, 12.18.2017 08:42 AM

Column: #MeToo, Ottawa, and what to do if it happens to you

That didn’t take long.

Last Monday Monday morning, this space wondered why the #MeToo movement had yet to alight in Ottawa.  Seventy-two hours later – and just as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was about to take the stage at his annual Christmas party – TVA broke a major story: a senior staff person in Trudeau’s own office was under investigation.

TVA was the first to disclose that Trudeau’s deputy director of operations, Claude-Éric Gagné, was being investigated for “inappropriate behavior.”  Gagné has been on leave since November, TVA reported.While Gagné’s name is known, Trudeau actually refuses to name him. The Prime Minister is also refusing to provide any details about the allegations, but CBC News has confirmed what TVA first revealed – that the alleged wrongdoer was Gagné, and that the allegations involved “inappropriate behaviour.”

Problematic, here, is this: (a) we don’t know who the investigator is (b) we don’t know his or her mandate (c) we don’t know who is paying him or her and (d) we don’t know what powers the independent investigator actually has.  We need to.

A principle of natural law is that you cannot investigate yourself. For this probe to be meaningful, the independent investigator needs to truly investigate – and truly be independent.

That said, Gagné – who is innocent until proven otherwise, of course – is perhaps the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  For days, Ottawa’s corridors of power having been buzzing about a coming media bombshell.  A major news organization has been probing sexual misconduct by elected and unelected officials.  And the expectation is that the revelations will bring to a speedy (and deserved) end to many political careers.

That, too, is one of the most positive outcomes of the #MeToo cultural revolution: since the Harvey Weinstein story broke, many victims have felt that they can finally step forward, and name names.  They have finally felt that they will be believed.  They need to be.

Case in point: after the Hill Times published my column, this writer received multiple calls, emails and direct messages about the two men I’d written about.  Two women stated that they, too, had been harassed by the nameless former journalist, and provided new details about what had happened to them.  And one individual – with intimate knowledge of Ottawa’s journalistic and political heavy-hitters – confirmed that statements about the other man, apparently in the form of affidavits, exist.

Hollywood, major media organizations, Capitol Hill in Washington: in recent weeks, all of these places have seen harassers, abusers and rapists driven out.  It was highly unlikely, then, that Ottawa would continue to be immune.  During this writer’s days on the Hill – working as a Special Assistant to Jean Chretien and then as a Chief of Staff – stories about sexual misconduct were endemic.  It is highly unlikely, in the intervening years, that the problem has disappeared.  The names of these “men” were known.

Why not name names, then?  Because it is up to the victims to decide that, and not anyone else. One of the women I heard from told me a horrible story about a man still working on Parliament Hill.  She provided a great deal of detail.  But she made clear that she did not want her name used, or the story told now.  Her wishes need to be respected.

But, for the many other women who have endured in silence, and who are now considering whether it is time to tell their story, we say: it is also your decision.  It can only be your decision.  But you are not without options.

Here is a list of places you can turn to:

  • House of Commons Chief Human Resources Officer: Pierre Parent oversees the office that investigates abuse complaints on the Hill. His phone number is 613-992-0100.
    His email is parent@parl.gc.ca.
  • House Respectful Workplaces Program: Myriam Beauparlant manages this program, and ultimately reports to Parent. Her phone number is 613-996-2068.  Her email is beauparlant@parl.gc.ca.
  • Party Whips: Some complaints originate with the main party whips – which can problematic for women who want to make complaints about the whip’s partisan colleagues, of course. That said, there is no evidence that any of the whips have been anything but diligent during the lifespan of the current Parliament.  The Liberal whip, then, is Pablo Rodriguez, at 613-995-0580.  His email is rodriguez@parl.gc.ca.  The Conservative whip is Mark Strahl, at 613-995-2291 and mark.strahl@parl.gc.ca.  The NDP whip, finally, is Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, and her number is 613-992-0336, while her email is marjolaine.boutin-sweet@parl.gc.ca.
  • Police: Many cases of sexual harassment constitute a crime.  For those who have been the victim of one, the mandate of the RCMP’s Parliamentary Protective Service includes providing police services to Parliamentarians, Hill employees and visitors.  They have policing jurisdiction over the Hill.  Their inquiries number is (613) 943-6530; their email PPSCommsSPP@pps-spp.parl.gc.ca.

For those who have heard or experienced something, there is always the news media – who, in Canada and the United States, have been at the forefront of exposing sexual harassment and sexual violence cases.  And, in official Ottawa, a good media listener is never hard to find.

Whatever route you choose – and however much you wish to keep confidential – is up to you.  And only you can now if it is time to tell your story.

But if this man can provide two pieces of advice, it is this: if you do not act, the abuser will almost certainly continue to abuse other women.

And, of course, there has never been a better time than now.

Because #MeToo is working.

1 Comment

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    Obvious Sock-puppet #12 says:

    Well done — giving the resource info, I mean.

    Opinions are fine, and entertaining outrage are … options. But offering resources is doing something.

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