OTTAWA - Craig Scott, a New Democrat MP and former law professor, said to the Liberals that what he was told happened to one of his female colleagues could be defined as an alleged sexual assault, multiple sources have told The Canadian Press.
It was Scott's second-hand assessment of the alleged conduct that prompted Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's decision to suspend two members of his caucus, said the sources, who were not authorized to release details.
They say Scott, a Toronto MP and former Osgoode Hall law professor, was involved in behind-the-scenes discussions about complaints by two female New Democrat MPs about the conduct of Liberals Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews.
During a third meeting between Liberal and NDP whips on Oct. 30, Scott — who had accompanied one of the complainants to the meeting — explicitly said that based on what he'd been told about one of the allegations, it "constituted a criminal act, namely sexual assault," said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Neither woman has gone to the police with their allegations and, thus far, both have refused to pursue their complaints through either a formal investigation or informal mediation.
Scott could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Nycole Turmel, the NDP whip, said Tuesday she doesn't recall whether or not he referred to a criminal act.
A week after the Oct. 30 meeting, Trudeau suspended Pacetti and Andrews over what he described as complaints of "serious personal misconduct" lodged by two other MPs.
Trudeau did not identify the names, gender or party affiliation of the complainants, although it later emerged that they were female New Democrats. And he has refused since then to elaborate on the nature of the complaints.
Pacetti and Andrews have both insisted they've done nothing wrong, yet they remain in limbo as parliamentarians grapple with how to handle a sexual misconduct dispute between two MPs — a scenario for which there is currently no process.
Neither Pacetti nor Andrews have been heard from since the day they were suspended, and neither responded immediately Tuesday to a request for comment.
The multi-party board of internal economy, which oversees the operation of the House of Commons, concluded Tuesday that it has no mandate to develop a process. It punted the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee.
Speaker Andrew Scheer, meanwhile, responded to Liberal whip Judy Foote's request for an independent investigation into the complaints by a neutral third party. In a letter to Foote, he said she and Turmel have been offered the impartial and confidential use of House administration resources as well as "external experts."
But he also noted that "the most successful resolution of any harassment complaint relies on the willingness of all involved parties to come together to address the issues."
Should the women continue to refuse to pursue the matter, that will put Trudeau in a particularly sticky bind.
Does he consider the matter closed and readmit the two suspended MPs to the Liberal caucus? Or does he permanently bar them from caucus, without being able to reveal the precise nature of the allegations against them?
Trudeau refused to speculate on that Tuesday. But Liberal insiders said it's possible the party could hire its own independent investigator to review notes that were taken by a Liberal staff member during the behind-the-scenes discussions that led up to the suspensions. That would include details of the complaints by the two New Democrats, Scott's intervention and the rebuttals by the two Liberals, all of whom took part in the discussions.
Turmel and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair repeatedly said it's up to Trudeau to decide what to do about his MPs. They said their only concern is protecting the women from further trauma.
"They want to go on with their lives," Turmel said, adding that one of the NDP MPs is in therapy.
In the absence of a formal complaint, the NDP's justice critic, Francoise Boivin, said Trudeau should have delivered a verbal warning to Pacetti and Andrews and left it at that.
"It seems to me that any lawyer would have advised a person that if there is no complaint, there's not much you can do," said Boivin, who is herself a lawyer.
But Trudeau countered he had little choice, given the seriousness of the allegations.
"I received, directly and personally, an extremely serious complaint on the behaviour of two of my MPs. I had a responsibility to act and I acted."
The board of internal economy adopted some interim measures Tuesday, including allowing MPs to avail themselves of mediation under the process already in place for House of Commons staff.
However, Turmel said the NDP complainants aren't interested and Mulcair went so far as to doubt such a process exists.
Mulcair clarified that he knew only partial information about one of the complaints before the matter burst into the open two weeks ago. Other members of his team were aware of other details.
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