Sexual allegations against high profiled Canadian politicians dominated the first day back in the House of Commons.
Members of Parliament returned to Ottawa on Jan. 29 for the resumption of Parliament following a weekend filled with accusations of sexual misconduct lobbied against former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown and former federal Liberal Minister of Sports and Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr.
Brown and Hehr quickly stepped down from their respective roles shortly after the allegations were posted online. Both have denied any wrongdoings and the allegations against Brown were before he was leader of the Ontario PC party.
Following the news, the Liberal government made sure to put the spotlight back on a proposed amendment in the Canada Labour Code to strengthen the existing framework in order to prevent harassment and violence including sexual harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. The proposed Bill C-65, originally introduced in November, received bipartisan support.
Conservative MP for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan Garnett Genuis said his party wants to see the bill move forward.
“The #MeToo movement, inviting women to bring light to instances of previously undiscussed sexual harassment and assault, until this weekend, had not had such a powerful impact on Canadian politics,” Genuis said in the House.
“In these types of cases, legitimate and important discussions are happening about the presumption of innocence and the need for due process. The presumption of innocence is central in criminal law, but I would also submit that people have to make judgments about their political leaders and their suitability for leadership all the time in the absence of absolute certainty.”
Genuis went on to praised the women who made the allegations for stepping forward, especially an Edmonton woman who has received death threats after speaking out about her experiences with Hehr.
He said there might be some men in positions of power wondering if they might be vulnerable to unproven accusations but Genuis argued people need to use reasonable judgement to decide whether or not someone is ill-suited for a position in high office.
Liberal Minister of Employment Patty Hajdu said the bill demonstrates the government’s commitment to eliminating harassment and violence in federal workplaces.
“We take this action because our government recognizes that safe workplaces, free of harassment and violence, are critical to the well-being of Canadian workers and critical to our agenda of a strong middle class,” she said. “We have been powerfully reminded in Canada, and indeed around the world, that harassment and violence remain a common experience for people in the workplace; and Parliament Hill, our own workplace, is especially affected.”
The bill is currently in committee and going through discussions.