Code:
- Repeatedly following a person or anyone known to them
- Repeatedly communicating directly or indirectly with the other person or anyone known to them
- “Besetting or watching” the home of the other person, or anyone known to them, or any place where they reside, work, carry on business or happen to be
- Engaging in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any member of their family
Anyone who commits an act of criminal harassment is guilty of either an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years or an offence punishable on summary conviction.
The Use technology to criminally harass (online criminal harassment, cyberbullying, cyberstalking)
Online criminal harassment
Criminal harassment can be done through a computer, system, on a cellular phone or via other devices. Regardless of the tool used, the elements of the offence remain the same.
Examples of criminal harassment via technology:
- Sending harassing messages by email or text to the victim or the victim’s employers, colleagues, teachers, friends or family members
- Using GPS technology on a phone, camera or other device to track the victim’s location
- Transmitting a virus to the victim’s computer, including software that automatically sends messages over a period of time
- Creating websites about the victim that contain threatening or harassing messages or provocative or pornographic photos
For more information on criminal harassment, please consult the Handbook for Police and Crown Prosecutors on Criminal Harassment, published by the Department of Justice.
According to Bill Belsey of cyberbullying.ca, this type of harassment “involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, which is intended to harm others.”Some cases of cyberbullying may also be considered criminal harassment.
Example: Sending threatening emails or text messages
Non-consensual distribution of intimate images
Non-consensual distribution of intimate images is considered a form of cyberbulling and is a criminal offence.
It is prohibited to distribute or otherwise share an intimate image (e.g., visual recording including a photographic, film or video recording of a sexual nature) if the person depicted in the image did not give their consent to share the image. The police can investigate such cases and lay charges in such cases.
A person convicted of this offense can be punishable by prison sentence of up to five years and can have their cell phone or computer confiscated.
What to do?
What to do if...I am being harassed?
At any time, you can contact the Harassment and Discrimination Officer at the Human Rights Office to discuss your concerns and get information, support and advice.
- Acknowledge that there is a problem. Do not think that the behavior will stop by itself; it could get worse if you do nothing.
- Talk to someone you trust. Sharing a concern breaks isolation. Tell yourself that it's not your fault.
- Speak frankly as soon as you realize that there is a problem. Tell the other person that their behavior offends you. Clearly describe the behavior. For example :
“I feel uncomfortable when you take me by the waist. Please don’t do it anymore.”
“I find your remarks about my appearance said during the meeting disrespectful. I would likeyou to avoid these kinds of remarks in the future.”
- Write to the person harassing you a letter that includes the following three elements: (i) describe objectively the behavior in question (ii) express your emotions and (iii) ask the person to stop the behavior. Remember to keep a copy of the letter for your records.
- Keep detailed account of all incidents. Mark the tone, the words, the gestures and include the date, time, location and names of witnesses, if applicable.
- Make a verbal complaint; the discrimination and Harassment Counselor will intervene by meeting with both parties. If everyone agrees, the matter is closed. If not, the complainant will be invited to submit a formal complaint in accordance with Regulation (67a) on the prevention of discrimination and harassment.
What to do if...I have been accused of sexual harassment?
Recognize that it is a serious matter
Know your rights. You have a right to know who made the complaint and the nature of the allegations. You have the right to present your version of the events. You may retain a legal representative at any time.
Obtain professional assistance from your union, association or any other professional assistance as need be.
Avoid, if the circumstances permit, all contact with the complainant. Such conduct might be perceived as harassing behaviour. Do not act in any way that could be perceived as an act of retaliation against the complainant.
Keep it confidential. Confidentiality is mandated by internal policies on sexual harassment. The confidential nature of the complaint resolution procedures protects the interests of the complainant as well as your interests and fosters a safe environment for a mediated resolution or agreement to occur.
Do find out about the complaint procedures. Cooperate and take part in the process. Respond to the allegations. Behave professionally throughout the process.
Consider whether an agreement is possible to resolve the complaint. You need to be satisfied that a settlement is in your best interests. You voluntarily choose to agree to a settlement; it is never forced upon you.
Apologize if you recognize that you engaged in inappropriate conduct. An apology can go a long way in resolving issues. A sincere apology includes acknowledgement that you engaged in the behaviour, an acknowledgement of the impact of the behaviour on the complainant and a commitment to avoid repetition of the behaviour in question.
Do you need help now?
Protection Services: 613-562-5499
Protection Services (Emergency): 613-562-5411
24 hour crisis response lines:
Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC):
- TTY: 613-725-1657
Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre: 613-562-2333
Center for Sexual Harassment and Assault (CALACS): 613-789-8096
Ottawa Police Victim Crisis Unit: 613-236-1222 x 2223