04/09/2018 13:02 EDT | Updated 04/09/2018 13:45 EDT

Ontario MPP Michael Harris Removed From PC Caucus Over Ex-Intern's Sexual Harassment Accusations

He is disqualified from running for re-election under the party banner.

Michael Harris/Facebook
Ontario MPP Michael Harris is shown in an image from his Facebook page.

TORONTO — An Ontario Progressive Conservative legislator has been removed from caucus and disqualified from running for re-election under the Tory banner after facing sexual harassment allegations from a former intern.

In a statement issued Monday, the Tories said the decision to oust Michael Harris followed evidence the party received on Friday that included a written complaint from a former intern dating back to 2013.

The party said they also obtained a series of text messages "of a sexual nature" between the intern and Harris, which included a request for her to send him photos, an invitation for her to meet with him late at night and a reference to something that may have taken place in his office at Queen's Park.

Earlier: Doug Ford on the #MeToo movement

The statement said Harris was asked about the issue and only denied that a formal complaint was ever made.

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford declined to comment on the allegations but caucus chair Lisa Thompson said he had been briefed on the issue and had taken "immediate action."

"We take allegations very very seriously, zero tolerance — anything less than zero tolerance is unacceptable," Thompson said.

Asked why it took several days for the party to remove Harris from caucus — he was sitting with the Tories in the legislature Monday morning — Thompson would only say that she learned of the allegations Monday.

Harris could not immediately be reached for comment Monday, but said over the weekend he had chosen not to run in the spring election for medical reasons.

Harris said he won't run again because of health issues

"It has been an incredibly difficult decision to make, but I know for the sake of my health, it is the right call," he said in a statement Saturday, adding he would seek a corneal replacement for a progressive eye disease.

He left the House without speaking to reporters Monday.

Harris, 38, is a married father of four who was first elected to the provincial legislature in 2011. He was subsequently re-elected in 2014 and has served as opposition critic for transportation and research, innovation and science.

His wife Sarah told the Waterloo Record over the weekend that she was considering running in his place in the June election.

The Tories said their nominations committee reviewed the evidence and unanimously decided to bar Harris from seeking re-election in his riding of Kitchener-Conestoga. They said the party also decided to remove him from caucus effective immediately.

The allegations come months after the Tories' former leader, Patrick Brown, resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has consistently denied.