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‘I was sexually assaulted when I was an MPP, and I’ve been raped’: Copps

Feb 13, 2015

 

 OTTAWA—Sex and politics can be a toxic mix. I hesitate to wade into the harassment allegations emanating from Parliament Hill because last week I committed a grievous personal lapse in judgment.

 
Upon reading Jian Ghomeshi’s explanation of his firing from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, I took to the Twitterverse in his defence. 
 
Without taking the time to hear the other side of the story, I supported his claim that his sexual encounters were consensual and outside the workplace.
 
I should never have weighed on an issue as sensitive as that without taking the time to hear the other side of the story.
 
Obviously, the CBC believed it had sufficient evidence to terminate the contract of an iconic superstar.
 
Multiple complainants subsequently came forward to further reinforce allegations of the non-consensual nature of Ghomeshi’s actions.
 
That matter has now been referred to police, which is an appropriate arena for allegations of this nature.
 
Unfortunately, no Canadian police force can investigate a complaint on Parliament Hill.  
 
When media pundit Ian Capstick came forward last week relating his experience as a young employee on the Hill, he was reflecting the experience of hundreds who have gone before him.
 
Men and women, Parliamentarians and assistants have all felt the sting of sexual harassment. Like many workplaces, the Hill is also a place where consensual sexual dalliances occur.
 
Unlike most workplaces, when harassment or assault does occur on Parliament Hill, aggrieved parties do not have the same access to due process as they would anywhere else.  
 
At more than one point, the Speaker has been the subject of a complaint. When one complainant attempted to have the issue removed to a jurisdiction outside Parliament Hill, the law stymied her.  
 
The Hill workplace is not subject to provincial labour laws, which offer protection in every other place of employment in Ontario.
 
The suspension of two Liberal MPs, and the allegation referrals to the Speaker will no doubt shine a light on the current lack of due process.
 
The Senate has already established a complaints’ system following more than one employee allegation.
 
But what happens when allegations of harassment do not involve employees but rather other MPs?
 
I was sexually assaulted by another Member of the Provincial Parliament within a year of my arrival at Queen’s Park at the age of 28.  
 
We were both on a Parliamentary tour studying violence against women.  The incident occurred when we exited a hotel elevator after enjoying a group dinner following a day-long session in northern Ontario. 
 
I pushed back on my assailant, kicking him where it hurts, when he tried to force me up against a wall and kiss me.
 
After I rebuffed his misplaced advance, he never went near me again and we continued our northern tour without further incident. I never reported him, chalking the incident up to personal misjudgment. 
 
The Capstick revelations on CBCNN’s Power & Politics were not unexpected to anyone who has experienced the inner workings of the Hill.
 
The potential for harassment of young gay and lesbian employees was well known. Some alleged offenders were long-serving MPs and even officers of Parliament. 
In the days when the only supportable public orientation was heterosexual, homosexual MPs often lived in the closet. Some still do, even those sitting in Cabinet. 
 
Their right to privacy is well-guarded by all but with the secrecy comes the potential for sexual messages to be misread, misunderstood and downright misbegotten. 
At the risk of being Twitter-bombed again, I think it is important to recognize the fine line between a toxic workplace and misread sexual signals between adults who are not employees.  
 
In my lifetime, I have not only been sexually assaulted by another member.
Someone I knew has also raped me.
 
I expect my experience is not that different from many? More than 30 years ago, I went to the police. I was informed that a conviction was impossible. Police merely paid a visit to the culprit warning him to keep his distance. 
 
On Parliament Hill, there are sexual dalliances, affairs, and outright assaults that occur. 
 
The difference is that victims in that sanctified workplace do not have the right to go beyond the Hill for due process. 
 
House Speaker Andrew Scheer has plenty of precedents for investigating allegations, including complaints levelled at more than one former Speaker. 
But as long as the investigation occurs solely within the Parliamentary Precinct, neither the accuser nor the accused will have the same right to due process afforded Jian Ghomeshi. 
 
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era Cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. 
 
news@hilltimes.com

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