Southwestern Ontario legal clinics are beginning to offer legal services for victims of workplace sexual harassment, thanks to federal funding now reaching the region.
The two-year-old Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (SHIW) project is backed by $3.7 million during five years from Canada’s Justice Department.
The new money will let legal clinics, some of which already provided employment and human rights legal supports to low-income people, offer targeted service involving sexual harassment cases, said Elspeth Graham, a lawyer leading the project in Elgin, Oxford, Huron and Perth counties.
A big goal of the project is improving access to justice for people who may not be able to afford legal support.
Sexual harassment “is an issue that, with the #Me Too movement and everything that’s happened in the past few years, has gotten a lot more attention,” Graham said.
“But there’s still a lot of work to be done, so this project is really looking to hopefully make an impact in our local communities . . . and making it so that if something does happen, people know where to go and they have somewhere to go.”
Twenty-two legal clinics across Ontario are taking part in the project. Funding went first to several eastern Ontario legal clinics, but it is now available in this region, Graham said.
Graham is working with Neighbourhood Legal Services London and Middlesex to also offer support to workers there. Similar services will be offered through local clinics in Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton.
“It’s so wonderful that this project is being done through the pre-existing legal clinics . . . ,” Graham said. “They’re familiar with the communities, they’re familiar with the demographics, with the cultures, with the different industries, so they’re in a very good position to be able to provide services to those communities.”
Though legal clinics mainly support people who can’t afford legal services and meet certain income criteria, the SHIW project is open to everyone, Graham noted.
“We’re kind of someone that they can reach out to and speak to about that experience and get some initial advice and information about what steps they could take if they want to proceed,” she said.
Through the program, clinics will also provide presentations, workshops and training regarding workplace sexual harassment, and offer support to organizations to create sexual harassment policies.