03/24/2017 05:46 EDT

Trudeau Responds To Liberal's 'Stripper Pole' Comment To Tory MP

Nicola Di Iorio made the quip to Conservative MP Dianne Watts after her phone rang during a meeting.

The prime minister confirms there’s a process "now properly underway" to address a comment a Liberal MP made to a Conservative colleague, likening her to a stripper.

Earlier this month, MP Dianne Watts' phone rang during a public safety committee meeting, setting off a "jaunty” ringtone, reported the National Post.

The ringtone, which you can listen to here, prompted Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel MP Nicola Di Iorio to quip: “Where’s your pole to slide down on?”

MP Dianne Watts wants the prime minister to intervene after a Liberal MP made a “suggestive” comment to her during a meeting. (Photo: Facebook)

When asked about the story in Boisbriand, Que., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated his pledge to gender equality.

“One of the things that we brought in a number of years ago around issues such as this, as a part of my commitment to gender equality, to a harassment-free workplace, is ... an actual process that will be there to deal with issues of this sort,” he said.

Watts and Di Iorio were in a room with upwards of 25 people, including other MPs and their staff at the time. She told the National Post she was surprised to hear the comment and asked, “I beg your pardon?”

Di Iorio then repeated the comment, she told the newspaper. He later approached her and said that he guessed by her facial reaction that she didn’t find his comment funny.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives a standing ovation at the National Caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 24, 2017. (Photo: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

A spokesman for chief government whip Pablo Rodriguez told The Huffington Post Canada on Thursday “appropriate action” had been taken and that Di Iorio apologized.

“Mr. Di Iorio offered an apology to Ms. Watts and explained no word that he himself uttered was intended to offend, he offered that apology again earlier this week,” said Rodriguez’s chief of staff Charles-Eric Lépine in an email.

“All members agree that any form of inappropriate language or behaviour is unacceptable. Every Member of Parliament has the right to a safe and respectful working environment and we take this responsibility seriously.”

Tory MP ‘pretty frustrated’

Watts’ Conservative colleague Candice Bergen told reporters in the House of Commons Friday she doesn’t accept that Liberals have framed Di Iorio’s follow-up exchange to Watts as an apology.

“I'm – I'm pretty frustrated that this Prime Minister and these Liberals, who tout themselves as feminists and – and protecting women, would go to that position of well, she's overreacted or, well, we said sorry, so what's the big deal,” she said.

Bergen was then asked how she would interpret Di Iorio's original comment if it were said to her.

“I think most everybody, unfortunately, would think of a stripper pole,” she said.

Watts: Up to PM to address ‘very inappropriate’ comment

In a statement Thursday, Watts confirmed the exchange and said “there should be no place or time where such comments are acceptable.”

She urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take action where appropriate.

“A suggestive and very inappropriate comment directed at me was made by a Liberal MP during a Public Safety Committee meeting in March which left me, staff, and other Members of Parliament feeling very uncomfortable,” Watts said.

Di Iorio’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The public safety committee meeting was on March 8, which happened to coincide with International Women’s Day. Prior to the meeting, Di Iorio shared statements on social media commemorating the day.

“Let’s continue to join forces to be leaders within our own spheres of influence by taking pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity for a more inclusive, gender equal world,” read the statement posted to his Facebook page.

The Liberal government has made a concerted policy effort to support gender equality following stories of female NDPs experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace in 2014.

There were no processes to handle allegations of sexual harassment between members of Parliament at the time.

Since then, the federal government drafted and enforced a Harassment Prevention Policy Program to deal with such situations.

Last December, House administration launched an online training session on harassment prevention for members and their employees.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Geoff Regan re-circulated an email encouraging members to participate in the training “to ensure a healthy and harassment-free workplace.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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