John Ibbitson provides an overview of current politicians brought down by allegations or charges of harassment. He suggests that the movement to eliminate sexual harassment from the workplace is overdue and needs to grow, and that the results could challenge some traditional values. This lesson can be of particular value to classes discussing this news article about Ontario Conservative leader Patrick Brown being forced to step down, posted on this site January 25.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

History, social studies, current events

Key Question to Explore:

  • What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace, and what are the duties of an employer to employees in that regard?

New Terminology:

Harassment, Idle No More, #MeToo, allegations,

Materials Needed:

Globe article; Government of Canada doc, a downloadable pdf on the Canadian Labour Code’s standards on sexual harassment.

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

NOTE: Because it addresses sensitive issues, this lesson is most suited for senior students, and it would best be taught with the same degree of discretion as would be used in Family Life or Sexual Health lessons.

Most students will be aware of the growing number of prominent men who have recently been the subject of sexual harassment allegations or charges. Many of them, from Kevin Spacey to Ontario Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, have seen their careers and lives brought low in the process.

Much as there may be many and varied opinions on the merits of any allegations or charges, there are aspects to this issue that are relatively straightforward matters of fact. Whatever students’ opinions on the subject may be, Canadian Labour Code standards on sexual harassment are quite clear and it is important that students be aware of these, for their own benefit as possible victims, but also in case they become employers in future.

Optional: Ask students to hum, just loud enough to make a sound, rather than raise their hands, if they have ever been sexually harassed. It should not be apparent who is humming, leaving each student’s privacy intact. Note whether students seem surprised by the amount of humming, but avoid discussions about details.

This straightforward lesson involves a short collaborative assignment, through which students will review and report on sexual harassment as addressed in the Canada Labour Code.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a short discussion about sexual harassment stories in the news. Ask for volunteers to read aloud from John Ibbitson’s article, provided. Have them read it all, or enough to clarify the issues at stake, and to be aware of some of the key people involved in the media stories. Allow students to voice their agreement or disagreement with the charges or allegations, but use their comments to drive home a point: the law does not care whether you agree with it or not.

Ask students if they are aware of the labour standards and laws involved in these kinds of allegations and charges. Avoid discussions around the merits of the laws. Make the point that disagreement with a law does not remove your obligation to obey it.

Organize students into groups and provide each the Ibbitson article and a copy of the Government of Canada Labour Code document on sexual harassment.

Work Sheet

Using the “Information on Labour Standards” sheet, provided, respond to the following:

  • Based on Division XV.1 of Part III of the Canada Labour Code, what would you advise an employer who insists his/her employees wear sexually revealing uniforms, whether they want to or not, claiming “It’s my business and what goes on here is nobody else’s business. You do what I tell you to do and you keep quiet about it.”
  • List the four types of sexual harassment that could cause “offence or humiliation,” or any conduct that might be taken as “placing a condition of a sexual nature on employment or on any opportunity for training or promotion.”
  • In response to an allegation that a comment caused offence or humiliation, an employer says, “I have a right to free speech. I can say whatever I want.” How does the code address this example?
  • An employee confronts an employer, claiming sexual harassment, and the employer says, “The Labour Code does not apply to you, because you are part-time, or temporary.” How does the Code address this example?
  • An employee confronts an employer, claiming sexual harassment, asking for company policy on how to report it, how the company would deal with it, and how the victim’s privacy will be protected. The employer says, “We don’t have a policy.” How would you advise the employer, based on the Code?
  • A fellow employee confides that he or she has been sexually harassed in the workplace, but is afraid to complain out of fear of losing his or her job. Based on the Code, how would you advise this person regarding his or her rights and concerns?
  • Finally, see if you can achieve a consensus in your group regarding the current #MeToo movement: Will it continue? Grow? Disappear?

Consolidation of Learning:

  • When students have submitted their assignments, discuss their reports with the class. Note the degree of consensus on the question, above, and discuss briefly. Finally, and optionally, ask the class, again, to hum if they believe they have been sexually harassed. Note any difference from the exercise at the beginning of the class.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students are aware of their rights to a harassment-free workplace and their rights to complain and receive justice if they are harassed.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report on any additional charges or allegations against prominent citizens, and can explain why such a charge or allegation needs to be taken seriously.