Sheila Copps says current public discussions around sexual harassment, politics and the media have inspired her to disclose that she’s been sexually assaulted and raped — in one case, while she was a Member of Provincial Parliament.
The former deputy prime minister, who served as a Hamilton Centre MP and MPP, told CBC News on Monday afternoon that recent discussions about sexual harassment on Parliament Hill compelled her to step forward.
“If people don’t sort of talk about things that happen to them and expose them, then they’re never going to change,” Copps said.
“And I think the boys’ world of politics is there and it’s going to continue to be there, but there are things you can do to change it.”
Copps wrote about her sexual assaults in The Hill Times on Monday.
One incident occurred when she was a 28-year-old MPP, and one of six women in the Ontario legislature.
She and other MPPs were on a parliamentary tour in northern Ontario studying violence against women. After lunch, she and a male MPP stepped off an elevator, she said, and he backed her against the wall.
“He pushed me up against the wall and fondled me, and tried to kiss me,” she said.
She kneed him in the groin, she said, and “he kind of recoiled and backed off, and never tried it again.
“I never reported it. I just felt I’d dealt with it and that was the way it was.”
No 'safe place to go and talk about it'
She also wrote about the incident in her 1986 memoir Nobody’s Baby. She didn’t discuss it with anyone when it happened, she said. And she served on a committee with the MPP for another year.
“I was the only woman in my caucus,” she said. “There wasn’t a safe place to go talk about it.”
The rape occurred more than 30 years ago before she was a politician, she said. Police told her a conviction was unlikely because she knew the person, she said. They just visited him and warned him to keep his distance, she added.
Copps said she stepped forward after tweeting support for former Q host Jian Ghomeshi. She also wrote the article in light of two NDP MPs lodging misconduct complaints against two Liberal MPs, who have been suspended from caucus while an investigation takes place.
Parliament lacks the proper process to deal with sexual harassment allegations, Copps said.
She said like to see the Ontario Labour Code overlaid onto the process on Parliament Hill "in the very least."
There’s no current structure for complainants, which “is very dangerous for both parties,” she said.
“It’s not only dangerous for the potential victim; It’s also dangerous for the person who’s been accused because they can basically be suspended from their jobs with absolutely no capacity to do anything about it.”
A look at the political career of Sheila Copps
Born: Hamilton, Ont., Nov. 27, 1952. Daughter of popular, longtime Hamilton mayor Vic Copps.
Educated: BA from the University of Western Ontario.
Private career: Had stints as a journalist in Hamilton and Ottawa.
Provincial politics: Ran unsuccessfully for an Ontario legislature seat in 1977. Took a job working with then-Liberal leader Stuart Smith. Won a seat in 1981 and lost a bid for the Liberal leadership in 1982. Jumped to federal politics in 1984.
Federal politics: Went against the tide and won a seat in the House of Commons in the Brian Mulroney 1984 Conservative landslide election. Along with a handful of other young, Liberal MPs, she was part of what was known as the "Rat Pack," named for their aggressive needling in question period. Published an autobiography, "Nobody's Baby," in 1986. Re-elected in 1988. Lost a leadership bid in 1990. Re-elected as part of a Liberal government in 1993, named deputy prime minister and environment minister.
Resigned her seat in 1996 over the GST and was re-elected in subsequent byelection. Elected again in 1997 and became heritage minister. Re-elected 2000. Ran for leadership again and lost. Lost a nomination fight after a riding redistribution.
After politics: Worked as a columnist and radio host, wrote a second biography, "Worth Fighting For," in 2004. Lost a bid for president of the Liberal party in 2012, and announced she was leaving politics. Named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2012.
Personal: Lives in Ottawa with husband Austin Thorne. They have four children and four grandchildren.
Quotes: Copps had a memorable Commons exchange with then-cabinet minister John Crosbie after he told her: "Just quieten down, baby." She glared and said, icily: "I'm nobody's baby." She once labelled another cabinet minister "Scrooge" and called Brian Mulroney a "slimebag."
With files from the Canadian Press.