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Alberta Liberals to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against Kang

By Abbas Rana      

Former provincial staffer Kirstin Morrell, who levelled sexual harassment allegations against Liberal-turned-Independent MP Darshan Kang, said she has not been consulted by the Alberta Liberal Party, and will consider whether to participate in the investigation after learning the details.

Two women have accused Liberal-turned-Indpenedent MP Darshan Kang of sexual harassment.
The Hill Times file photograph

The Alberta Liberal Party is planning on conducting interviews with current and former Liberal staffers following allegations of sexual harassment from former Alberta Liberal staffer Kirstin Morrell against former two-term Alberta MLA and now MP Darshan Kang to find out if there are any more complaints.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan said in a statement that the sexual harassment allegations from Ms. Morrell reported in The Hill Times two weeks ago against Mr. Kang (Calgary Skyview, Alta.) are “deeply concerning” and described the alleged behaviour as “repugnant and has no place in society.”

“As leader of the Liberal Party, I find these allegations deeply concerning,” said Mr. Khan, who was elected party leader in June.

He promised to share all “relevant information” to “all investigating bodies.”

Prior to getting elected as an MP in the 2015 federal election, Mr. Kang, 66, served as a two-term Alberta MLA between 2008 and 2015. He’s now one of the two Liberal MPs from Calgary, along with Sport and Persons with Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr (Calgary Centre, Alta.). This marked the first time the federal Liberals have won seats in Calgary since 1968. In total, the Liberals won four seats in Alberta, including two in Edmonton.

Ms. Morrell, who now is 37 and owns a small business in Calgary, served as a constituency office assistant in Mr. Kang’s constituency office for about 13 months between 2011-12. In an interview with The Hill Times two weeks ago, she accused Mr. Kang of groping and kissing her several times during her employment.

“He doesn’t understand or seem to care about the word ‘no’ or about the word ‘stop,’ ” said Ms. Morrell.

“When I worked in his office, he would come up, and he would grab my breasts, he would make me sit next to him,” she said, and estimated that it happened to her about 15 times during her job.

She said whenever she had to consult Mr. Kang about any work-related issues, she would try to meet him outside of his personal office to avoid any potential situation in which he would touch her. But she said he would insist on meeting her inside his personal office.

“At first, I would say, ‘No, no, let’s do this outside of your office.’ He’d say ‘Oh, no, no, come inside my office. There’s no problem, there’s no problem,’ ” she said.

“I’d come inside his office and sit down. And, then he’d sit down next to me and lean in and grab my breasts, or kiss me. And I’d say ‘stop,’ and he would start to get very forceful about demanding that I stay,” said Ms. Morrell, adding that it happened mostly in the last few months of her employment.

In an interview with The Hill Times last week, Ms. Morrell said she had not received any communications from the provincial Liberal Party about the internal investigation and was unaware if there’s any ongoing investigation. She said if the party approached her, she would make a decision on whether to take part in this investigation after learning the details.

“They’d have to approach me first,” said Ms. Morrell. “I would consider it.”

A 24-year-old female staffer who had worked in Mr. Kang’s current MP’s constituency office filed a sexual harassment complaint with Chief Government Whip Pablo Rodriguez’s (Honoré-Mercier, Que.) office in June. Mr. Rodriguez referred the complaint to the chief human resources officer Pierre Parent. The staffer also worked for the 66-year-old MP when he was an Alberta legislator. She moved over to the federal constituency office after Mr. Kang got elected in the last federal election.

Chief Government Whip Pablo Rodriguez. The Hill Times photograph by Rachel Aiello

Since officially filing the complaint, the staffer has not done any media interviews, but her father told The Toronto Star last month that Mr. Kang gave his daughter “unwelcome hugs,” held and stroked her hand during car rides, and once invited her to an Ottawa apartment, where he offered her wine and “pulled at her jacket to try to get her to take it off.” He also alleged in the same interview that the Alberta MP subsequently offered his daughter a series of payments, “escalating to a total of $100,000,” to stop her from sharing the allegations with her parents.

After The Hill Times reported Ms. Morrell’s allegations against Mr. Kang on Thursday, Aug. 31, the Alberta MP resigned from the Liberal caucus a few hours after the story came out. He is now sitting as an Independent MP.

In written public statements, Mr. Kang has denied all allegations and has vowed to defend his “reputation at all costs.”

“While I cannot comment directly on an open, ongoing investigation, I continue to proclaim my innocence and will defend my reputation at all costs,” said Mr. Kang on Aug. 29.

And in response to allegations from Ms. Morrell, he told The Hill Times on Aug. 30: “I fully deny any allegations of misconduct. I have always acted with the utmost professionalism and integrity and I will continue to work to clear my name.”

In his resignation letter on Aug. 31, Mr. Kang said he’s resigning from the Liberal caucus to clear his name.

“I wish to focus my efforts at this time on clearing my name,” said Mr. Kang. “I appreciate that Parliament has provided for due process, and a fair and objective policy for resolving this matter. I also very much appreciate that I am being provided an opportunity to provide my perspective to the independent investigator of the Chief Human Resources Office of Parliament. However, I do not want my present circumstances to further distract from any of the good work being carried out by my colleagues in the government.”

No allegation against Mr. Kang has been proven in a court of law.

Ms. Morrell said she decided to go public with her allegations because the other staffer was on the receiving end of criticism on social media for filing a complaint against Mr. Kang. Also, because Mr. Kang in a public statement had denied the other staffer’s allegations, she decided to come forward to share her own experience, she said.

“My only motivation was that he had been denying these allegations in the case of the complainant,” said Ms. Morrell last week. “I did not feel he was being truthful because of my own personal experience.”

Mr. Kang declined a comment for this article.

Alex McCuaig, chief of staff to the Speaker of Alberta’s legislative assembly, declined to say if the legislature is conducting an investigation based on Ms. Morrell’s allegations.

“We don’t comment on these kinds of investigations. These complaints can be sensitive and the complainants sometimes wish to remain anonymous,” Mr. McCuaig said.

arana@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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