Late last year the Renfrew County Legal Clinic received funding from the Department of Justice to develop a sexual harassment program. This resulted in the Clinic implementing a program designed to increase public awareness and knowledge around sexual harassment in the workplace, and to provide access to legal information and advice for persons who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The funding allowed the Clinic to hire a part-time sexual harassment lawyer, Marni Munsterman (inset below), to fulfill that role. Munsterman previously had many years of experience in criminal law and mental health. One of her first presentations on the subject was to the students at Madawaska Valley District High School.
The availability of free local access to advice and representation on sexual harassment is timely in light of publicity generated because of the #MeToo movement.
Local vs. national picture
In February 2017 Greg Rosser, a journalist with Barry’s Bay MooseFM, reported that “Nearly a third of all sexual assaults reported in the Bonnechere Valley, Killaloe and the Madawaska Valley never made it to court.” Meaning those cases [had] been deemed baseless and unfounded by police. It was part of the findings from a 20-month long investigation by the Globe and Mail which examined the statistics across Canada. The report showed the national number is 19 percent, with the Upper Ottawa Valley and Renfrew at 35 percent and Bancroft at 33 percent … The OPP’s Provincial Corporate Communications Officer, Peter Leon, told Rosser that it was too early to know if there were any underlying trends with the cases that are called unfounded, whether it was drugs or alcohol playing a factor, or if the victims were primarily young women.
Decades of research and data collection in Canada show that women and girls are at higher risk of certain types of violence, and in many cases, other characteristics intersect with gender to impact the likelihood of experiencing violence. Often, these incidents can be considered gender-based; that is, they are typically committed by men against women, and furthermore, they may have a sexual aspect, may cause physical and/or psychological harm, or may involve a relationship between the victim and the perpetrator that implies an imbalance of power.
County Legal Clinic workplace sexual harassment support
Last spring $1 million in funding to 42 sexual assault centres in Ontario was granted by the Attorney-General of Ontario but it expired in March 2020. The centres expressed alarm, warning that wait times for counselling and other support services could be severely increased. Fortunately, the Ministry for Children and Women’s Issues announced that the province would commit an additional $2 million in annual funding to enhance services for sexual assault survivors across Ontario effective April 2020.
With this background the writer interviewed Munsterman recently to better understand the legal issues surrounding sexual harassment/assault, the role she plays as a sexual harassment lawyer and the free legal services offered to residents without the financial resources needed to fight the important legal battles they face.
She was asked what is the nature of most sexual harassment and replied:
“Frequently a crime takes place between known parties. There continues to be an imbalance of power in relation to position and age differences.” Employers have a legal obligation to protect their workers from customers/clients. She said that blaming a woman for causing a charge of sexual assault/harassment is not a defence.
She said that cases were not dealt with in “cookie cutter fashion” but rather each situation is addressed on a case by case basis.
The Clinic, in addition to offering advice and representation to victims also does outreach and educational presentations throughout the community. Munsterman said, “We pride ourselves in responding as quickly as possible with summary advice and providing all possible options or consultation regarding next steps available to the victims including referrals to lawyers who practice in sexual harassment, Human Rights Legal Support Centres and community resources.”
Munsterman can be contacted at the Clinic:
- Telephone: 613-432-8146
- Toll-free: 1-800-267-5871
- Or click HERE for the Clinic’s website contact request
Editor’s note: For readers who want more background information please Click HERE for research links.