Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Politics of Sexual Harassment

Scott Andrews (IND - Avalon, NL) has announced that he has abandoned his hopes to rejoin the Liberal Party and will continue to sit as an independent. He said as much in a statement he gave to the press, but the statement itself is quite troubling. In it he claimed that he accepted the findings of Cynthia Peterson, who was appointed by Justin Trudeau (LPC - Papineau, QC) to lead the investigation, but would not air his objections to appear "mean-spirited".

It's an interesting tactic. The findings by Peterson are confidential to protect the victims, yet Andrews' final remarks that the findings are frustrating, and assumed by him to be inaccurate, clouds the authenticity of the claims. This is nothing new and nothing surprising. Victims of abuse are subjected to rigorous and thorough character examinations (or assassinations) while their attackers are carefully considered to prevent ruinous effects to their careers and public images. No, this process is not exclusive to politics.

Source: The Canadian Press.
The Liberals will exclude Mr. Andrews and Mr. Massimo Pacetti from their caucus and this is likely the end of their political careers. Though Mr. Andrews suggested that he might consider a run as an independent.

Andrews said something during a statement to the media that particularly irked me. He said, "I have learned a lot about myself through the past few months, and particularly how my jovial Newfoundland friendliness can be received." The culture and character of Newfoundlanders is somewhat legendary in this country. The allegations against Mr. Andrews and Mr. Pacetti have never been made clear, but I have to assume that they were more than ribald wit to cause MPs from another party to come forward to ask for action.

By blaming the 'friendly' Newfoundland culture Mr. Andrews besmirches the character of Newfoundlanders and minimizes what he may have done. I suppose it's possible that Mr. Andrews does not recall whatever it is he did and that it why he is mischaracterizing it, but it seems an obvious attempt to turn harassment into 'harmless fun'. The implication is that if his accusers loosened up, or took the joke the way it was intended all would be well.

The troubling aspect of this case, primarily, is that it occurred at the central institution of Canadian politics. The other is the partisan nature of the discussion and the fog surrounding it. I am not asking the victims to reveal themselves and all the details be made clear, but this public ignorance allows Andrews to minimalize his actions.

In closing I would like to remind my readers of this piece by Laura Payton about sexual harassment in the halls of power in this country. We should not and must not view this as an isolated incident, but a rare public airing of some very disturbing laundry. I think we often forget politicians are human beings, and when we do remember it's to cast them as Shakespearean or House of Cards-style villains. They are people. The capital is a workplace and harassment can only be stamped out through a change in the culture and work practices.

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