12/11/2014 06:53 EST | Updated 12/12/2014 10:59 EST

Andrea Horwath Tight-Lipped On Ex-NDP Candidate Accused Of Sexual Assault

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath stonewalled reporters Thursday when asked whether a former candidate accused of sexually assaulting a young staffer will be able to run again for the party.

Horwath refused to answer questions about the candidate, only saying that the party has followed its “very, very strong” anti-harassment policy and that she is proud of the policy.

Former NDP staffer Genevieve Ratelle went public with her story on Thursday in an interview with HuffPost Canada, saying she was harassed and attacked by the former candidate earlier this year. She was working with him on his campaign during the provincial election when she says he made unwanted sexual advances and forced himself on her. She later filed a complaint with the Ontario NDP and has also reported the incident to police.

Horwath told reporters she was briefed on the case the day the story broke.

“I understood that there was a matter that the party was dealing with,” she said. “I got fully briefed on it today.”

She later said she couldn’t recall when she had first heard about the matter. When asked about whether the candidate will run again, she referred reporters to the sexual harassment policy.

When asked by a reporter why she was only briefed on the details of the allegations Thursday, Horwath referred him again to the party’s harassment policy. She referred reporters to the policy at least nine times.

The Ontario NDP provided a copy of the policy to HuffPost Canada, which makes no mention of the party leader.

Half of the two-page policy is devoted to discussing what constitutes harassment. The rest gives a broad outline of how a victim should handle making a complaint.

It says a victim of harassment should first inform the person who has harassed them that his or her “behaviour is unwelcome.”

If that does not resolve the complaint, the victim is told to talk to one of the “designated representatives.” The policy does not make clear who these representatives are.

If the representative can’t resolve the dispute, the complainant is directed to write to the party’s provincial secretary and the “designated representatives.”

They will then look into the complaint to determine if harassment has taken place. If so, they will take “appropriate action”, and the policy lists examples such as compelling an apology or handing down a reprimand or expulsion.

Ratelle wrote the NDP’s provincial secretary, Darlene Lawson, a letter detailing the allegations in mid-August, two months after the candidate was defeated. In the email, Ratelle requested that the candidate be barred from running for the NDP at the provincial or federal level ever again.

Lawson told Ratelle the matter would be addressed and followed-up with her by phone. She later informed Ratelle that her complaint would be shared with the federal party. She offered Ratelle the option of participating in a mediation process, which she accepted. However the accused candidate refused to take part.

Ratelle also said the Ontario NDP staff told her that they had never been faced with a situation where the alleged aggressor would not participate in a mediation process. She said that they told her they would meet about it on Monday and get back to her.

The NDP harassment policy is vague about what might come next. The mediation process is not mentioned in the policy either.

During a meeting with Ontario NDP staff, Ratelle said she was told the party would keep her allegations on file and she was encouraged to contact a rape crisis centre and to follow through with her wish to go to the police.

Ratelle told HuffPost that she has heard her alleged attacker wants to be a candidate for the NDP in the 2015 federal election and that she is frustrated that he has not been publicly barred from doing so.

Federal party spokesman George Soule said earlier this week that the no candidate has been approved in the riding in question.

Ratelle has said she is not seeking to embarrass the party and that she is still as supporter.

“I don't want to give a bad image to the party,” she said, “but I do want to prevent [him] from running again.”

With files from Althia Raj

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