Justin Trudeau felt compelled to suspend two of his MPs after a former law professor now sitting as a New Democrat said the alleged harassment of an NDP MP by a Liberal member of caucus could constitute sexual assault, according to The Canadian Press.
It was Craig Scott's second-hand assessment of the alleged conduct that prompted Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's decision to suspend two members of his caucus, said the sources, who were not authorized to release details.
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They say Scott, a Toronto MP and former Osgoode Hall law professor, was involved in behind-the-scenes discussions about complaints by two female New Democrat MPs about the conduct of Liberals Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews.
During a third meeting between Liberal and NDP whips on Oct. 30, Scott — who had accompanied one of the complainants to the meeting — explicitly said that based on what he'd been told about one of the allegations, it "constituted a criminal act, namely sexual assault," said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Neither woman has gone to the police with their allegations and, thus far, both have refused to pursue their complaints through either a formal investigation or informal mediation.
'Good faith has been breached'
In a written statement released Wednesday afternoon, Scott confirmed he had attended the meeting with Liberal whip JudyFoote "at the request of, and in order to help and support, a friend and colleague."
He said his "good faith contribution" had been confidential.
"That good faith has been breached," he said.
"Confidentiality has been deliberately broken in a way that further disrespects and puts pressure on the victim and, at the same time, continues to completely ignore the rights of former Liberal MPs."
The rights of victims should be respected, "whether the issue is civil, criminal or disciplinary," he said.
"For Liberal backroom operators to claim that somehow I am responsible for Justin Trudeau's decisions is simply laughable. I will therefore not dignify this spin with any further comments."
Nycole Turmel, the NDP whip, said Tuesday she doesn't recall whether or not he referred to a criminal act.
The move by unnamed Liberals to reveal new details about the closed-door discussions sparked an angry response from Mulcair on Wednesday morning.
"That meeting was held on the condition that all elements of it were private, to respect the right of those victims to be the ones — and the only ones — to decide when things would be made public," Mulcair told reporters.
"There was a very concrete hard and fast undertaking that if they accepted to speak with the Liberal whip, and a couple of others, that that confidentiality be respected in every way … I will let those people who gave that information to you, or to other members of the media explain to you why they're not respecting that confidentiality."
Accused MPs in limbo
A week after the Oct. 30 meeting, Trudeau suspended Pacetti and Andrews over what he described as complaints of "serious personal misconduct" lodged by two other MPs.
Trudeau did not identify the names, gender or party affiliation of the complainants, although it later emerged that they were female New Democrats. And he has refused since then to elaborate on the nature of the complaints.
Pacetti and Andrews have both insisted they've done nothing wrong, yet they remain in limbo as parliamentarians grapple with how to handle a sexual misconduct dispute between two MPs — a scenario for which there is currently no process.
On Wednesday, Andrews told CBC News that he intends to run in the next federal election.
Although he had already been confirmed as the Liberal candidate for Avalon, his nomination has been suspended pending resolution of the allegations.
Neither Pacetti nor Andrews have been heard from since the day they were suspended, and neither responded immediately Tuesday to a request for comment.
The multi-party board of internal economy, which oversees the operation of the House of Commons, concluded Tuesday that it has no mandate to develop a process.
It punted the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee.
Help offered, but need formal complaint
Speaker Andrew Scheer, meanwhile, responded to Liberal whip Judy Foote's request for an independent investigation into the complaints by a neutral third party.
In a letter to Foote, he said she and Turmel have been offered the impartial and confidential use of House administration resources as well as "external experts."
But he also noted that "the most successful resolution of any harassment complaint relies on the willingness of all involved parties to come together to address the issues."
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Trudeau called the speaker's suggested approach "a very reasonable" first step.
"I'm going to wait and see if there is indeed, over the next couple of days, a response from the other parties. If it doesn't come to fruition, we will look at next steps," he said, while refusing to speculate on what alternatives the Liberals may consider.
The Liberal leader stressed that he doesn't want to put "undue pressure" on anyone.
"We cannot get away from the fact that a complaint was launched," he said.
During a panel discussion on CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Tuesday, Foote said the two Liberal MPs want to cooperate.
"They want to take part in the process," she said.
The NDP complainants, however, do not, according to Turmel.
"They don't want to put forward a formal complaint, they don't want to be named, and they don't want to take part in a formal process at this time," she noted.
"They told Ms. Foote … their stories, and at the time, they said, you do whatever you need to do, but we don't want this to be public."
Liberals could hire independent investigator: Sources
Liberal insiders said it's possible the party could hire its own independent investigator to review notes that were taken by a Liberal staff member during the behind-the-scenes discussions that led up to the suspensions.
That would include details of the complaints by the two New Democrats, Scott's intervention and the rebuttals by the two Liberals, all of whom took part in the discussions.
In the absence of a formal complaint, the NDP's justice critic, Francoise Boivin, said Trudeau should have delivered a verbal warning to Pacetti and Andrews and left it at that.
"It seems to me that any lawyer would have advised a person that if there is no complaint, there's not much you can do," said Boivin, who is herself a lawyer.
Letter from House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to Liberal Whip Judy Foote
Letter from House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to Liberal Whip Judy Foote (PDF 53KB)
Letter from House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to Liberal Whip Judy Foote (Text 53KB)