Calgary

MP Kent Hehr defends withholding of report on sex harassment allegations due to 'legitimate privacy concerns'

Calgary MP Kent Hehr says "legitimate privacy concerns" are preventing the release of an investigation report into allegations he sexually harassed one woman and inappropriately touched another. He remains in the Liberal caucus.

Democracy Watch says 'the public can't judge' the investigation without full details

Kent Hehr resigned from federal cabinet after being accused of making inappropriate sexual remarks. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Calgary MP Kent Hehr is defending the decision not to release an investigation report on his conduct following allegations of sexual harassment.

"People involved are aware of the findings and that's the way the system works," the former Liberal cabinet minister said in an interview Thursday with CBC Radio's Calgary Eyeopener.

"The process in place, it has private information. People have concerns raised, and I think it's a legitimate way for the people involved to take place in this — and I think there are legitimate privacy concerns."

The Prime Minister's Office hired a lawyer to investigate complaints about Hehr's conduct toward two women. On Wednesday, it announced the investigation had concluded.

Hehr was allowed to remain in the Liberal caucus but will not be permitted to return to his post as a cabinet minister, which he had held since his election in 2015.

But as the report remains secret, its findings and the reasons for Hehr keeping his caucus status are unknown.

'Public has a right to know'

Any "legitimate privacy concerns" shouldn't stop the release of the investigation's findings, said Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch, an organization that advocates for government accountability.

"You can describe a situation and say this happened without saying where and exactly who it was that he was with," said Conacher, who teaches in the University of Ottawa's law school.

"The public has a right to know those details to be able to judge whether Kent Hehr should remain in the Liberal caucus and in office as an MP."

He said the Liberal Party should release the report, redacted to protect the complainants, and — "much more importantly" — ensure an independent process for complaints that adequately protects whistleblowers, something which he said the proposed Bill C-65 does not provide.

No one involved, including Hehr, has seen the report, one of his spokespeople said. He was only verbally told a summary of its findings by the Liberal Party's whip.

'Truly sorry,' Hehr says

Hehr resigned from cabinet earlier this year after Kristin Raworth of Edmonton published a series of tweets alleging he made women feel unsafe at the Alberta Legislature when he was a member there. She said he made suggestive comments, such as, "You're yummy."

Raworth said she had been warned to avoid getting in an elevator with him at the legislature, where he was a member from 2008 to 2015.

A second complaint was made by another woman, who alleged he touched her inappropriately at an event.

Hehr said the touch was "unintentional" and that as a C5 quadriplegic he wouldn't have felt it.

The report, announced Wednesday, has been withheld. But according to Hehr, it found he did not "act in an inappropriate fashion" with the woman who said he touched her. Instead, he said, it determined "incidental contact occurred."

"I didn't know it happened. I didn't mean for it to happen. I'm truly sorry. I just didn't know," Hehr told the radio show.

Kent Hehr appeared on CBC Radio on Thursday morning, following the announcement the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment had been completed. (CBC)

In regard to the comments he's alleged to have made in the Alberta Legislature, he said he doesn't remember meeting Raworth. In an earlier statement, he said it was "clear from the report that I made her uncomfortable."

"I said right from the start that I believed in the #MeToo movement, that it was important to have these situations investigated, for complaints to be taken seriously," Hehr said in the interview.

"You needed to have a system where people felt comfortable to come forward and that's what I tried to do, to remain true to that process."

In a tweet Wednesday reacting to the news, Raworth called it "an incredible day" and encouraged people to speak out, even if they are scared.

"It's worth it. You will be believed," she said.

Her lawyer echoed Hehr, saying he was briefed that her complaint was substantiated. They trust the process and the investigator, and will not seek the full report.

"It was inappropriate, sexualized mistreatment for which Mr. Hehr has apologized," David Butt said.

"He has paid a penalty for it and he has apologized for it."

Hear more on Kent Hehr's plans after the investigation:

Hehr was elected in 2015 to represent the federal riding of Calgary Centre. Before resigning from cabinet, he was in charge of the sport and persons with disabilities portfolios, and prior to that, he was minister of veterans affairs.

Hehr was a junior hockey player before he was injured as a bystander in a drive-by shooting, leaving him a quadriplegic. He then pursued a law degree, started a legal practice and became a disability activist before entering politics.

'Much more judicious'

The investigation has taught him two lessons, Hehr said. First, he said, he must become more aware of how his disability is perceived and thus work to make people feel comfortable around him.

Second, he said he must be more careful in conversation. Last winter, he admitted to being "brash" and "inappropriate" at times after a Calgary mother complained about his language during a meeting.

"I have an extremely casual conversation style, and this is with people I've known for 40 years or, frankly, four minutes," Hehr said.

"And I think I have to be much more judicious in that, given that I'm a member of Parliament, I'm 48 years old and that things move pretty quickly."

'This will change me'

After the investigation's completion was announced, Hehr said it was the prime minister's decision to not invite him back into cabinet.

He remains in the Liberal caucus, and said he is proud to do so and will continue working for his riding.

"I think your strengths are your weaknesses, as my dad always says, but you got to build from here," Hehr said.

"I believe this will change me in many ways and in a positive fashion and, yes, there's going to be some scars here."

On Thursday afternoon, one of Hehr's staff said he is planning on running in the next federal election.


​With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.