Politi­cians scram­ble to adapt to #MeToo world: PM

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Joan BRY­DEN

OT­TAWA — Justin Trudeau con­cedes that he, like all po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, is strug­gling to fig­ure out how best to deal with al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct against mem­bers of his own cau­cus.

“I don’t have a rule book that’s been handed down to me from Wil­frid Lau­rier as leader of the Lib­eral party on how to han­dle these sit­u­a­tions,” the prime min­is­ter said Tues­day.

“This is new for or­ga­ni­za­tions to have to deal with in this way, and we are do­ing the best that we can on a case-by-case ba­sis – start­ing from a place of re­spect, of sup­port (for vic­tims), of be­lief and un­der­stand­ing that we do have to have fair process as we move for­ward.”

Trudeau of­fered that an­swer in re­sponse to a ques­tion about why Kent Hehr – who re­signed from cab­i­net last week pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions of in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct to­wards women – re­mains a mem­ber of the gov­ern­ment cau­cus while Dar­shan Kang, an­other Cal­gary MP fac­ing mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions, has been booted from the Lib­eral fold.

That ques­tion has gained ur­gency as ad­di­tional com­plaints against Hehr have sur­faced, in­clud­ing an al­le­ga­tion that he groped a young fe­male staffer.

Lib­eral in­sid­ers say Kang, a for­mer mem­ber of the Al­berta leg­is­la­ture, vol­un­tar­ily quit cau­cus last year while he’s be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment in­volv­ing for­mer fe­male staffers in both his pro­vin­cial and fed­eral con­stituency of­fices.

Trudeau didn’t men­tion that, but did say “ev­ery case will be dif­fer­ent.”

He ac­knowl­edged that the #MeToo move­ment sweep­ing the globe – which has brought down movie moguls, ac­tors, high-pro­file jour­nal­ists, sports fig­ures and politi­cians as women go pub­lic with long-sup­pressed com­plaints about sex­ual mis­con­duct – has “all of us fig­ur­ing out the trans­for­ma­tions that we need to make in our work­places, in our com­mu­ni­ties, in the en­vi­ron­ments that sur­round us to go to a place of... work en­vi­ron­ments and life en­vi­ron­ments for ev­ery­one that are re­spect­ful and ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Un­til very re­cently, Trudeau pointed out that pro­cesses and sup­port sys­tems to deal with com­plaints of sex­ual ha­rass­ment or sex­ual as­sault in­volv­ing fed­eral politi­cians and em­ploy­ees didn’t even ex­ist.

A sex­ual ha­rass­ment code of con­duct for MPs was de­vel­oped only af­ter two fe­male New Demo­crat MPs lev­elled com­plaints against Lib­eral MPs Mas­simo Pacetti and Scott An­drews in late 2014.

Trudeau sus­pended the two Lib­er­als from cau­cus pend­ing a third-party in­ves­ti­ga­tion, at the con­clu­sion of which the pair vol­un­tar­ily re­signed from cau­cus per­ma­nently.

The new code was re­viewed last fall, but the govern­ing Lib­er­als be­lieve the en­vi­ron­ment has changed so dra­mat­i­cally since then that it should be re­viewed again. Filom­ena Tassi, the gov­ern­ment’s deputy whip, tabled a mo­tion Tues­day at the pro­ce­dure and House af­fairs com­mit­tee, ask­ing for cre­ation of a sub-com­mit­tee to con­duct a “thor­ough” re-as­sess­ment of the code. Her mo­tion is to be con­sid­ered Thurs­day. In the past week alone, sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions re­sulted in the res­ig­na­tions of Hehr and Con­ser­va­tive lead­ers in Nova Sco­tia and On­tario. The lat­ter, Pa­trick Brown, was a for­mer fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive MP, as was Rick Dyk­stra, who re­signed as pres­i­dent of the pro­vin­cial To­ries in the face of an al­le­ga­tion of sex­ual as­sault.

The swift­ness of their down­fall on the ba­sis of un­proven and usu­ally anony­mous al­le­ga­tions – and amid a wide­spread sen­ti­ment that “sur­vivors” must be be­lieved – has prompted some con­cern about the lack of due process for the ac­cused.

While there’s a need for due process, Trudeau said “the first in­stinct” needs to be be­liev­ing and sup­port­ing those who make com­plaints about sex­ual mis­con­duct.

“I think it’s es­sen­tial to start from a place of be­lief and sup­port for any­one com­ing for­ward with sto­ries or al­le­ga­tions of ha­rass­ment or as­sault. This in it­self rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant change in so­ci­ety,” he said.

“We ob­vi­ously need a process that flows from there and that’s some­thing we’re all work­ing very, very hard on en­sur­ing it gets done right. But the first in­stinct and the first place to be needs to be be­liev­ing and sup­port­ing.”

Trudeau did not di­rectly re­spond when asked if, like many men, he’s been re­flect­ing on whether he may have said or done any­thing in the past that might seem in­ap­pro- pri­ate by to­day’s stan­dards. But he seemed to sug­gest that his ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing as a vol­un­teer for McGill Univer­sity’s sex­ual as­sault cen­tre 25 years ago sen­si­tized him to the is­sues that other politi­cians have stum­bled over.

“As one of the few male fa­cil­i­ta­tors in the pro­gram, I led con­ver­sa­tions with fra­ter­ni­ties, soror­i­ties, res­i­dences, school groups, ac­tiv­ity groups on is­sues of con­sent, of power dy­nam­ics, of date rape, of in­ter­ac­tions, of com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” he said, adding that “there is al­ways more re­flec­tion and more en­gage­ment to be had.”

Trudeau said he’s “deeply pleased” that so­ci­ety has reached the point where these kinds of con­ver­sa­tions are oc­cur­ring in work­places ev­ery­where and are “lead­ing to re­flec­tion and learn­ing and sup­port for peo­ple, specif­i­cally women, who have too long faced sys­temic and con­stant dis­crim­i­na­tion, sex­ism, ha­rass­ment and as­sault.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/JUSTIN TANG PHOTO

Min­is­ter of Crown-In­dige­nous Re­la­tions and North­ern Af­fairs Carolyn Ben­nett lis­tens as Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau speaks at the Canada - Mod­ern Treaty and Self-Govern­ing First Na­tions Fo­rum in Ot­tawa in Novem­ber. Par­lia­ment Hill is look­ing to put an end to in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour and tackle sex­ual mis­con­duct, says Ben­nett.

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