OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday he was made aware of sexual harassment allegations involving one of his former MPs but would not say why, despite pledging zero tolerance for misconduct, he allowed Marwan Tabbara to run again for the Liberals in 2019.
According to an exclusive CBC News story, Tabbara was green-lit by the Liberals — a decision that took several months to make — despite the fact the party had investigated “detailed allegations of misconduct,” including “inappropriate touching” and sexual remarks towards a female staffer and, according to an anonymous source, found some some of the allegations “substantiated.”
Tabbara, who represents the swing Ontario riding of Kitchener South–Hespeler, was arrested in Guelph on April 10 and charged with two counts of assault, one count of “break and enter and commit an indictable offence,” and one count of criminal harassment. He appeared in court by video conference Friday and is set to return in late August.
Watch: Trudeau, in 2018, discusses how his party handles misconduct claims
Trudeau repeated Friday during his morning press conference that neither he nor the party were aware of the charges until they emerged in the media on June 6.
According to the National Post, Tabbara is alleged to have watched a home in Guelph for three months before the incident that spurred the charges. He spent a night in jail over the Easter weekend.
“It is certainly disappointing as a party leader, that the individual in question never chose to inform the party, of which he was a part of, of these charges,” Trudeau said. “I will let the police and the prosecutors in this case speak for themselves.”
There is a House of Commons rule stating MPs must inform the Speaker of their arrests but it has rarely been followed.
The Guelph Police Service did not release details of Tobbara’s arrest. On June 5, Tabbara announced he was “stepping back” from the Liberal caucus. The 35-year-old MP also said at the time he was receiving treatment for anxiety and depression.
In response to a question by HuffPost Canada, Trudeau said that, as party leader, he was informed of the allegations the party had received regarding Tabbara and of the process that would be followed. But he did not say when he specifically was informed, or why he allowed the Kitchener MP to remain the party’s candidate.
“We always ensure that there is a rigorous process in place whenever there are any sorts of allegations brought forward. We make sure that all the steps are followed, that the conclusions are adhered to, that the recommendations are fulfilled, and of course that confidentiality, which is so important in this situation and in all of these situations, is respected,” he said. “That was the commitment I’ve made to Canadians. It is the commitment that all members of the Liberal party make.”
Trudeau said his party takes all allegations and reports of misconduct very seriously. “That’s something that we have led the way on amongst political parties,” he said.
The standard, however, appears to shift depending on who is involved in the allegations and how public they become.
And this despite Trudeau pledging several times over the years that he has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and other types of inappropriate behaviour.
“The fact that we have no tolerance for this — that we will not brush things under the rug, but we will take action on it immediately — is part of the modelling that we hope to see taken on elsewhere across the Hill, but also throughout workforces and workplaces in Canada,” Trudeau told the Canadian Press back in January 2018.
Not a word was publicly shared about the allegations involving Mr. Tabbara, which according to the CBC date back to the 2015 election campaign.
In 2014, Trudeau suspended two longtime MPs from his caucus, Scott Andrews and Massimo Paccetti, after personally receiving an allegation by a NDP MP. A third-party lawyer was called in to review the matter. Both MPs were eventually permanently banned from the caucus and prevented from running under the Liberals’ banner.
In 2017, Calgary MP Darshan Kang resigned from the caucus after two women came forward with allegations of misconduct. The following year, however, Trudeau let Kent Hehr stay in caucus while allegations of sexual harassment were investigated. In that case, Hehr was allowed to only resign from cabinet.
In 2018, Trudeau’s deputy director of operations, Claude-Éric Gagné resigned after the PMO received the results of an independent investigation into complaints by several women that he acted improperly towards them. He was allowed to continue in his post during the investigation.
Trudeau has also had to answer an allegation he inappropriately touched a female reporter two decades ago at a music festival in B.C. before entering political life.
In all cases, the men denied wrongdoing.
Freeland: Government takes harassment ‘very, very seriously’
Trudeau also declined to say Friday if he was aware of any internal, informal or third-party investigations involving allegations of misconduct about any of his current caucus members.
At a later press conference in Ottawa, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was asked what message it sent that Tabbara remained the candidate and now faces criminal charges.
“Look, let me just be very clear that our government…and I personally take the reality of sexual harassment very, very seriously,” she said. “We’re a feminist government and... the case that you referred to is very disappointing and troubling for us all. It is being investigated very carefully by us now.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story spelled Marwan Tabbara’s last name as ‘Tabarra’. This has been corrected.