Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal

OFFICE OF THE

Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)

OFFICE OF THE

Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)

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Informal Review of Non-Code (Personal) Harassment at Queen’s


Executive Summary

Introduction

Following concerns raised with Principal Daniel Woolf by the Society for Graduate and Professional Students, the Provost requested that the Equity Office examine whether there exist gaps in the University’s ability to address incidents of non-Code based harassment.

Objectives

This is not meant to be an exhaustive report on the University processes available to Queen’s community members who wish to address incidents of non-Code harassment. Rather, its goal is to:

  1. Examine the current perceptions with respect to the University’s ability to address incidents of non-Code harassment brought to its attention and,
     
  2. Recommend appropriate next steps to address perceived or existing gaps should these emerge through the course of this process.

Process

The process used to achieve these two objectives included:

  1. Meetings with appropriate officers of the University, as well as elected officers of the AMS and SGPS, to determine their experience and perception of the current situation.  These individuals include:
  • Brenda Brouwer: Dean, School of Graduate Studies
  • Heather Shields: Legal counsel, Department of Human Resources
  • Dan Langham: Director, Environmental Health and Safety
  • Harry Smith: Ombuds, Office of the Ombudsperson
  • Christopher Cochrane: incoming President, Society of Graduate and Professional Students
  • Jada McNaughton:  Faculty Relations
  • Claire Cathro: Commissioner of Internal Affairs, Alma Mater Society
  • Stephanie Simpson: Associate Director, Human Rights Office
  • Ramneek Pooni: QUFA Grievance Officer
  • Mike Young:  Rector
  1. A review of previous reports since 2000 containing advice related to addressing personal harassment.  These include:
  1. Report of the Principal’s Advisory Committee on Personal Harassment (September 30, 2001)
  2. Review of the Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure of Queen’s University (November 30, 2007)
  3. Memorandum regarding the Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure by Dr. Arjun Aggarwal (July 21, 2008)

The resulting report provides an overview of the current processes by which non-Code harassment allegations are addressed at Queen’s, as well as the concerns and perceived gaps that emerged.  It concludes by offering potential directions for improvement to the existing system. 

Emerging Concerns

Five significant areas of concern to the community have emerged, three of which contribute to the perception that there exist gaps in our ability to address the issue of non-Code or personal harassment, and two of which highlight actual gaps. 

The following contribute to a perception that there are gaps in the ability for Queen’s to address incidents of personal harassment:

  1. The decentralized nature of processes available to address personal harassment.  This is somewhat unavoidable because it is a result of the multiplicity of constituents (students, staff and faculty) and the many intersecting roles of individual constituents within the university setting.  This is in sharp contrast to the regulatory framework, which is directed solely at the creation of a healthy environment for employees in a workplace setting.
  1. A lack of clarity with respect to what constitutes non-Code related harassment.  Many issues that surface for students in both the academic and non-academic context, as well as for employees, are related to a lack of civil behaviour.  Incivility may or may not develop into harassment, but does not in itself constitute harassment.  The general lack of understanding regarding what constitutes non-Code harassment versus a lack of civility, combined with a lack of guidance on how to approach these behaviours, contributes to community members’ perception that there are gaps in our ability to address non-Code based harassment.
  1. A lack of clarity with respect to the process used to address issues of non-Code harassment when the individual who believes they are the target of harassment is a faculty member.  Although it is clear that the Occupational Health and Safety Act applies to all employees, there seems to be some confusion about the extent to which specific policies developed to address incidents that fall under the umbrella of the Bill 168 amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act apply and how the Collective Agreement articles 20 and 21 factor into the processes taken to address such incidents.

The following highlights a specific gap in the ability for Queen’s to address incidents of non-Code harassment experienced specifically by graduate students:

  1. A lack of formal processes available to graduate students who believe they are experiencing non-Code harassment.  What emerged as a gap in Queen’s ability to address non-Code harassment is with respect to the ability of graduate students to address these issues when they occur in their role as students rather than as employees – for example, with their thesis supervisor, or in the lab.  Despite the development of an effective system of peer advisors to assist graduate students with informal resolutions, there remains a gap in the system when the issue requires more formal mechanisms of resolution.

The following describes a gap that is emerging throughout society and appears with increasing frequency in the context of post-secondary institutions mostly, but not exclusively, for students:

  1. A lack of process to address non-Code harassment when the incidents occur on a social media platform.  Regulatory systems are struggling with how to adapt our systems to the social media platform in all legislative and administrative areas including human rights based harassment.  The challenge becomes even greater in the area of non-Code harassment because a lack of clarity already exists within established systems.  This lack of guidance for individuals and institutions is having the greatest impact on undergraduate students, but no one is exempt from its effects.

Conclusion

Given that perceived gaps can be as much of a barrier to creating a culture where harassment is not tolerated, five considerations for future direction emerged from the process: 

  1. To address the fragmented nature of the existing processes used to address non-Code harassment, it would be useful for the University to develop a clearly articulated definition of what constitutes non-Code or personal harassment in the various contexts for our multiple constituents.  This should be done in combination with the development of an easily accessible guide to be incorporated into appropriate existing media platforms.  This document should include guidance on how to address non-Code/personal/workplace harassment issues for employees, faculty members, undergraduate students and graduate students.  This would mitigate the confusion created by the multiplicity of processes and ensure that consistent principles are emphasized.
  1. In order to address what seems to be a common confusion between harassment and a lack of civility in particular in the workplace and in the graduate learning environment, it would be useful for the University to develop guidelines, or adopt existing guidelines on “mutual respect.”  These should clearly define the difference between harassment and lack of civility and emphasize the responsibility of all community members to maintain a positive environment.  These should also include examples and suggested courses of action that can be taken to address such behaviour.   In conjunction with this, additional training for graduate students who have a TA should be provided as classroom behaviour by undergraduate student is a particularly vulnerable area for graduate students.
  1. In order to eliminate any confusion that may exist regarding the process to be used when there is an allegation of non-Code harassment against a faculty Member, it would be useful to ensure the process to be used in such circumstances is clearly understood.
  1. In order to eliminate the existing gap in formal processes to address non-Code harassment specifically for graduate students in the context of their academic work with faculty supervisors, the University should develop a guideline or policy document as well as a process that clearly articulate: the responsibility of supervisors to provide a harassment free environment for graduate students working under their supervision, a student’s responsibilities within that relationship, and steps to be taken should incidents of harassment occur.
  1. In order to ensure appropriate institutional responses to incidents of harassment carried out on social media platforms, the work of the current ad hoc working group coordinated by the Human Rights Office should continue to be supported and its initiatives given senior level attention.

In addressing these recommendations, it is evident that a more thorough scoping of the legal, regulatory and internal mechanisms will need to occur and a collaborative approach taken in all aspects of development and implementation.

Update

Relating to Conclusion 1. The Employee and Labour Relations unit of Human Resources is currently working on an escalation roadmap for employees.  This roadmap will guide employees seeking assistance on any issues arising in the employment context.  This includes, Code based, non-Code based, criminal issues etc.

Relating to Conclusions 2 and 3. The language in the Queen’s Harassment/Discrimination Policy and Procedure is based on Human Rights Code based issues, and the language of the Workplace Health and Safety Act is based on both Code based and non-Code based harassment.  Neither of these documents currently extends protection to non-Code based conduct in the workplace that is clearly inappropriate, but does not amount to bullying or harassment. The possibility of a code of conduct for respectful workplaces and/or civility is being considered as part of the review of harassment and bullying issues currently underway in Employee and Labour Relations. 

Relating to Conclusion 4. In 2016, the Equity Office will be coordinating an initiative with the School of Graduate Studies and Research to develop a process that Graduate students can access when they wish to address behaviours that are contributing to a negative academic experience.

Relating to Conclusion 5. With the changes to the Student Code of Conduct, the work of the adhoc working group on social media has been student focused, however, it is expected that their work will expand to include faculty and staff in the future.