11/24/2014 03:04 EST | Updated 01/24/2015 05:59 EST

Ontario premier supports legislative committee on sexual harassment

TORONTO - Premier Kathleen Wynne agreed Monday to a Progressive Conservative request for a legislative committee to study the issues of sexual harassment and assault, but the Opposition accused her of playing politics.

Tory Laurie Scott had asked for a select committee with equal representation from all three parties to study sexual harassment ever since allegations against former CBC radio star Jian Ghomeshi surfaced last month, and was not happy with the offer of a Liberal-dominated standing committee.

"We want equal representation from all the parties to make it non-partisan so victims feel comfortable in coming forward," said Scott. "By sending it to the standing committee, dominated by the government, it's not equal."

Wynne finally responded to Scott's request Monday with a letter offering to have a standing committee look at the issue of sexual harassment at work and to expand its scope to include sexual violence anywhere in Ontario.

"Sexual violence and harassment is a reality in every community in this province," wrote Wynne. "In every workplace, every campus, every context, we can and must do better."

The "stark reality" is that thousands of women and men experience harassment and violence but do not feel safe about coming forward, added Wynne.

"We are failing these victims, and I believe that continued dialogue about this issue is an important step towards changing it," she wrote.

The New Democrats also accused the Liberals of playing politics, noting the Conservatives have an opposition-day motion scheduled this week to debate their call for a select committee on sexual harassment in the workplace.

"It's about one-upping," said NDP finance critic Catherine Fife. "Clearly the premier just tried to trump the Conservatives in this, and we have no patience for that."

Tracy MacCharles, the minister responsible for women's issues, said the government felt the PC motion "was a bit narrow," but added the Liberals are open to changing the makeup of the committee.

"I'm hopeful the house leaders will work together on whatever the best approach is, whether that's a standing committee or a select committee," said MacCharles. "The most important thing from (our) perspective is that we take as broad a view as we can on this very serious issue."

Wynne insisted she wanted to "depoliticize" the discussion about sexual harassment so the committee hears from a broad range of people.

"I do not see this committee as being about writing just another set of protocols that will be on a piece of paper on a wall or in an office," she said at an Ottawa news conference.

"I'm not saying there won't be new rules — there may be good suggestions about what kind of changes, either legislative or regulatory (that should be made) — but I believe that we're dealing with cultural norms that need to be shifted."

Ghomeshi was fired after the CBC said it saw "graphic evidence" that he had caused injury to a woman. In all, nine women have come forward with allegations that Ghomeshi sexually or physically assaulted them and police are investigating complaints by at least three of them.

The former "Q" host has filed a lawsuit against the CBC alleging defamation and breach of confidence. He has argued in a Facebook posting that he engaged in "rough sex" with women, but said it was always consensual.

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