Jagmeet Singh says he always believes survivors. Well, here's another one
NDP MP Christine Moore, who alleged improper conduct by a fellow MP, is facing troubling accusations herself
As is his right, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has set a rigorously high bar for sexual misconduct within his party — possibly the highest in parliamentary history.
Explaining his decision last week to throw MP Erin Weir out of caucus, Singh said an independent investigator had found that "Mr. Weir failed to read non-verbal cues in social settings. And that his behaviour resulted in significant negative impact to the complainants."
Singh acknowledged that "when Mr. Weir was told his advances were unwanted, he stopped." But, he said, he decided to expel Weir when it became apparent the MP was not sufficiently remorseful or willing to take full responsibility for his offences.
The names of Weir's accusers have been withheld even from him, an increasingly common practice nowadays in the corporate world.
Actually, just about everything about Weir's case is unremarkably routine nowadays, save for one fact: the complainants had to be sought out. The original accusation against him was made in an open email earlier this year to all caucus members by a third party: fellow MP Christine Moore (Abitibi-Temiscamingue).
Weir had been seeking the position of caucus chair, and Moore replied that she was aware of his behaviour, not toward her, but toward other women, and that "You are the last person in the caucus I would like to see to get that position … as a woman I would not feel comfortable to meet with you alone."
That email prompted Singh to suspend Weir from caucus, and, effectively, make an announcement on Feb. 1 inviting complaints against the MP.
"I am committed to creating a safe workspace for all and ensuring that survivors feel safe to come forward," Singh said, using the accepted term for anyone who has been on the receiving end of any sort of sexual impropriety.
Another survivor's story
At the time, 2,400 kilometres away in Brandon, Man., a different sort of survivor altogether was watching, with some disbelief, the political uproar Moore had set in motion.
Glen Kirkland was a combat soldier in Afghanistan with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry when a Taliban ambush in 2008 killed three of his comrades and very nearly killed him. He was maimed, his pancreas smashed, his vision and hearing impaired and his mind badly injured. (To this day, shrapnel he took in the rocket attack works its way to his skin's surface.)
He began a daily regime of drugs, including antidepressants, powerful opioid painkillers, insulin and antibiotics, and was still taking them in early June 2013, when the House of Commons standing committee on defence summoned him, against the wishes of the military, to testify about his treatment by the military following his injuries.
Wearing medals pinned to his chest, he told MPs his father, also a veteran, had assured him he'd done his duty and that Canada would take care of him: "My dad was wrong. I am broken and can't be a productive and useful soldier."
By the time he finished testifying, he told me recently, he was weeping: "It was an emotional speech about all my friends dying around me and me trying to crawl out of fire, and how disappointed I am, and I am teary-eyed and talking about my father, and I'm still standing there long after this emotional thing is done."
As the committee dispersed, committee member Christine Moore handed him her card, asking him to come to her office for further discussions. A few hours later, he did, not knowing quite what to expect: "You have to realize what an elected MP is to a grunt soldier," he said.
I understood immediately what he meant, having once been an infantry private myself. In the strict, authoritarian hierarchy of the military, where someone just a few ranks up requires abject obedience, a member of Parliament on a powerful committee in Ottawa might as well live in another world.
Kirkland says when he arrived at Moore's office, she offered him gin, and persisted even after he told her he was taking antidepressants and painkillers, and was not supposed to be drinking. "She's a nurse," he says, "and I thought I suppose if she's a nurse and says it's OK, it is."
There were a few more drinks, and it became clear Moore's intentions went beyond a professional interest in his case.
That night, he says, she "followed" him back to his hotel, where he says she spent the night.
"Look, I'm not crying rape," says Kirkland, who is now a Realtor in Brandon. "I don't like to think of myself as a survivor. I prefer 'thriver.' But what she did was inappropriate. Was I a willing participant? I guess it depends on your definition of willing. There was a power imbalance. There was a level of authority there."
Explicit messages followed, Kirkland says
But the night at the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa wasn't the end of it. Kirkland says Moore began sending him explicit messages. A few weeks after his testimony, in July 2013, he says, Moore messaged him that she'd arranged a trip to meet him where he was playing golf with friends in Kenosee, Sask.
During that visit, he says, he told her, "This is not a thing. This is not happening."
When she turned up unannounced at his residence in Brandon a few weeks later, he said, he had to be "curt" — to go far beyond "non-verbal cues," as Singh would put it. After that, he says, communication ceased.
It should be said here that Kirkland did not come to me with his story. I called him, after hearing persistent rumours about the story around Ottawa. He had told friends about Moore's advances as they progressed, and there are reporters and political types from other parties who know the story, and a reference to it even surfaced in Frank magazine, the satirical rag that traffics in Ottawa gossip. Kirkland says Frank magazine actually contacted him a few years ago.
But, he says, no one else has been in touch.
I sent a list of questions to Moore, asking whether her behaviour with Kirkland meets the strict standard set by Singh when he expelled Weir from caucus. She replied that she would prefer to wait a couple of days to discuss the matter. About the same time, in an email sent by an aide, Singh said: "These are troubling allegations that I take very seriously and will have more to say shortly."
An NDP staffer said Singh plans to make a public statement about Kirkland's assertions Tuesday morning.
In any case, Glen Kirkland is about to have his #MeToo moment, whether he wants it or not. As Singh himself said on CBC's Power & Politics in January: "You have to believe survivors .... I believe survivors."