OTTAWA — Is Parliament a safe place for young women?
That was the topic of conversation in the hallways following the surprise suspension of two Liberal MPs, Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews, pending an investigation into sexual harassment allegations from two female NDP MPs. The two men deny the accusations.
Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth told The Huffington Post Canada that Parliament is different than other institutions.
“This is testosterone palace!” she said, as she was leaving her party’s weekly caucus meeting.
“My father was an MP and he took off with another woman too. It happens. This place is so lonely.”
Still, she said she believes Parliament is not dangerous for women. She said she trusts MPs to investigate themselves and that any time a woman is assaulted in any way, it needs to be investigated.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also weighed in on the matter, suggesting men can escape culpability in systems of political power.
"The culture around politics in general is one that men can get away with abuse of power. It’s endemic in politics. It shouldn't be that way," said May.
NDP MP Peter Stoffer said he also thought Parliament was a safe place for women. “I myself in 17 years haven’t had any concerns in this particular regards, I assume that it is.”
Stoffer suggested, however, that he minds his own business when it comes to sexual relations on the hill.
“What other people do, with whatever folks do, that’s their particular business,” he said.
But he added that cases of abuse should be taken very seriously. “This should be a safe working environment.”
Parliament, Stoffer insisted, isn’t different than any other work environment.
“I worked at Canadian Airlines, we heard things. I worked at McDonald’s restaurants, I worked in hotels, you always hear things. But the reality is, it’s like in any workplace. In any environment where people get together, you work in office buildings, you work anywhere else, there [are] always things.
“This place isn’t immune to these types of concerns.”
NDP MP Linda Duncan agreed. “Wherever people work there will always be issues, and so Parliament is no exception.”
She didn’t want to speak to the fact that Parliament is still dominated by men.
She said that as a founder of a rape crisis centre in Edmonton, she knows how hard it is for people who are attacked, whether they are male or female. It’s difficult to bring forward those complaints, whether it is harassment or something more serious.
“We all need to stand up for open and fair processes.”
Her colleague Françoise Boivin noted that the NDP has the biggest caucus of women and many young MPs.
“Let’s wait to see the facts, to see the case unfold. We shouldn’t be judged worse or better than anybody but we are public figures and we should act accordingly.”
Boivin, a lawyer, said it was the job of the Speaker of the House of Commons to address the issue but there are specialists and third parties who should be called to assist.
“My experience in this type of cases is you need a third party.”
Justice Minister Peter MacKay reminded reporters the allegations were only allegations.
“They’re allegations. They’re serious allegations. I think the proper authorities now have to do their work. That’s all I can say.”
To address such allegations, there is a harassment process in place to deal with complaints pertaining to MPs and their staff, according to House of Commons Speaker's Office spokesperson Heather Bradley.
- Any individual who wants to bring forward allegations of harassment may request a confidential meeting with the Chief Human Resources Officer of the House of Commons.
- The Chief Human Resources Officer will meet with the individual to determine appropriate next steps.
- All meetings remain strictly confidential.
- The House Administration stands ready to provide assistance as required.
- The Speaker has also directed that the matter be taken up at the Board of Internal Economy.
Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement said this was 2014 and “these things cannot be swept under any rugs.”
He called for the allegations had to be investigated and “be done by the book.”
But Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told reporters Wednesday there was no book. He said there currently is no established process by which allegations from one MP against another MP -- or even a staff member against an MP -- could be disclosed and investigated appropriately.
“Like workplaces across this country, Parliament needs clear guidelines and procedures for dealing with allegations of serious personal misconduct of this nature,” he said.
The Liberals wrote to the Speaker asking that the Board of Internal Economy, the all-party committee that administers the Commons and meets in secret, establish a process to deal with such allegations.
In a statement, Speaker Andrew Scheer’s office said he had directed the House Administration to make available all internal resources to the individuals involved.
"The Speaker has also directed that the matter be taken up at the Board of Internal Economy at the earliest available opportunity."
Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux told reporters he was very “proud” of what his leader was doing.
UPDATE: Andrews released a statement Wednesday afternoon welcoming an investigation.
"I intend to fully cooperate with answering anyy and all questions from an independent third-party investigator," the statement reads. "I am confident such a process will find that no harassment has occurred."