Amid a spate of resignations by Canadian politicians prompted by allegations of sexual harassment and assault, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to the CBC about his zero-tolerance approach to sexual misconduct.
When asked by the reporter, “As you look back into your own career, is there a chance at some point that your actions might not have been construed the way they were intended?” Trudeau responded:
“I don’t think so. I’ve been very, very careful all my life to be thoughtful, to be respectful of people’s space and people’s headspace as well.”
Despite this statement of confidence in his own actions, Trudeau said he is subject to the same zero-tolerance policy he applies to everyone else.
“The standard applies to everyone,” he said. “There is no context in which someone doesn’t have responsibility for things they’ve done in the past. This is something that I’m not new to. I’ve been working on issues around sexual assault for over 25 years. My first activism and engagement was at the sexual assault centre at McGill students’ society where I was one of the first male facilitators in their outreach program leading conversations—sometimes very difficult ones—on the issues of consent, communications, accountability, power dynamics.” The CBC interview will air on Saturday.
The conversation followed high-profile resignations of Conservative leader Patrick Brown and Tory party president Rick Dykstra in Ontario, Conservative party leader Jamie Baillie in Nova Scotia, and in Trudeau’s own cabinet, Kent Hehr, who resigned from cabinet but remains in caucus.
Hehr isn’t the only Liberal caucus member who has faced sexual misconduct allegations recently. Darshan Kang, a Calgary MP left caucus last year after facing allegations he sexually harassed former female staff while a provincial MLA and as a federal MP. In 2014, Liberal MPs Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews were suspended by Trudeau after two female New Democrat MPs levelled complaints against them, and eventually the pair voluntarily resigned from the Liberal caucus permanently.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Trudeau pointed out that the sexual harassment code of conduct for Parliament was only created recently, after the allegations against Pacetti and Andrews surfaced. And while there’s need for due process, Trudeau underscored the importance of a cultural shift that focuses on supporting those who bring forward allegations.
“It’s essential to start from a place of belief and support for anyone coming forward with stories or allegations of harassment or assault. This in itself represents a significant change in society,” he said. “We obviously need a process that flows from there and that’s something we’re all working very, very hard on ensuring it gets done right. But the first instinct and the first place to be needs to be believing and supporting.”
These comments came after prominent political columnists suggested that more allegations would come to light. Chantal Hebert wrote in the Toronto Star that as Parliament resumes this week, each political party has been “discreetly been scouring its closets for clues of potential sexual misconduct trouble to come.”
“Based on more than three decades of Parliament Hill watching, the question is not whether there are or have been sexual misconduct skeletons in every party closet but whether one or more will come back to rattle its political family,” she wrote in a piece published Monday.
The same day, Warren Kinsella, a lawyer and political commentator, also predicted more allegations would be revealed to the public. “There are other men who are about to be exposed,” he wrote on his blog. “One of these men is very, very powerful. The stories have been known about him for three years. They are in affidavits, plural. His name will shock you.”
On Tuesday, Trudeau said he did not know who that person might be.
With files from the Canadian Press