Last week, I wondered why the #MeToo movement had yet to alight in Ottawa. Within days – 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 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 behaviour.” 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:
- we don’t know who the investigator is;
- we don’t know his or her mandate;
- we don’t know who is paying him or her;
- we don’t know what powers the independent investigator actually has.
We need to know the answers to all these issues.
A principle of natural law is that you can’t 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 have 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 a speedy (and deserved) end to many political careers.
That is one of the most positive outcomes of the #MeToo cultural revolution: since the Harvey Weinstein story broke in the United States, many victims have felt they can finally step forward and name names. They have finally felt they will be believed. They need to be.
Case in point: after my last column was published by Troy Media, I 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 these places have seen alleged harassers, abusers and rapists driven out. It was highly unlikely, then, that Ottawa would continue to be immune.
During my 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’s 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’s time to tell their story, we say: it’s also your decision. It can only be your decision.
But, on the Hill, you’re not without options.
There’s the House of Commons chief human resources officer. There’s the House Respectful Workplaces Program manager. There are the party whips. And there’s the RCMP, who have policing jurisdiction over the Hill.
Finally, of course, for those who have heard or experienced something, there’s 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 know if it’s time to tell your story.
But if I can provide two pieces of advice, it’s this:
- if you don’t 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.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.