Under the proposed Sexual Harassment Bill, if you have experienced sexual harassment and want something done about it legally, you have a 12-month limit to report it.
The Sexual Harassment Bill seeks to outline the types of conduct that constitute sexual harassment, prohibit certain related conduct, and provide victims with a legally mandated avenue to have their complaints heard in an effort to obtain redress. It regulates how cases of sexual harassment are to be handled and places several legal duties on companies, schools, hospitals and other institutions to take certain measures, actions and steps regarding the issue of sexual harassment.
The Bill is currently under discussion in Parliament.
What’s in the Bill: Section 25 and the 12-Month Limit
Section 25 of the proposed law states that a complaint can be made to the Sexual Harassment Tribunal alleging that an individual or an organization has breached certain provisions outlined within the law.
Section 25 (2) goes further by providing that that complaint must be made within a period of twelve (12) months from the date of the alleged act for it to be considered legitimate. This means that complaints cannot be made after 12 months, even where credible evidence exists.
Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck defended the 12-month time limit last week in Parliament. According to him, “No. If you don’t complain within 12 twelve, please, cut it out.” He reasoned that:
“We don’t want the situation that now happens in the ‘Me Too’ movement in the US where 30 years later you talk about ‘I was harassed in the elevator’ (laughter).”
Minister Chuck has since apologized thrice for his conduct.
No 12 Month Limit
This 12-month limit unreasonably restricts access to justice for victims and we believe that it is inconsistent with the purpose of the proposed law, which is to provide protection for victims of sexual harassment.
Fixing this before it becomes law
Accordingly, WE have launched a campaign to have the bill reformed. Outlined below are 5 reasons why this provision MUST change.
1. Justice does not have an expiry date. A person who sexually harasses another, whether a student, a patient, or an employee is just as responsible after 12 months as they were in the first 12 months. If evidence exists, then victims should be able to secure justice through the Sexual Harassment Tribunal.
In illustrating the inadequacy of this proposition, how can it be that someone who damages a vehicle or breaches a contract has up to 6 years to bring the matter before a Court, but a victim of sexual harassment has a 12-month limit? Why should we impose a different and less than ideal standard on matters related to sexual harassment?
2. Institutions should not lose their legal duties to take action because of a lapse of time. A school or hospital should still be compelled to remove a predatory teacher or doctor regardless of when the victim complained. If this provision is upheld, then some major national cases, such as the reported spate of sexual harassment at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, could not be examined by the Tribunal.
3. Victims are not always able to report matters quickly. Those who have suffered sexual harassment, especially those in positions of vulnerability such as a student, a sick patient on a ward, an elderly person in a nursing home, or a child in a residential care facility may not be able to report in time, even where there is evidence because of the power usually wielded over them by persons in positions of authority. Some victims in such circumstances may wait to report an encounter until they are no longer confined by such whereas some victims may wait because, in that moment, they believe that the system is unable to guarantee them justice.
12 months is simply not enough – especially in situations where a student, for example, may need to wait until the next school year of after they have graduated, or an employee may need to wait until she has switched departments.
4. Access to justice is a basic human right. A 12-month limit is arbitrary and does not have an apparent compelling justification for that specific time frame. It could cut off victims from a viable means of redress for no clear reason and would send a message contrary to the very purpose of the law.
5. Perpetrators and derelict institutions will now be able to wait out their victims. Under this provision, perpetrators or institutions can wait, intimidate or threaten victims for 12 months to avoid any form of accountability. Even worse, a perpetrator may now have a legal defense against efforts to sanction them purely because of the lapse of time.
While we welcome the enactment/creation of such a critical piece of legislation, we are faced with the challenge that the proposed law runs contrary to the spirit and purpose of the statute by undermining the victim’s right to effectively access justice and by ignoring some of the most obvious underlying issues associated with sexual harassment.
WE THEREFORE call upon our legislators to reform Section 25 of the Sexual Harassment Bill by either removing the limitation being proposed or where such is deemed absolutely necessary, create a limit that allows for the longest reasonable time for the complaint to be made that is consistent with the limits that already exist for other civil claims.
How YOU Can Act: Sign Our Open Letter
The open letter below explains why this reform is important (see full PDF here), and will go to lawmakers currently reviewing the Bill.
If you agree the Bill needs reform, make an impact by adding your signature to the Open Letter here or email us at [email protected] to show your support.
We will deliver the letter with signatures to lawmakers by the next sitting of the Parliamentary Committee reviewing the Bill on Thursday, July 2, 2020.
“Justice, Truth, Be Ours Forever.”