Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Harassment on Parliament Hill: more questions than answers

From what I have read and heard in the media over the past few days, the two female New Democrat MPs who alleged improper conduct by two male Liberal MPs won’t be laying formal complaints.

But, without formal complaints, on what basis can an investigation be launched? And, without an investigation, can justice be served?

These are just the most obvious questions arising from the mess on Parliament Hill. Another might be: In what environment or on what occasion would two MPs from two different opposition parties be present so that the men had the opportunity to harass or assault the women in question? In other words, I hadn’t thought it likely that female NDP MPs would be socializing with male Liberal MPs. Just how compromising are the allegations? Would it embarrass or incriminate the two female MPs if the circumstances were known?

It’s never fair to blame victims, and sexual harassment or assault—if that is what has happened here—can be an especially egregious crime. But the accused have rights too, especially in this case when they have already been punished and publicly shamed.

And what are the rights of the public? Two MPs are suspended from their caucus and the details of their wrongdoing are kept secret? Is that justice as we are accustomed to seeing it?

In fact, it seems that all ordinary Canadians have are questions. The allegations themselves are non-specific—“serious personal misconduct,” we are told, and, yes, the accused have been named, but neither man seems to know the details of his alleged misconduct or the name of his accuser and, it should be noted, they both deny wrongdoing.

Political careers of the two accused have been damaged—some say likely ruined—as, perhaps, have their marriages. Yet there seems little likelihood they will face their accusers or enjoy any legal protection whatsoever. And this in a country that treasures the rule of law and the fairness of our justice system.

Furthermore, it is a disgrace that this unfolding injustice—perhaps unraveling is a better word—is playing out under the very noses of our nation’s lawmakers. The show of incompetence by both opposition leaders is stunning, as each looks elsewhere for a solution.

And, apparently, the accusations are extremely serious, for I read in the National Post that NDP Whip Nycole Turmel said the two NDP MPs needed time to “find a way to heal” from the alleged misconduct. If one considers that the events are supposed to have occurred months ago, they must certainly have been egregious in nature if the victims still are looking for ways to heal.

Again I remind you that these are our principal lawmakers. And, every year, they seem to encroach ever more into every aspect of our lives. But, apparently, even though MPs and staff members have for decades endured harassment, abuse, humiliation and sexual misconduct by other MPs and staff members, there remains no formal process for handling such things.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau suspended his two MPs and called for misconduct procedures back on Nov. 5, and it’s taken until today for the all-party Board of Internal Economy committee to address the issue—behind closed doors, of course. Even then, any new harassment policy will likely deal only with future complaints and not the recent allegations that led to the suspensions.

Which, of course, begs another question: If the current case and its details are not being dealt with, why the need for a closed-door meeting? Why shouldn’t ordinary Canadians be privy to the discussions and hear the arguments for and against the various options discussed at the meeting? I thought transparency was a good thing?

I guess we’ll just have to wait to hear what our MPs decide we should be allowed to hear.


  1. I have not commented here before. From the drop down list, I don't know how to comment as anyone other than "Anonymous". Perhaps Russ can give an explanation of the options sometime.
    I enjoy reading this blog and would consider leaving a comment from time to time. I wish there was a way to discreetly let Russ know that he has made an unfortunate misspelling of the word "public".

    1. Anon 10:02 PM, thanks for the comment and correction to my spelling (now corrected). If it's easier to comment as "Anonymous," then do so and give your name at the end of the comment--works for me. Just because you comment as Anonymous doesn't mean the comment has to go unsigned.