20 allegations of sexual harassment involving Manitoba civil servants, government reports

The Manitoba government says there were 20 allegations of sexual harassment and hundreds of accusations of other misconduct involving civil servants in the last fiscal year.

Province releases statistics for the first time on harassment, bullying and misconduct complaints

The Manitoba government heard hundreds of allegations of misconduct from civil servants after encouraging victims to come forward. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

There were 20 allegations of sexual harassment and hundreds of accusations of other misconduct among Manitoba civil servants in the last fiscal year, the Progressive Conservative government said in a report released Tuesday.

There were 12 investigations and seven of the sexual harassment allegations were substantiated, although the government would not say how many people, if any, were fired.

"We know it took tremendous courage for each and every one of these complainants to come forward, and so we were very grateful ... that we could get a snapshot of what we were dealing with," said Rochelle Squires, minister responsible for the status of women.

The report is the first time the province has released statistics on the number of complaints related to harassment, bullying and misconduct among the 14,000 members of the civil service, political staff and politicians. The data did not include areas of the broader public sector such as hospitals and schools.

The Tories announced in February the new attempt to track and report complaints after female staff came forward with allegations that Stan Struthers, a former NDP cabinet minister, had tickled and groped them.

The women alleged that their complaints about Struthers, who left politics in 2016, were never addressed by senior political staff at the time.

The province has hired an outside law firm to recommend improvements to its harassment policies.

A report is expected this summer. The government has also made it mandatory for managers to forward any complaints of harassment to the civil service commission.

"We want to make sure that people throughout the civil service feel confident that they're in a workplace that's protective and secure," Premier Brian Pallister said.

105 bullying, harassment allegations

The report also said there were 105 allegations of bullying and non-sexual harassment in the last fiscal year, of which 63 have been substantiated so far.

There were another 351 allegations of other forms of misconduct — everything from conflict of interest to potential fraud — of which 300 have been substantiated to date.

At the legislature Tuesday, the NDP, now in Opposition, accused Pallister of engaging in harassing behaviour in the chamber.

The premier often responds in intimidating ways when asked questions, NDP House leader Nahanni Fontaine said, by looking angrily at his opponent.

"Imagine from a woman's perspective, when you have the premier of Manitoba, that is directing his questions to you in a very aggressive and threatening manner. It makes it increasingly difficult to do your job," Fontaine said, surrounded by other female legislature members from her party and the Liberals.

"I just feel so threatened and so intimidated," added Liberal member Judy Klassen.

'Cut and thrust of politics'

Several women from the Tory caucus quickly fired back at an impromptu news conference, pointing out it was two NDP members that were chastised by the Speaker of the legislature in 2016 for targeting them with cries of "shame" during a vote in the chamber. Male Tories were not subjected to the cries.

Squires called the allegations against the premier "disingenuous" and said heckling goes both ways in the legislature, adding that is part of the "cut and thrust of politics."

"We come in with strong opinions, and if we're going to tackle heckling and outline heckling as harassment, then it should be on both sides," she said.

Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said heated words and pointed fingers are an everyday experience in the legislature.

"There are members of the Opposition as well who don't put their questions directly through the Speaker and who do look over at us.… It's part of the job that we do in the legislature."

CBC 2:36

With files from Cameron MacLean