Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sexual Harassment in the Halls of Parliament

In the last parliament two Liberal MPs were expelled from their caucus after allegations surfaced that they had sexual harassed New Democratic parliamentarians. It was reported earlier this week that former MPP Kim Craitor (OLP - Niagara Falls) was pushed to resign in light of a sexual harassment complaint. The public was never informed that this was the reason for Craitor's retirement. Craitor denies this and is a current city councillor.

Samara Canada, a non-profit organization that explores Canadians engagement in their democracy, filed a report in 2015 looking at Question Period and suggested that heckling and decorum of the House helped to create a toxic atmosphere that disproportionately impacted women. At the time I was skeptical of the report. I think aggressive, spirited debate is valuable. The sexism and name-calling are uncalled for, but suggesting that MPs should never heckle or boo each other I think tamped down the life of the House of Commons.

The type of sexual harassment we have come to expect is a politician taking advantage of an inferior, see Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. This is a horrendous abuse of power, but the fact that our representatives have to bear up under this treatment is stunning. Michelle Remple (CPC - Calgary Nose Hill, AB) recently wrote an op-ed talking about her experiences, including inappropriate touching. Rempel's position was endorsed by her colleagues.

Solutions to this type of problem are not obvious. Typically in human resources these instances are tried to be handled quietly for the dignity and privacy of the victim. On the other hand there is the right of the public and voters to be informed of their politicians' behaviour. I know if my MP/MPP was accused of sexual harassment I would like to know about it. Any process that works quietly and behind closed doors are at risk of falling victim to partisan manipulation and sweeping allegations under the rug.

One hopes that over time the toxic misogyny that exists in the House of Commons is driven out as it should be in the rest of society. There are no guarantees. What is clear is that MPs require training, like any workplace, and must have real consequences for their actions, but finding the balance that works for both the public interest and the theoretical victims will be difficult.

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