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Former staffer levels new sexual harassment allegations against Darshan Kang

By Abbas Rana      

The first-term MP ‘has a problem with consent,' and 'doesn’t understand or seem to care about the word no, or about the word stop,’ says a woman who previously worked for Mr. Kang when he sat in the Alberta Legislature.

Two women have accused Liberal MP Darshan Kang of sexual harassment. Mr. Kang in the past served as Alberta MLA for two terms. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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A former staffer has stepped forward with explosive new allegations of sexual harassment against embattled Liberal MP Darshan Kang, saying he repeatedly groped and kissed her throughout her 13-month tenure in his Calgary constituency office.

Kirstin Morrell, who worked for Mr. Kang (Calgary Skyview, Alta.) between 2011-12, when he was sitting in the Alberta Legislature, said the first-term MP has a “problem with consent,” and completely disregarded her blatant refusals of his aggressive sexual overtures.

“He doesn’t understand or seem to care about the word no, or about the word stop,” said Morrell, who claims to have left her job because of the alleged sexual harassment.

“When I worked in his office, he would come up, and he would grab my breasts, he would make me sit next to him.”

Ms. Morrell, who now owns her own small business in Calgary, said that whenever she had to consult Mr. Kang about any work related issue, she would try to meet him outside of his personal office to ensure she was never left alone with him.

But she said the then-MLA would insist on meeting her in his personal office.

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

“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.

Ms. Morrell said that whenever Mr. Kang touched her, she told him to “stop,” but the then-MLA would say: “Oh, no, no, no. Oh, no, it’s okay. It’s okay.”

She said before leaving her job in 2012, she advised her successor Robb Aishford, whom she also trained, not to hire any female staffers after she left because of her own experience with the then-MLA. Mr. Aishford still works for Mr. Kang in the MP’s constituency office.

“When I left Darshan’s office, the gentleman I trained, Rob Aishford, I said to him, ‘Whatever happens, do not let Darshan hire another woman into his office,’ ” said Ms. Morrell.

When reached by The Hill Times, Mr. Kang declined comment on the explosive allegations by his former provincial constituency office staffer.

“I have no comment,” Mr. Kang said in a brief phone call.

The Hill Times read Ms. Morrell’s quotes to the Alberta MP on the phone, but he said he did not have any reaction. Later, Mr. Kang, who served as Alberta MLA for two terms, from 2008 to 2015, denied any allegations of wrongdoing in an emailed statement to The Hill Times, but did not directly address the specifics of his former staffer’s claims.

“I fully deny any allegations of misconduct,” said Mr. Kang, who was elected in the 2015 federal election.

“I have always acted with the utmost professionalism and integrity and will continue to work to clear my name.”

Ms. Morrell is the second woman to come forward and accuse Mr. Kang of sexual harassment in the past months. In June, a female federal constituency office staffer filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Liberal whip’s office against the Alberta MP. She claimed to have been sexually harassed on multiple occasions over the last few years.

Mr. Kang has also denied these allegations.

The 24-year-old staffer has not done any media interviews as of last week, but her father told the Toronto Star 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.”

The staffer’s father also alleged that Mr. Kang subsequently offered her a series of payments, “escalating to a total of $100,000,” to prevent her from sharing the allegations with her parents.

The staffer began working for Mr. Kang when he was an MLA, and, after the 2015 federal election, moved to the MP’s constituency office as an assistant. Both families have known each other for years.

Ms. Morrell told The Hill Times she did not report her own sexual harassment claims to the Alberta legislature’s human resources department because she did not expect it to conduct a serious investigation, based on her past experiences.

She also said she worried she would lose her job, and as a loyal member of the Liberal Party, didn’t want to hurt the party.

Ms. Morrell said she decided to share her story with The Hill Times to support the 24-year-old staffer and assuage any doubts about the harassment allegations. Ms. Morrell said she knew the staffer from when both worked in Mr. Kang’s MLA constituency office, though in those days, she was only working on part-time basis.

“I’m humbled by this young lady, by her courage, by her bravery, standing up and reporting this. I wish I had had that courage at that time. She’s just a stronger, more courageous person than I am,” Ms. Morrell said.

“I believe her. I think she’s telling the truth. She was always honest when I worked with her. She has a very good heart and she did not deserve this.”

After The Hill Times broke the sexual harassment allegations story on Aug. 11, Ms. Morrell contacted the office of Liberal Whip Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier, Que.), House chief human resources officer Pierre Parent, and the Liberal Party of Canada, offering to be interviewed.

In her emails, she told them briefly about her own experience with Mr. Kang, but said no one, as of last week, expressed any interest in talking to her. She said the Liberal Party asked her to contact Mr. Parent’s office.

Ms. Morrell said she partly blames herself sometimes for the newest harassment allegations, believing that if she had spoken up about her own experiences with Mr. Kang, it could have been avoided.

“I feel terribly guilty for not reporting it because that poor girl had to go through the same thing I did,” said Ms. Morrell. “I do feel guilty that maybe I could have prevented it— maybe not, maybe no one would have believed me.”

The Hill Times contacted the House communications office to inquire if Mr. Parent has any plans to interview Ms. Morrell, but staff there declined comment, citing confidentiality.

When reached, Heather Bradley, director of communications to the House Speaker, said in an email that Mr. Parent would not comment because of “obvious confidentiality reasons.”

She added that the House of Commons policy on harassment “emphasizes impartiality and confidentiality” in order to “protect the rights of the complainant and the respondent,” as well as Members, House officers, research offices, and their respective employees.

The Hill Times contacted the Liberal whip’s Office and staff there also did not say if they have any plans to interview Ms. Morrell.

Charles-Eric Lepine, chief of staff to Mr. Rodriguez, told The Hill Times in an email that after receiving the federal staffer’s complaint, it was referred to the House chief human resources officer. He also said that since the allegations predate Mr. Kang’s tenure as an MP, she should also contact the local police, “if she feels comfortable doing so.”

It was unclear last week when or if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) has any plans to take action on Mr. Kang’s case. After last week’s cabinet shuffle, he said the Liberal whip and the chief human resources officer are working on the case, but did not provide details.

“I can assure you that our whip’s office and the human resources of the Parliament of Canada are engaged as they must be in the process and I have no further comment at this time on the independent process,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters.

arana@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times 

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