The powerful Commons Board of Internal Economy, a subcommittee of the House Affairs Committee and the Liberals’ own independent probe are all looking at the explosive sexual harassment allegations on the Hill. The Liberals have retained human rights lawyer Cynthia Peterson to “conduct an independent, fair and confidential investigation” into the harassment allegations. But it’s all a big mess.
The two Liberal MPs, Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews, have been suspended from the Liberal caucus and can’t run as Liberals in the next election, after being accused of “serious personal misconduct.” The two female NDP MPs remain anonymous, but one NDP MP has alleged in media interviews that Mr. Pacetti sexually assaulted her. And the NDP MPs have said they didn’t want Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to go public in the first place. They say they have been “re-victimized.” Neither of the MPs has filed a formal complaint and neither wants to come forward at this point. Quoting unnamed sources, media have also reported more details of the allegations against Mr. Andrews.
Other than going through internal party processes or rising on a point of order in the House, there is no official process by which MPs can raise allegations of harassment or other misconduct on the Hill, and a clear and independent process is also lacking for MPs’ staff.
The Commons Board of Internal Economy is now focused on coming up with a process and policy for MPs’ staff, while the Procedure and House Affairs Committee recently established a subcommittee to develop a process and code of conduct for MPs. But neither PROC nor the BOIE is investigating the allegations raised against Mr. Andrews and Mr. Pacetti.
As Carleton University’s Paul Adams tells The Hill Times, “It’s a disaster for the men as well as the women.” Prof. Adams said the argument could be made that, as public figures, the two NDP MPs are empowered, and have the support of the institutions of their party and Parliament in coming forward, which he said could send an important message to other women, but he also said it’s not up to the media to make that argument.
“It still seems to me that it’s her decision whether [to go public], and it’s important here too to note that it was not the women who have made the allegations, who made the names of the former Liberal MPs public so it’s not as if it’s incumbent on them…now to step forward,” said Prof. Adams.
Conservative MP Susan Truppe told The Hill Times this week that at least the public is engaged by the discussion which is true. “Canadians, in general, have occasionally swept this problem under the rug and recent high-profile cases are creating an engaging public discussion on it.”
The House of Commons should move quickly to establish a process and a policy to deal formally and effectively with sexual harassment between MPs. This matter should be resolved and the two former Liberal MPs should have the ability to address the allegations. The silver lining here is that sexual harassment will hopefully be stopped, and if not, there is definitely a process in the place for the future.
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