Identify and understand for better self-defense

Harassment can occur in a multitude of situations and can be insidious. It is not always about insults or blatant offensive words.

Harassment can be psychological, sexual, discriminatory, or criminal and does not always manifest in the form of insults or hurtful words.

Psychological harassment

Psychological harassment in the workplace is vexatious conduct manifested by repeated behaviors, words, or gestures that are hostile or unwanted, that undermine the dignity or psychological or physical integrity of the employee, and that make the work environment harmful.

More specifically, psychological harassment involves specific behavior manifested through words, actions or gestures of a sexual nature.

Labor Standards Act – Article 81.18

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Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment includes, among other things, unwanted physical contact (touching, pinching, grabbing, brushing), solicitation of unwanted sexual favors, inappropriate sexual comments, remarks about the victim’s body or appearance, jokes that belittle the victim’s sexual identity or orientation, intimate questions, provocative looks, particularly directed at the victim’s sexual parts, whistling, and displaying pornographic pictures.

In the workplace, comments or gestures of a sexual nature have no place, even if proximity exists between both parties or if the work involves nudity or intimate scenes.

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Discriminatory harassment

Discriminatory harassment involves vexatious behavior with discriminatory connotations based on protected grounds under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For example, discrimination may be related to race, color, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, age, religion, political beliefs, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, disability or the use of a means to accommodate a disability.

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Criminal harassment

Harassment can turn into a criminal offense when the victim fears for their safety, whether it be physical, psychological, or emotional, all while the perpetrator is aware of this but disregards it.

Following, repeatedly communicating with, or stalking a person are actions that may result in criminal harassment charges, which can carry penalties such as a maximum of 10 years in prison.

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Sexual assault

Under Canadian law, sexual assault refers to sexual touching without a person’s consent.

The Criminal Code defines consent as “the voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity.”

Criminal Code – Article 273.1

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Consent: Knowing when and where to draw the line

Consent is the voluntary agreement of a person to engage in sexual activity, which can include touching, sexual intercourse or any other act. This agreement must be free of any constraints, abuse of power or trust. In addition, the agreement can be withdrawn at any time and may be reserved only for certain activities. For example, a person may accept caresses but refuse penetration.

In employment situations, sexual activity that occurs due to a power imbalance between a colleague or supervisor can be considered sexual assault. In such cases, consent is invalid, and charges of sexual assault can be brought against the perpetrator. Additionally, threatening or forcing someone to perform an act, including sexual favors, in order to gain something, constitutes extortion. For instance, if a photographer were to force a model to have sexual intercourse by threatening to publicly reveal compromising photos, it would be considered an act of extortion.

Depending on the severity of the assault, the offender is liable to imprisonment for life (in cases of serious sexual assault).

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