Categories for Feature

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
  • House Respectful Workplaces Program: Myriam Beauparlant manages this program, and ultimately reports to Parent. Her phone number is 613-996-2068.  Her email is
  • 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  The Conservative whip is Mark Strahl, at 613-995-2291 and  The NDP whip, finally, is Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, and her number is 613-992-0336, while her email is
  • 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

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.

DoFo Hoho NoMo

You can’t shine Shinola, Ramona. Nice Ford Nation bumpersticker, BTW.

A poll suggesting Doug Ford trails Mayor John Tory by single digits ahead of next fall’s election is “flawed” and could misguide Toronto voters, an experienced pollster warns.

The Firm Digital, a new polling agency, released the results of a poll it claims reached 15,576 Torontonians. In addition to showing a far tighter race for mayor than established pollsters suggest, it also put out ward-by-ward lists in early December purporting to show the re-election chances of local councillors.

CBC Toronto is not publishing the full polling results because of a number of concerns raised by its internal research department, primarily that the poll lacks a randomized sample.

However, Doug Ford and at least one city councillor have trumpeted the results, while the Toronto Sun also ran an article on the research — although unlike the politicians the newspaper noted the results are controversial.

…Ramona Benson heads The Firm Digital, a new polling company that says it’s completed the largest poll on Toronto’s mayoral race to date. (Submitted by Ramona Benson)

Benson is not your typical pollster. Using her full name, Ramona Benson Singh, she ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in Richmond Hill in 2014, and also hosts a community-level television show on Rogers. 

Recently, Benson has appeared in Facebook videos for Ontario Proud, a social media group devoted to attacking Premier Kathleen Wynne and the provincial Liberals.


I asked when #MeToo would hit Ottawa, and then it did

A few days ago, I wrote a column – which the Hill Times published, but HuffPo refused to, because they didn’t want to do anything that might identify the sexual harasser – about why #MeToo hadn’t hit Ottawa yet.  Because, God knows, there’s plenty of wrongdoing taking place up there, too.

Well, last night – as Justin Trudeau was about to speak at his annual Christmas party – this hit:

A staff member in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office is on leave from his position as deputy director of operations and a third-party investigation has been launched after allegations of inappropriate behaviour were made against him.

TVA, a French-language television network, first reported that Claude-Éric Gagné, the deputy director of operations in the PMO, is being investigated for inappropriate behaviour and has been on forced leave since early November while the investigation takes place.

The PMO is refusing to identify the staffer involved or provide any details of the allegations being made against them but a source confirmed to CBC News that the allegations are against Gagné and involve inappropriate behaviour.

So, there you go: the highest office in the land has apparently got this problem, too.

If you read on in the story, a PMO spokesperson says an “independent investigator” is looking into this.

Forgive me for being a lawyer and all that, but (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 is particularly the case when the office being investigated has virtually unlimited power.

P.S. There were two men referred to in my column. Many people seemed to figure out who the journalist was. But I only heard from one person who knew who the other guy was.

About those by-elections

The Newfoundland-Labrador one, no big surprise.  (But the NDP result? Ouch.)

The Ontario one, also no surprise. (But congrats to Ms. Yip – Arnold is smiling, today.)

The Saskatchewan one, no surprise.  (The slide in LPC vote, not so great, true.)

But the B.C. by-election? That was big, folks.  That was huge.  The Liberals – for the second time this Fall – have flipped a seat from blue to red.  (Congrats to Mr. Hogg, who I have had the pleasure to meet a few times, back in my B.C. Liberal days.)

It sure would be fun to be a fly on the wall at that federal Conservative caucus meeting, tomorrow morning, wouldn’t it?  Few will say it out loud, but I know they are thinking it:

Andrew Scheer was the wrong pick.  He is more than a dud – he’s a disaster.

And, if anyone is going to guarantee Justin Trudeau a second big majority win, it’s him.  (Oh, and followed closely by Jagmeet Singh, who has entered into a witness protection program.)

A good year, politically, for Liberals.  Not so much for the other guys.

Toronto Star on Recipe For Hate: it’s “of interest to anyone interested in punk culture!”

Hey! The good folks at the Star wrote about Recipe For Hate – thank you, Sarah Murdoch!  My punk rock credentials are estimable – which, my dictionary tells me, means “worthy of respect!”

Recipe For Hate, Warren Kinsella, Dundurn

Warren Kinsella is known mostly as a political operative and pundit, but he also has estimable punk-rock credentials (as punk historian and as bass player in SFH, which bills itself as Canada’s best-loved geriatric punk band). This YA novel is “loosely” based on real-life events, and concerns the murder of two teenagers in 1979 in Portland, Ore., then the epicentre of the punk scene. It will be of interest to anyone interested in punk culture — not just the music, but the fanzines, art and writing of the period. Bonus: The author has curated a Recipe For Hate online punk playlist for uneasy listening.

Column: why hasn’t #MeToo hit Ottawa?

It’s hit Hollywood.  It’s taken down big names in the media.  All over Capitol Hill in Washington, too.

So why hasn’t the #MeToo movement claimed any of the creeps crawling through Ottawa’s corridor of power?

Because, God knows, there’s plenty of dirty old (and young) men up there.  The stories are legion.  So, where is the #MeToo coming out of political Ottawa?  Where are the men of Parliament Hill, solemnly pledging #HowIWillChange?

We are in the midst (hopefully) of a profound transformation:  Matt Lauer; Harvey Weinstein; Al Franken; Kevin Spacey; Mark Halperin; Charlie Rose; Glenn Thrush; Louis C.K.; Roy Moore; Russell Simmons; Steven Segal; Dustin Hoffman.  And dozens more – accused of, and guilty of, everything from rape to inappropriate sexual remarks.

It is extraordinary, it is positive, and it is overdue.  As jarring and as unpleasant as the details may be, we seem to be on the cusp of an actual change in the culture.

Everywhere but in Ottawa, that is.

Here’s a tale, in which the names have been omitted to protect the victim.  It’s not by any means recent, but it is still relevant.

Way back when, when I was student council president, a friend at Carleton’s journalism school told me that a prominent broadcast journalist was sexually harassing her and threatening her.  He told her she would never work in journalism if she didn’t give him what he wanted. She was very upset; she was crying.  I believed her.

I called his boss to complain – and to say, as student council president, I didn’t want this man on campus.  I told him what my friend had told me.  I told him my friend would not make this up.  The boss told me someone at CBC would get back to me.

No one ever did.  Instead, I later ran into the prominent broadcaster at a political event I’d organized.  He looked at me, almost with delight.  “Ah, the famous Warren Kinsella,” he said.  That night, he and the CBC broadcast a venomous, one-sided hatchet job on my candidate, and me.

The broadcaster?  He stayed employed at CBC, and later got a plum political appointment.  He’s still on the Hill, too.  My friend? She never ended up fulfilling her dream of working as a broadcast journalist.

And me?  I learned a lesson: powerful men in Ottawa have power, and they know how to use it.  They know how to get what they want.

There are other such stories, much more current.  Not long ago, I was told of allegations made by some young people about a very, very powerful man in Ottawa.  I did not see the statements, so I do not know the specific allegations made therein, as the lawyers would say.

But these allegations – which were confirmed to exist, by multiple people who would know – describe a profound imbalance in power.  They describe how this very, very powerful man used his power to get what he wanted sexually.

There are many other such stories, involving elected men and male staffers in all of the political parties.  All of us who work on the Hill, or who have worked there, have come across these stories.  We have seen some of the evidence.  We have heard from the victims.

In my case, I tried.  I did what I could.  It didn’t work out.

But that doesn’t mean we should give up.  That doesn’t mean we should look the other way, either.

Young people occasionally come see me to get advice about how to get involved in campaigns, or how to work for a particular candidate.  I always tell them the same three things: one, work only for those who share your passion for an issue.  Two, work only for those who believe in something other than power.  Three, work only for those who treat their own families – and strangers – with the utmost respect.

Because, I tell them, if they treat their wives like dirt, they will treat you like you are less than dirt.

Personally, I have had the great fortune to work for three men who married their high school/university sweethearts – Jean Chretien, Dalton McGuinty and John Tory.  All three men always treated strangers, and their wives and their families, with respect.  All three have conducted themselves with decency and probity.  Always.

Such men still exist.  Not every man in Canadian political life is a scumbag.

But, in Ottawa nowadays, the silence is deafening.  It is impossible – impossible – that #MeToo stories can’t be found on Parliament Hill.

So why isn’t anyone telling them?


I stand with Trudeau

We used to be friends, we had a falling out.  And: he has a very different style than my guy, the Shawinigan Strangler.  We were the undersell and overperform gang, you know?  We were more fiscally conservative, we didn’t bet the house on rookies, and (I think) we were a bit more adept on the international stage.

But – upon reading this David Akin report – I’ve never been more proud of Justin Trudeau, and never more happy that he is presently Prime Minister.  Why?  Well, as I get older, and as I get closer to the grave – and as I regularly tell friends and family – I find myself becoming far less partisan than I was in my youth.  These days, I tend to think the differences between the Canadian political parties is pretty negligible.  And, these days, I am a great admirer of pretty much everyone who dares enter public life.

As such, as I prepare to shuffle off to something else, my only partisanship is increasingly my first love, journalism.  I evaluate every politician’s worth, these days, through the prism of journalism.  If they promote a free and flourishing media (like the aforementioned Trudeau), I’m a fan.  If they don’t (like Donald Trump and Melanie Joly), I’m not.

In the Trump era, where political/governmental institutions are failing us, and the only people defending democracy seem to work at the New York Times and the Washington Post and CNN, a free press has never been more important.  Democracy is literally at stake.

Ipso facto, here’s David Akin, who clearly was as impressed as I was.  To me, Trudeau’s words, below, should be inscribed on the wall of every journalism school in Canada.

On Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s last day of a week-long visit to China — a week in which he had done his best to be a gracious guest and not say anything remotely controversial about the dictatorship that was hosting him — Trudeau said something rather remarkable.

It may even be historic.

Speaking on Chinese soil, in the presence of several members of China’s obsequious state media, he said that reporters play an essential “challenge function.”

He told his Chinese hosts that “traditional media” — a traditional media which, in his own country, has been, at times, harsh, unfair, and ungenerous to him personally as well as to his own government — he said traditional media play “an essential role … in the success of the society.”

Journalists. Essential.

In the age of Trump and #FakeNews, this is heady stuff.

It is to Trudeau’s great credit that he said these things and said them in China!

He was not delivering prepared remarks on the value of journalism to grad students at a Canadian university.

He was speaking off the top of his head, from his heart, in response to a question put to him in the midst of a 45-minute press conference in a communist country where independent-minded journalists go to jail.

Trudeau was prompted to make these comments about the value of an independent and free press because a reporter had asked him if his Chinese hosts had intimated that criticism of China in the Canadian press was making it difficult for his government to advance talks on a Canada-China free trade deal.

If the Canadian media was a thorn in Trudeau’s side, he refused to say so. Instead, Trudeau clearly indicated that this was not only the price he was willing to pay, if that was, in fact, true, it was a price he was happy to pay.

“Allow me to take a moment to thank members of the media,” Trudeau began. “You play an essential role: a challenge function, an information function. It’s not easy at the best of times. These are not the best of times with the transitions and challenges undergoing traditional media right now and I really appreciate the work that you do.”

But he was not done. He acknowledged that the spin masters in any political operation from any party these days are set up precisely to make the job of an independent and free press harder.

“We make your job difficult,” he said, acknowledging his complicity, as a successful politician, in trying to manipulate journalists for his own political gain.

I want to underline, once again, that this acknowledgment came on Chinese soil, in a country where the government’s spin — the government’s propaganda — is the only thing one can read in a Chinese newspaper or see on a Chinese television broadcast.

“External factors make your job difficult,” Trudeau said. “But it’s an essential role that you play in the success of the society. That is my perspective. That is a perspective shared by many and it’s one that I am very happy to repeat today.”