Surrey moves to protect gender identity

Throughout 2005, there were whisperings at Surrey city hall that women were being harassed by a senior manager.

A few brave women came forward and spoke with me about their experiences, and how an investigation into the allegations seemed to have disappeared.

It took me the better part of that year to discover then-mayor Doug McCallum, had restricted the scope of an external investigation to one complaint, even though more had become apparent.

That investigation, was conducted by Vancouver lawyer Richard Hamilton who expressed concerns about having its scope narrowed.

“Each of the witnesses whom I met exhibited fear of retribution as a result of providing information,” Hamilton wrote in an April 7, 2015 letter to McCallum and Surrey’s human resources department. “It would be inappropriate for me to expand upon the results of my investigation to date. However, I can say that, if the information provided to me by a number of witnesses were accepted, there would be a prima facie case that the Respectful Workplace Policy has been violated.”

When I called McCallum at the time, he said he “followed the Respectful Workplace Policy to a T.”

He was later voted out of office, the accused manager involved was terminated, and the Respectful Workplace Policy (RWP) underwent an overhaul.

On Monday night, Surrey council will again revisit the RWP to bring it more up to date.

Most notably, the civic document will now include protections specific to the LGBTQ community.

The changes follow last year’s provincial protections of “gender identity or expression” as defined under the B.C. Human Rights Code.

This will now include how people behave, dress and look.

I spoke with a transgender friend about this last night, and we both agreed, it’s long overdue.

Surrey is also looking to specifically include language that brings the city in line with WorkSafeBC standards. This is less a proactive measure than it is a matter for the city’s risk management.

That said, this will also be welcome.

Surrey is also including language that brings the RWP in line with the city’s “values of teamwork, service, integrity, innovation and community.”

The translation here seems to be that if anyone is bringing a toxic atmosphere to the corporation, they will be dealt with forthwith.

These are all good steps forward, but they all (except for the teamwork initiative) follow measures taken by senior governments or workplace authorities.

Surrey is a big city now. It leads in countless ways, yet with the RWP, Surrey finds itself reacting to measures already taken by others.

There is one part of the RWP that’s still a bit bothersome.

Section 6.4 indicates that false complaints may lead to “discipline or other negative consequences” for the complainant.

It is frightening enough raising a complaint with a superior about being bullied or harassed in the workplace. Section 6.4 looms as yet another reason bringing toxic behaviour to light might not be in the complainant’s best interest.

Remember Hamilton’s concern that “each of the witnesses whom I met with exhibited fear of retribution as a result of providing information.”

Section 6.4 does nothing to soften those fears for future complainants.

The section is tempered with a sentence indicating a “good faith complaint brought forward for proper reasons, which is found not to have merit, is not a false and malicious complaint.”

Even with that note of permission, 6.4 looms as yet one more reason a complaint could go sour for the aggrieved.

I’m told by workers at the hall it’s a pretty good place to work right now, compared to years past.

It might be worthwhile giving the RWP yet a closer look, to ensure it stays that way.

  Proposed changes to Surrey’s Respectful Workplace Policy by Kevin Diakiw on Scribd

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