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Jennifer Khor, Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS)

New B.C. program offers free legal advice, information for victims of workplace sexual harassment

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 @ 9:54 AM | By Ian Burns


Since the emergence of the #MeToo movement in recent years people all around the world have become more attuned with the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, and a new program in British Columbia has been set up to provide free legal advice, education and information for those in need of support.

The SHARP (Sexual Harassment Advice Response and Prevention) Workplaces program is a new initiative run by the Vancouver-based Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) and the Ending Violence Association of British Columbia (EVA BC). Funded by the Department of Justice Canada, SHARP Workplaces will provide up to five hours of free confidential legal advice to clients needing assistance. Participating lawyers give advice on legal options, help with reviewing or drafting documents, coaching to guide clients through a complaint or legal process and referrals to services for additional support, including counselling, peer support and employment services.

“[Sexual harassment] is a serious issue for many British Columbians,” said CLAS executive director Jacqui Mendes. “Half of working women say they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. This program is for anyone in B.C. who needs support. We know that many vulnerable groups — including Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+, ethnic and cultural minorities, people with disabilities, and seasonal and temporary workers — are particularly vulnerable. With this program, we aim to put more power into the hands of workers to know their rights, know what actions they can take and connect them with support.”

Jennifer Khor, CLAS

Jennifer Khor, a CLAS lawyer who is project lead on the program, said as long as a concern relates to workplace sexual harassment the program can offer assistance, even in situations where a person might not be sure if what happened was, in fact, workplace sexual harassment.

“An example would be if something occurs when they are outside the workplace, socializing with their colleagues,” she said. “We are trying to develop a roster of lawyers located in different parts of the province so people can receive in-person service, but right now they can receive service on the phone from a lawyer and we will be looking to set up virtual teleconferencing in the future.”

CLAS is receiving just under $2.3 million over four years, and EVA BC is receiving $1.7 million for the public legal education component of the program, which will offer free legal education and workshops on sexual harassment issues, with a focus on Indigenous organizations, non-profits and small business.

“We are also hoping to develop materials to assist employers with ensuring they have appropriate policies or procedures, and trauma-informed investigation processes to ensure everyone is dealt with in a sensitive way,” said Khor.

A 2017 study indicated that more than 50 per cent of working women in Canada say they have experienced sexual harassment during their careers. Only about a quarter of those women say they complained or reported the issue.

People interested in the service can call 604-673-3143 (toll free at 1-888-685-6222), by e-mailing SHARPWorkplaces@clasbc.net, or by clicking here. However, as of March 18, the CLAS office has been closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Ian Burns at Ian.Burns@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5906.