Two more women — a former NDP staffer and Dauphin radio reporter — have come forward alleging former cabinet minister Stan Struthers inappropriately touched and tickled them.
The women reached out after CBC published a story Thursday morning where five women alleged they were subjected to unwanted touching by the former finance minister.
Shannon VanRaes was working as rural outreach coordinator for the NDP in 2010 when she says an encounter with Struthers on a plane trip to Dauphin left her "horrified."
Paige Jeffrey was a radio reporter in Dauphin — Struthers's longtime constituency — when Struthers cornered her and tickled her, leaving her "shocked." She says never spoke of the incident until now for fear of retribution from the community.
The new allegations come as Manitoba New Democrat Leader Wab Kinew told media Thursday his party "deserved to lose the last election" in response to the claims.
Kinew said the party will launch a commission into the allegations, which the women say went on for years. They say Struthers's touching was an open secret during his time in office.
"It looks like we failed not just one person, but many people over many years," Kinew said during a news conference held Thursday afternoon, after CBC first reported the allegations.
"And I want to apologize for that and say it is not right."
Former staffer recalls 2 incidents
VanRaes recalls the exact day she says she was first touched by Struthers — April 6, 2010.
They were en route to a hemp announcement when Struthers was the agriculture minister.
"As soon as we boarded the plane, as soon as we were in the air he began asking me if I was ticklish. I said no, and he immediately began attempting to grope me. He put his hand up my skirt. I said no," she said.
She says she had to sit through the entire press event and then board a plane back with him to Winnipeg.
"I again had to tell him that I was not interested in being tickled. I tried moving farther back in the plane."
In September 2010, she again found herself alone with Struthers.
She said she was called into his office for a meeting. When she arrived, she said that Struthers dismissed his executive assistant from the room.
"(The) assistant did not want to leave the room, but Stan insisted that he left. He sat down across from me and he grabbed my foot and pulled it towards his crotch," she said.
"I was wearing open-toed shoes, he made a comment about the nail polish. I jumped back."
His assistant returned to the office, which ended the encounter, she said.
At that point, she went to a supervisor to complain. To her knowledge, no action was taken. She eventually quit her job.
Dauphin radio reporter touched and tickled
Jeffrey contacted CBC on Thursday to share her story. She says when she was a radio reporter she had occasional contact with Struthers, who was the MLA for the city for 21 years.
She recalled an incident when Gary Doer was premier and was visiting to promote a local senior centre. She says she was cornered by Struthers in the kitchen.
"[He] proceeded to tickle and touch me while his boss and colleagues were in the next room over. I was so shocked at the time that I did nothing," she told CBC News. "Upon review, I feared for both my job and reputation within the community, and so I remained silent."
In a statement sent to CBC Wednesday, Struthers apologized for his actions. He declined to comment further on Thursday.
"This week I learned of incidents in which my behaviour made former colleagues and staff feel disrespected," he wrote in the Wednesday statement.
"I am sorry. I apologize for any interactions I have had that have been inappropriate and that have caused any person to feel disrespected or uncomfortable."
Struthers said his intention was never to treat women as "anything other than equal and respected."
"I have been fortunate to work with many strong, intelligent and talented women and have always valued these relationships."
Both women expressed gratitude the allegations about Struthers were being made public.
"It's time. It's time to tell it because this is cathartic. I don't have skeletons in my closet. Stan Struthers has skeletons in his closet. And the women who were affected shouldn't be ashamed and they should come forward," said VanRaes.
"They really need to speak and make sure this culture is killed off."
CBC reported Thursday morning that party officials received at least three complaints about Struthers's tickling and harassment between 2010 and 2015. The Manitoba NDP cannot confirm if there was ever a formal investigation into Struthers, who left politics in 2016.He was never formally disciplined.
Struthers was first elected in 1995 and was one of five ministers who resigned from cabinet in 2014 in a revolt against then premier Greg Selinger's leadership. He remained an MLA until 2016.
He held various cabinet portfolios, including conservation, agriculture, finance and municipal government.
Kinew, who was elected as leader of the provincial Opposition party after Struthers left politics, admits that in the past, political considerations were sometimes put ahead of "doing the right thing." He says that will change under his leadership.
He said he spoke to a woman on Thursday who told him, "If the party would have acted when these first complaints were known, maybe I wouldn't have experienced what I experienced."
Out of respect for the woman's privacy, he did not go into more details, but said her comments put things into perspective.
"Never again should winning a seat, winning a leadership contest, winning a nomination be put before doing the right thing," he said.
"I think that as I reflect on what is being reported and what these stories are all about, that our party deserved to lose the last election [in 2016]. We lost sight of too much."
'Under the NDP's watch'
Kinew said a commission into the allegations, announced Thursday, will investigate what happened during the years that the NDP was last in power — 1999 to 2016. The commission will interview staffers, along with MLAs, and a report will be created.
"Put simply, I want this commission to answer 'what the heck happened?'" Kinew said.
"I want this commission to come back and answer the question: how can a party that espouses that it stands up for vulnerable people instead allow people to be victimized, and when they sought recourse, to look away? This is a very important question that we ought to answer."
Further details about the commission are still being worked out, including who will be on it, but Kinew stressed that it should be led by women.
"It will be a forum for these women, who want to have their voices heard," he said.
"I want this commission to look at the broader picture of how could a culture of permissiveness, with respect to sexual misconduct, be allowed to operate in the legislative building under the NDP's watch."
If possible, the NDP leader said the report will be released publicly, as long as it protects the privacy of those who wish to come forward to speak about their experience.
Kinew admitted that given his past — which includes being charged with domestic assault in 2003 — he may be an imperfect ally, but he wants to listen to women.
"I am working hard to be an ally and will continue to do what I can to make a safe environment for women and all people in our party," he said.
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