NDP candidate stripped naked in front of us, women allege
An NDP candidate in British Columbia announced his resignation Tuesday morning following reports that he took off his clothes in front of a group of teenagers at a retreat 12 years ago.
Julian West, the federal candidate for Saanich-Gulf Islands, acknowledged in a written statement that he did skinny dip at the 1996 environmental retreat on Vancouver Island, but insisted nothing inappropriate happened.
He apologized for the incident and called it a "serious error in judgment."
Shortly after his resignation was announced, two women who were among the teens at the retreat said West's behaviour went far beyond an error in judgment.
The women, Amy Brownhill and Jessica Gnyp, alleged that West stripped down and stood naked in front of a large group of 14- to 17-year-old girls who were fully clothed and doing face-paints.
The women alleged West, who was with the Green party at the time, was physically aroused.
"Mr. West's behaviour was grossly inappropriate and of a sexual nature," Brownhill and Gnyp said in a letter provided to CBC News.
"Mr. West's behaviour was completely inappropriate and disturbing," they added.
They later confirmed their tale verbally to a CBC reporter.
"He was immediately asked to leave, and finally left following an emotional and dramatic outcry from the participants," the women wrote. "We received an apology from the Green party but never from Mr. West himself."
The women said the Green party reassured them that West would not get involved in politics in the future.
They said by coming forward with their story on Tuesday, it was not their intention to damage the NDP's campaign, but they said they believe that West should not be in a position of power.
They said they didn't take legal action at the time, but now, reflecting on the incident as adults, they wish they had.
"We did not take legal action out of fear we would draw media attention to ourselves, the environmental organization we were representing and the camp where the event occurred," they said.
"As youth, we were unaware and poorly guided through the proper legal procedures."
Layton to review screening process
West, who issued a statement Tuesday before the women's allegations were made, said he was resigning for the good of the party.
"After thinking about it, I have determined that I do not want to continue as a candidate and I have informed the party of that decision," West said.
"I do not want my candidacy to detract from the campaign or from the issues that should be front and centre in this campaign."
NDP Leader Jack Layton called West's resignation "a regretful situation" and suggested the party might have to do a better job of screening candidates.
"We're certainly going to have to review how we can ensure that candidates are straight up with us about their histories," Layton said while campaigning Tuesday in Quebec.
"That's obviously something we're going to have to take a look at."
But Gerry Scott, who speaks for the NDP campaign in B.C., noted West disclosed the incident months ago and received the nomination regardless.
"This [incident] was 1996 and when he stood for nomination 20 months ago probably, he disclosed this 1996 incident at that time," Scott said.
"It was 1996 and nothing arose from the episode. He apologized at that time and nothing arose until Sunday with the Liberal e-mail that triggered the controversy."
Could still win a seat
Even though he resigned, West could still win the seat.
A spokeswoman for Elections Canada says West did not withdraw his name from the race in time, and his name will remain on the ballot for the election.
Susan Friend of Elections Canada says the legislation is clear and West did not withdraw by the deadline of Sept. 22 at 5 p.m. She says his name will be on the ballot and any votes for him will be recorded.
But the NDP said it will not run a campaign in the riding now, even though West's name will remain on the ballot.
Results from the 2006 election suggest West would have a decent shot. The NDP candidate gathered more than 15,000 votes, about 5,000 behind the incumbent Conservative, Gary Lunn.
3 resignations in a week
Two other NDP candidates in B.C. dropped out last week over concerns about their past drug use portrayed on the pro-marijuana website Pot TV, run by B.C. Marijuana Party Leader Marc Emery.
B.C. Marijuana Party co-founder Dana Larsen, now with the NDP, stepped out of the race in the riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast on Thursday over video posted on the website showing him allegedly taking LSD and smoking marijuana while driving.
Then on Friday, Kirk Tousaw, the NDP's Vancouver-Quadra candidate and an outspoken civil liberties lawyer, resigned over a video posted on the website showing him smoking marijuana.