Addressing Sexual Harassment, Harassment and Bullying on Municipal Councils in Manitoba

Authors: Shandra Czarnecki, Dany Théberge

The province of Manitoba has introduced amendments to The Municipal Act (the “Act”) and the Council Members’ Codes of Conduct Regulation (the “Regulation”).

The amendments to the Act and Regulation provide a new legislative framework addressing harassment, sexual harassment and bullying at the municipal level and establish standardized procedures for the intake and review of municipal code of conduct complaints and formal appeals procedure for council code of conduct violations.

The changes to the Act and Regulation took effect on November 1, 2020, and require all municipal councils in the province of Manitoba to:

  1. pass a Code of Conduct bylaw by May 1, 2021; and
  2. by May 1, 2021, and within six months of election or re-election, ensure that all council members complete online code of conduct training.

These changes position Manitoba as one of the leaders in establishing statutory requirements for the intake and review of municipal code of conduct complaints, a formal appeals procedure for council code of conduct violations and code of conduct training for council members.

In addition, the province announced that it would release supporting tools and resources to assist municipal council members in taking steps to identify, address and prevent incidents of offensive or inappropriate conduct on council.

The Regulation, which can be accessed here, establishes the following further requirements:

  1. A code of conduct must be based on and incorporate the values of respect, professionalism and accountability.
  2. The value of respect includes: (1) treating others with courtesy, dignity and fairness, (2) appreciating difference and welcoming learning from others, (3) supporting and encouraging others to participate in council activities, and (4) fostering an environment free of harassment including sexual harassment and bullying.
  3. The value of professionalism includes (1) following council decision-making and communications processes, (2) behaving in a manner that upholds public confidence in local government, (3) respecting the impartiality of municipal employees, (4) making reasonable efforts to resolve complaints in an expeditious, informal, collaborative and restorative manner, and (5) avoiding the use of irrelevant or false considerations when carrying out duties.
  4. The value of accountability includes (1) using municipal resources appropriately, and (2) taking responsibility for decisions and actions.
  5. A code of conduct must establish numerous processes, as they relate to how to file complaints with the council, the fair determination of complaints that are frivolous, vexatious or filed after the required time period, referring complaints to mediation, and investigating complaints that cannot be resolved by mediation.
  6. A code of conduct must set out the information required in a complaint and provide for investigation reports, including the form of the report, the information required in the report and the period for submitting the report.
  7. A council must undertake an annual review of its code of conduct to ensure the code effectively meets its needs.
  8. A code of conduct must require council to take certain action after receiving an investigation report, as set out in section 5 of the Regulation.
  9. A code of conduct must include a specific list of sanctions, including among several others, the censure or reprimand of a member. Section 6 of the Regulation further sets out the required steps a council must include in its code of conduct relating to its imposition of a sanction on a member.
  10. The Regulation further sets out an appeal process at sections 7 to 13 of the Regulation. To note, a decision made by the appeals director is final and is not subject to appeal.

Municipal councils are encouraged to carefully review the Regulation and start developing their plan to ensure compliance by the May 1, 2021 deadline.

 Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.