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The Facts: The #MeToo Movement and its Impact in Canada

In October 2017, the hashtag #MeToo made headlines internationally, prompting women from around the world to publicly share their experiences of sexual assault or harassment.

The #MeToo Movement has been called a watershed moment in the advancement of gender equality, giving a powerful platform to women and demonstrating the extent of sexual assault and harassment across society.

In Canada, the Movement has had implications not only for survivors, but also for support service providers, educators, law enforcement, employers, and the government. As just one example, there has been a sizeable increase in demand on Canada’s sexual violence support services; calls to the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre increased 100% during the last year alone.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation is encouraged that more women who have experienced sexual assault or harassment are coming forward, and that conversations around these issues are taking place across Canada. Yet, the Movement has also revealed how much change is needed.

In light of the ongoing impact of the #MeToo Movement, The Foundation has gathered a selection of news stories and survey data (published as of October 2018) as a resource. Given that the impact of the Movement continues to unfold, this research is not exhaustive.

Here are some frequently asked questions about the #MeToo Movement and its impact in Canada:

  • How did the #MeToo Movement get started?

    The “me too” movement was first established in 2006 by American activist Tarana Burke, after her own experience of sexual violence. Burke saw a need for better support, funding, and resources for those impacted by sexual violence, and was particularly focused on helping young women of colour from low-income communities. Her dream was to “build a community of advocates, driven by survivors, who will be at the forefront for creating solutions to interrupt sexual violence in their communities.”

    In 2017 the hashtag “#MeToo” gained momentum after sexual assault allegations were made against film producer Harvey Weinstein. On October 5, 2017, the New York Times published a story containing multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Weinstein. Within weeks, more than 50 allegations were made.

    On October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano called on people to share their experiences of sexual assault and harassment using the hashtag #MeToo, prompting women around the world, from many walks of life, to do just that.

    In response to the #MeToo Movement and the Weinstein allegations, Hollywood celebrities formed a movement against sexual assault and harassment in the entertainment industry, and established a legal defence fund for survivors known as Time’s Up.

    #MeToo went viral in Canada and around the world. The Canadian Press named the public conversation around sexual assault and harassment the story of the year. TIME magazine named their 2017 Person of the Year story “The Silence Breakers”, recognizing women involved with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, including Burke and Milano.

    It should be noted that even before the #MeToo Movement started in Canada, various news stories had drawn national attention to the systemic barriers that stand in the way of addressing sexual assault and harassment. In February 2017, the Globe & Mail’s Unfounded investigation revealed that police dismiss 1 in 5 claims of sexual assault as baseless, and prompted an overhaul of how police approach these cases.

    In the years before #MeToo, many women had spoken out about sexual harassment and discrimination in Canadian institutions, including the military and the RCMP. Canadians had also watched high-profile cases, including that of Jian Ghomeshi, play out in court. Against this backdrop, the Movement has started new conversations among Canadians and increased the sense of urgency for progress toward long-term change.

  • Have Canadians spoken out about sexual assault and harassment in the wake of #MeToo?

    Several high-profile Canadian actors have spoken out about their experiences of sexual assault or harassment in the entertainment industry, including: Ellen Page, Sarah Polley, Rachel McAdams, and Mia Kirshner.

    In response to #MeToo, Kirshner, along with fellow actor Freya Ravensbergen and film producer Aisling Chin-Yee, created AFTERMETOO to call for concrete action against sexual violence in the workplace, and to address the increased demand on sexual violence support services in Canada.

    On December 5 and 6, 2017, they participated in a symposium hosted by the Globe and Mail alongside Canadian film and television workers, lawyers, activists, trauma experts, and members of the public. As part of this symposium, a list of recommendations was developed to advance change in the Canadian entertainment industry.

    (Go to “What Can I Do To Support the Movement?” below to learn more about AFTERMETOO and its partnership with the Canadian Women’s Foundation.)

    The #MeToo Movement has also prompted women across Canada to share experiences of sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination in a rage of fields including: politics, theatre, journalism, music, comedy, sports, food and wine, and the airline industry.

    On December 2, 2017, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Toronto for the #MeToo March. Participants called for meaningful change in the behaviours that surround sexual assault and harassment, and advocated for improved services for survivors of sexual violence.

  • Do social media movements like #MeToo make it easier for survivors of sexual harassment and assault in Canada to speak out and effect change?

    Since survivors of sexual assault and/or harassment are often silenced by people in positions of power, social media movements like #MeToo and #BeenRapedNeverReported provide an accessible platform for voice and visibility.

    There are many barriers to reporting sexual assault and harassment, including fear of reprisal, re-traumatization, or negative impacts on career and livelihood. Less than 5% of sexual assaults in Canada are reported to police, according to 2014 statistics. For particular groups of women, including racialized women, disabled women, trans women, older women, and those living on a low income, the barriers may be more complex.

    Canadian actress Ellen Page drew attention to these barriers when she shared her own story of sexual harassment: “If I, a person with significant privilege, remain reluctant and at such risk simply by saying a person’s name, what are the options for those who do not have what I have?”

    In the context of these systemic barriers, the #MeToo Movement has made it easier for some women to share their stories and have confidence that they will be believed. It has given survivors a collective and powerful platform that has raised awareness, demanded accountability, and challenged workplace, legal, and political systems that allow for abuses of power.

    Social media movements can also trigger memories or shift someone’s understanding of what happened to them, and break down the isolation and stigma so that people are more willing to speak up and ask for help.

    According to a Plan International Canada survey, about two-thirds of Canadians said that they believe #MeToo and Time’s Up are empowering women and girls to share their experiences, and prompting men to re-evaluate their behaviour toward women. Thirty one per cent agreed the movements have changed how they think about sexual assault.

    While the #MeToo Movement has provided a postive platform for many, it’s import to remember survivors don’t owe anyone their stories. Disclosing isn’t the answer for every survivor — it can be retraumatizing. The path to healing is unique for each person. Some may choose not to speak out. Some may choose not to involve the justice system. Some may look for alternative ways of healing, like restorative justice options, or therapeutic support. The Canadian Women’s Foundation encourages survivors to seek the support they need to heal.

    For those seeking help, the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres lists rape crisis centres and transition houses by province and territory.

  • Has there been an increase in reporting of sexual harassment and assault in Canada since the #MeToo Movement went viral?

    There are both national and regional indications that reports of sexual assault and harassment have increased since the Movement began:

    • On a national level, Statistics Canada noted a 13 per cent increase in police-reported cases of sexual assault between 2016 and 2017. It linked the increase in reports to both the #MeToo Movement and to the Globe & Mail’s Unfounded investigation. Published in February 2017, the investigation revealed that police dismiss 1 in 5 claims of sexual assault as baseless. Since its publication, police services across Canada have begun to implement reforms, and unfounded rates have dropped.
    • There were also regional indications of increased reporting. Montreal police services noted a 22.9 per cent increase in sexual assault reports in 2017, and a hotline for reporting sexual assault received upwards of 460 calls between October 19 and November 6, 2017. Police said the spike in reports and calls could be correlated to the emergence of new high-profile cases.
    • Calgary Police Service noted the need for more detectives due to increased caseloads in its sex crimes and child abuse units. The CPS noted that the number of sex crimes investigated increased from 296 in 2016 to 391 in 2017, recognizing that the 32 per cent increase could be linked to #MeToo and Time’s Up.
    • In Winnipeg, police services reported a 36 per cent increase in sexual assault reports in 2017 compared to the previous year, and saw a 142 per cent increase from October to December 2017, as compared to the previous year.

    Across the country, centres have reported a greater demand for support services. The Toronto Rape Crisis Centre says they have been flooded with calls since the #MeToo Movement began, and the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic in Toronto reported an 83 per cent increase in requests for sexual assault counselling in 2017.

    However, most programs do not have the increased funding that they need to meet the increased demand. “This is a definite shift in culture where survivors are feeling safer to come forward and we need to be able to respond,” Deb Tomlinson, CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, told Huffington Post Canada. “We are not responding the way we need to right now.”

    In response to calls for increased government funding, the Alberta government recently designated $8.1 million in funding to the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, which will be used to hire more staff and support front-line services across the province.

    See “What Can I do to Support the Movement?” to learn how AFTERMETOO is addressing increased demand for sexual violence support services. To donate, visit aftermetoo.com.

  • What about false reporting of sexual assault or harassment? Has the #MeToo Movement encouraged the abandonment of due process?

    In the wake of #MeToo, a steady stream of public accusations of sexual assault and harassment has led to swift consequences for the accused. In some cases, high-profile reputations and careers have been damaged, and some companies have been called out for inaction. This has prompted questions about whether the Movement has gone too far, about accusers’ motives, and about what has happened to due process along the way.

    In a Maclean’s article on #MeToo, Toronto criminal lawyer David Butt (who sits on the AFTERMETOO advisory committee and co-authored the organization’s final report) likened the situation to a dam bursting. He said: “We’ve known for years that in excess of 90 per cent of sexual violence or mistreatment goes unreported to authorities … So it was no surprise there was immense pressure on the dam. But it’s always a surprise when the dam actually bursts.”

    While due process should be respected, the #MeToo Movement has helped to demonstrate that systemic and long-term change is needed for it to fairly serve all parties involved in cases of sexual harassment or assault. Public accusations have emerged online because the existing processes and protocols have not adequately served those who report experiences of sexual harassment or assault.

    Research shows that there is a mistaken belief that women falsely report sexual assault. In fact, a Globe and Mail investigation showed that police dismiss 1 in 5 sexual assault reports as “unfounded” or baseless — meaning that about 5,000 cases each year go uninvestigated and unrecorded. But a review of various international research on false reporting of sexual assault suggests that false reporting happens in 2 per cent to 8 per cent of cases.

    The #MeToo Movement has highlighted the urgent need to move forward and focus on changing systems. “We can’t assume that because the conversation is happening, that that means that change is going to happen,” said Paulette Senior, CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, to the Canadian Press. “So it’s about acting now, from conversation to actually making decisions and enacting those decisions.”

  • Has the Canadian government been influenced by the #MeToo Movement?

    The Federal government has been influenced by the #MeToo Movement in several ways.

    In November 2017, it tabled Bill C-65, which will change the regulatory structure for sexual harassment in all federally-regulated workplaces. Though the announcement of the bill came amid a surge of public debate about high-profile sexual assault and harassment allegations, the legislation had already been in the works. During February and March of 2017, the government surveyed federal staff about sexual harassment and violence at work. Sixty per cent of the 1,350 mostly female respondents said they had experienced harassment at work. Bill C-65 was fast-tracked, amended, and passed by the House in May 2018, and the Senate in June 2018, with public consultations opened until Oct. 5, 2018.  The goal is to have the new regulations in place in 2019.

      • The press release on Bill C-65 says it aims to replace “the patchwork of laws and policies that address these issues within the federal jurisdiction” with a consolidated approach that is extended to cover workplaces including the Senate, Library of Parliament, the House of Commons, and staff on Parliament Hill.
      • Recognizing that these steps wouldn’t address sexual harassment in the private sector, the government also said it would launch an awareness campaign to challenge misconceptions and develop sample sexual harassment policies for employers.

    The federal government referenced the #MeToo Movement in its rationale for particular sections of the 2018 Federal Budget, which was historic in that it was developed with a gender-based analysis.

    Under Gender-Based Violence and Access to Justice, the budget states: “There are important conversations happening in Canada and around the world regarding issues of discrimination, harassment and gender-based violence. Movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have shed light on situations and behaviours that simply to not belong in our society.”

    In the 2018 Budget, the government expanded its existing Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence by adding $86 million over five years, plus $20 million a year ongoing. The new investment has a strong focus on improving services around sexual assault and harassment, including:

      • Preventing teen dating violence and enhancing cyberbulling initiatives;
      • Strengthened support for health care professionals who provide services to victims;
      • More support to the High Needs Victims Fund so that service providers can strengthen services to communities at highest risk of violence;
      • More support to sexual assault service providers near Canadian Forces bases;
      • The establishment of a national framework to address gender-based violence in post-secondary institutions.

    The budget included a proposal of $50 million over five years to address sexual harassment in the workplace. About half of that amount will go toward legal aid that supports those who experience sexual harassment at work. The other half will go toward educating workers about their rights and resources for help.

    The government has committed $10 million over five years to the establishment of an RCMP unit that will examine sexual assault cases previously dismissed as “unfounded,” and has allocated up to $5.5 million in funding for university sexual assault centres.

    At the provincial level, Ontario re-released their 2015 “Who Will You Help?” campaign in December 2017. The campaign encouraged Canadians to act when confronted with issues of sexual assault or harassment, whether at work, home, school, or in a social setting. The campaign also raised awareness of how bystander intervention can play a key role in stopping sexual violence.

  • Are Canadian workplace policies on sexual harassment changing in response to the #MeToo Movement?

    An Angus Reid survey on the #MeToo Movement found that:

      • 52 per cent of Canadian women say they have been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace during their lifetime;
      • 28 per cent of Canadian women say they have experienced non-consensual touching in the workplace;
      • 89 per cent of Canadian women say they have taken steps to avoid unwanted sexual advances at work.

    Human Resources Professionals and employment lawyers have noted increased reports of sexual harassment in the workplace in the months since #MeToo.

    According to the Canada Labour Code, every employee has a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment. The Canada Labour Code defines sexual harassment as:

    “…any conduct, comment, gesture, or contact of a sexual nature that is likely to cause offence or humiliation to any employee; or that might, on reasonable grounds, be perceived by that employee as placing a condition of a sexual nature on employment or on any opportunity for training or promotion.”

    The Code requires all workplaces to have a policy in place that defines sexual harassment in a similar way, while also informing employees that they will make reasonable efforts to ensure the workplace is free of sexual harassment and discipline offenders appropriately.

    Employers must also detail their workplace’s complaint process (which must be confidential) and inform workers of their right to make a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act. These policies must be written and posted where all workers can read them.

    In addition, employers are obligated to create workplace environments free of harassment and discrimination by provincial and territorial Occupational Health and Safety Laws, Human Rights Codes, and Employment Standards Codes.

    The increased focus on sexual assault and harassment in the workplace has prompted many employers to re-evaluate their sexual harassment policies and look for education opportunities.

    The Human Resources Professionals Association and Benefits Canada are among those who have made recommendations for how employers can improve their sexual harassment policies and procedures in the wake of the #MeToo Movement.

    There have also been various industry-specific initiatives aimed at improving how workplaces address these issues.

      • In response to a number of allegations, members of Canada’s creative industries have joined together and developed a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment, as well as a framework for reporting and resolving complaints. Announced by the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) in March 2018, this agreement is sponsored by 24 groups and professional associations in Canada, including the Writers Guild of Canada, TIFF, and the CBC.
      • In response to sexual assault and harassment in politics, a Toronto-based organization called the Young Women’s Leadership Network has developed an online tool kit and services aimed at helping political parties — and the many young people who volunteer for them — to prevent and address sexual violence on the campaign trail. The organization provides equity and inclusion training, sexual violence support training, policy consultation, and anti-harassment support for events.
      • In the hospitality industry, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association has developed the “It’s Your Shift” Sexual Violence & Intervention Training Program, designed to teach and protect workers in the hospitality industry. Created in collaboration with Tourism HR Canada and the Ontario Tourism Education Corporation, the program has been incorporated into courses and programs offered by Centennial College‘s School of Hospitality, Tourism and the Culinary Arts.
      • In October 2018, Ryerson University hosted  Let’s Get Uncomfortable, an event that addressed issues including inequity and sexual harassment in the travel industry.
      • Other industries and individuals have responded to the #MeToo Movement in different ways. Susan Lomas, a B.C. geoscientist with 30 years of experience in the mining industry, founded Me Too Mining to provide support for women working in the male-dominated mining industry.
      • From July 21 through October 21, 2018, the Royal Ontario Museum hosted #MeToo and the Arts, a free exhibition on how the public can engage with art and artists in the context of issues raised by the #MeToo and Time’s Up Movements. The event came about in response to an allegation of sexual misconduct against deceased photographer Raghubir Singh, who is featured in an upcoming exhibition.
  • Has the #MeToo Movement changed the way Canadians think about consent?

    While the #MeToo Movement has raised awareness about sexual assault and harassment, it has also highlighted the urgent need for education about healthy relationships and consent.

    In May 2018, the Canadian Women’s Foundation conducted a survey asking Canadians about consent and issues related to sexual harassment, in light of the #MeToo Movement. It found that Canadians’ understanding of what constitutes consent has actually decreased:

      • Only 28 per cent of respondents fully understood all the components of consent, compared with 33 per cent in 2015. Consent should always be enthusiastic and ongoing, involve a clear “yes,” affirmative words, and positive body language.
      • Half of women who responded to the survey have felt pressured to consent to unwanted sexual activity at some point;
      • 44 per cent of Canadians said that education was the most crucial next step in the #MeToo Movement.

    A February 2018 survey by the Angus Reid Institute found that millennial men (aged 18-34) were the most likely to believe that sexually suggestive actions and behaviours are acceptable at work.

    Twenty-seven per cent of millennial men said that telling “off-colour” jokes at work was “acceptable,” while only 13 per cent of millennial women agreed. The survey also found that older women and men are more likely to find suggestive behaviour at work unacceptable.

    When asked about how they felt during conversations about the pervasiveness of sexual assault, participants in Chatelaine’s #TheManSurvey responded that 25 per cent of them felt “nothing,” 42 per cent felt “sad,” 32 per cent felt “angry,” and 12 per cent felt “bored.”

  • What can I do to support the movement?

    There has been a sizeable increase in demand on Canada’s sexual violence support services. In some parts of Canada, there are limited services, or none at all. The lack of support leaves survivors with few options, and in some cases, on their own to deal with trauma.

    The Canadian Women’s Foundation has partnered with AFTERMETOO, a national movement to activate change on sexual violence in Canada, to establish a fund that will address the increased demand for sexual violence support services across Canada.

    The funds raised by AFTERMETOO will help fund organizations that provide support for survivors in the form of mental health services, hospital and court accompaniment, and long-term counselling.

    To donate, visit aftermetoo.com.

  • What is the Canadian Women’s Foundation doing to prevent sexual assault and harassment, and to support survivors?

    The Canadian Women’s Foundation is committed to helping all women and girls in Canada live free of violence at home, in public, and in the workplace. With your support, the Foundation funds programs that help women move out of violence and into leadership and empowerment.

    When it comes to preventing sexual harassment and assault, the Foundation funds Teen Healthy Relationships programs that teach teens of all genders how to:

      • Recognize and develop healthy relationships;
      • Understand gender-based violence, the signs of abuse, and where to turn for help;
      • Break down gender stereotypes;
      • Practise skills including empathy, boundary-setting, assertive communication, and conflict resolution;
      • Understand gender diversity.

    A solid understanding of healthy relationships is a necessary step on the road to gender equality. By teaching teens to respect themselves and those around them, we aim to end the cycles of abuse and harassment that have been quietly accepted for far too long.

    When it comes to supporting survivors of sexual assault, the Foundation funds programs across Canada that offer services including:

      • Counselling;
      • Sexual assault response and care;
      • Legal Assistance;
      • Support for women and girls who have been coerced into sexual and/or labour exploitation.

    Learn more about the Foundation’s violence prevention work.