Conservative MP Michelle Rempel says she has faced sexism, unwanted touching

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel has penned an op-ed condemning the sexism she faces in her work as a parliamentarian, and she's calling on perpetrators to confront their biases against women.

Tory accuses 2 MPs — including a cabinet minister — of sexist behaviour

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel says she has faced sexist taunts and unwanted sexual touching during her time in politics. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A Conservative MP has penned an op-ed condemning the routine sexism she faces in her work as a parliamentarian, and she's calling on perpetrators to confront their biases against women.

Michelle Rempel, who has represented the Calgary Nose Hill riding since last year's federal election, said she has faced unwanted sexual touching, catcalling, gendered insults and online abuse during her tenure in the House of Commons.

"The everyday sexism I face involves confronting the 'bitch' epithet when I don't automatically comply with someone's request or capitulate on my position on an issue … it involves my ass being occasionally grabbed as a way to shock me into submission. It involves tokenism. It involves sometimes being written off as not serious when I've clearly proven I am," she wrote in the National Post.

She also points the finger at two MPs, including one who she says told her in a recent skirmish that "It turns me on when you're direct," while a cabinet minister told her to "[be] nicer in the future." She does not name the MPs in question.

The former Harper cabinet minister wrote that a female member of her staff was appalled by witnessing the sexism Rempel faces.

"Last week I found myself, once again, telling one of the young women on my staff that, 'It's important to address sexism in the moment it happens,'" while noting she laments the fact that the burden often falls on women to tackle the discrimination they face.

'Progress has been made'

Minister for the Status of Women Patty Hajdu tweeted her support for Rempel — calling it a "great article" — even though Rempel indicts one of Hajdu's cabinet colleagues.

Hajdu lauds Rempel for "[placing] the responsibility to end sexism in the hands of the perpetrators."

The minister said in a separate statement to CBC News that sexism in the workplace is "deeply rooted and pervasive," not just in Parliament but society as a whole.

"Having said this, progress has been made to address the problems raised by Ms. Rempel, but we understand that there is still much more to do," Hajdu said.

"I am working with my colleagues and taking action to ensure that Parliament and federal institutions are workplaces free from sexism and harassment," she added.

This is not the first time accusations of inappropriate behaviour have been levelled on Parliament Hill.

The Power Panel discusses Michelle Rempel's op-ed on sexism 9:18

Female NDP MPs approached Trudeau with allegations of serious misconduct by two of his caucus members in 2014. Trudeau, who was then the leader of the third party, went public with the accusations, immediately removing the MPs from his caucus.

Last summer, an all-party House of Commons committee drafted a sexual harassment code of conduct to address the legal vacuum that existed in the wake of this incident.

Before this move, there were no formal rules to deal with these sorts of complaints among MPs. The code outlines the process for resolving sexual harassment complaints, including a provision to bring in a third-party adjudicator.

The new code took effect with the return of Parliament last fall.

Cross-party support for Rempel

Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's principal secretary, also directed his 27,000 Twitter followers to the op-ed, saying it was "very much worth reading." 

Rempel also received supportive tweets from a former parliamentarian who says she faced similar harassment. 

Laurin Liu, an NDP MP who was defeated in the last election, noted that such physical and verbal sexism was also a part of her experience on Parliament Hill.


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