'Is this really happening?': Civil servant says she was inappropriately touched by Stan Struthers

A senior civil servant in Manitoba has come forward with her own allegations of being inappropriately touched by former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers.

Julie Kentner was in a one-on-one meeting when former NDP cabinet minister tickled her on the ribs, she says

Julie Kentner says she's speaking out about her experience with Stan Struthers to show support for the other women. (Julie Kentner/Facebook)

A senior civil servant in Manitoba has come forward with her own allegation of being inappropriately touched by former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers.

Julie Kentner was working with the provincial Finance Department in communications in 2013 when she was in a meeting alone with Struthers, the finance minister at the time.

Struthers reached out and tickled her on the ribs while they were going over documents, she said.

"It was completely out of the blue," Kentner said. "As you can imagine, it was a little disconcerting."

She was shocked and pulled away "and he stopped and just went back to going through the document," she said.

Following the meeting she went to her supervisors and described what happened, she said.

They were extremely supportive but Kentner told them not to take the matter any further.

"Having that kind of situation happen, in a one-on-one situation five years ago, it would have been a long, protracted process," Kentner said.

Six women have accused former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers of unwanted touching or tickling.

"At the time I had been there for almost 10 years in government, and I do work at a senior level, and I wanted to kind of keep it that way. It would have been a massive he-said, she-said and technically my hard-earned career could have been significantly affected.

"I just viewed at the time that it wasn't going to be worth it."

Struthers has not been asked about Kentner's allegations, but has not responded to any questions about new allegations other than to refer to the statement of apology he made after the first five women accused him of unwanted touching.

Kentner, who still works in communications for the province, said she is coming forward with her allegations now to support the other women who have spoken out about Struthers — known as "Minister Tickles" behind his back — and to show them they are not alone.

Five other women, including a former cabinet colleague, recently came forward to CBC News with allegations of unwanted touching by Struthers, behaviour they say went on for years despite complaints to NDP brass.

Shortly after the story was published and aired by CBC on Thursday, Struthers wrote an apology for his behaviour.

NDP officials received at least three complaints about Struthers's tickling and harassment between 2010 and 2015 but the party told CBC it cannot confirm whether there was ever a formal investigation. Struthers, who left politics in 2016, was never formally disciplined.

Kentner said the first thing that went through her mind immediately after the incident with Struthers was "Is this really happening?"

"This was very much inappropriate touching and it was very much a violation of personal space, but it was something that had never really happened before, so I was probably more shocked than anything."

Current NDP Leader Wab Kinew said on Thursday that a commission will be created to look into the allegations and investigate what happened during the years that the NDP was last in power — 1999 to 2016. 

The commission will interview staffers and MLAs and a report will be created.

Kentner said she chose to avoid Struthers as much as possible after the incident, never having a one-on-one meeting with him again.

During any meetings where she and he were present, Kentner said she "chose to stay out of the way, keep my distance."

She stressed her incident with Struthers was a one-time-only encounter and praised the other women who experienced the unwanted touching on a regular basis.

"It significantly affected their personal lives, it affected their professional lives, and they are the ones that I find are being really brave in talking about this," Kentner said.