Manitoba NDP had an 'over-sexualized, sexist and misogynist' culture, harassment report says

An interim report commissioned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against a former Manitoba MLA was presented Saturday to NDP members at their annual convention in Brandon.

Report commissioned after 'Minister Tickles' allegations against former MLA Stan Struthers surfaced

Sandra DeLaronde, left, and Kemlin Nembhard, centre, headed a Manitoba NDP commission formed in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against former NDP MLA and cabinet minister Stan Struthers. 'We have a ton of work to do,' said NDP Leader Wab Kinew, right, at the NDP's convention on Saturday. (Camille Gris Roy/SRC)

An interim report commissioned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against a former MLA says key members in the Manitoba NDP contributed to a "toxic environment" and a "culture of bullying" in the party.

The report was released at the Manitoba NDP's 2018 convention in Brandon, Man., on Saturday, where much of the focus will be on how the party copes with the stinging allegations of harassment during its time in government, from 1999 to 2016.

The commissioners described a culture during 17 years of NDP government that was "over-sexualized, sexist and misogynist," as well as an "atmosphere of fear and loyalty," their report says.

A CBC News investigation in February found several complainants who said that former cabinet minister Stan Struthers touched and tickled them in an unwanted fashion.

Struthers was dubbed "Minister Tickles" by many party insiders, and the women who came forward say complaints about his behaviour were left unresolved or ignored.

The Manitoba NDP struck a commission to look into harassment in the party after allegations surfaced against former MLA Stan Struthers, who was accused of sexual harassment against several women. (CBC News )

The party announced in February that a commission would investigate "systemic failures" that "allowed incidents of harassment and misconduct to occur."

Commissioners Kemlin Nembhard and Sandra DeLaronde heard from MLAs, staff and stakeholders over a couple of months in face-to-face interviews, by email and over the phone.

People described an "Old Boys' network" linked to specific cabinet ministers and the "untouchable nature of some MLAs, while others suffered consequences for inappropriate behaviour," according to the report.

'No action, no support'

The review found there had been inappropriate sexual activities and drinking at the Manitoba Legislature during the NDP's time in power.

The two commissioners did not name individuals who participated in the harassment or bullying behaviour.

Women told the commissioners the sexual harassment and a lack of response to complaints about it altered their career paths and choices.

There was "no action and no support" for those who came forward, the report found.

Nembhard and DeLaronde's report suggests MLAs be given orientations with emphasis on conflict of interest, sexual misconduct and harassment. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

The commissioners detailed several recommendations to the party, including establishing an independent office to report inappropriate conduct and have it investigated, creating and distributing anti-harassment training, and formalizing HR policies and procedures on the issues.

"People need to feel safe," Nembhard told delegates.

The report also suggested MLAs be given orientation with emphasis on conflict of interest, sexual misconduct and harassment, and recommended the Manitoba Legislature provide mental health and counselling services for staff and elected members.

'Abuse of power': former MLA

Following the delegates' unanimous vote to adopt the report, former NDP MLA Marianne Cerilli spoke to the convention about her time in office and the culture that pervaded the party while in government.

"I used to have a dream when I was an MLA where I was stalked by wolves.… I watched abuse of power, ego and bullying," said Cerilli, who served for more than a decade.

The dreams stopped after she left the legislature, she said, but "I had to recover from my years as an MLA."

Cerilli says the party has to look at everything, including how it runs its conventions.

"We have a culture where there are insiders and outsiders," Cerilli said.

Kinew thanked commissioners Nembhard and Delaronde at Saturday's convention for 'casting an unflinching gaze but also a caring gaze' at the party and submissions from victims who came forward. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

NDP Leader Wab Kinew acknowledged there was a need for renewal across the NDP.

He thanked Nembhard and DeLaronde for "casting an unflinching gaze but also a caring gaze," at the party and at submissions from victims who came forward.

"As a man, I do recognize it's not women who need to change, it's men," Kinew told delegates.

"Looking at ourselves, we have a ton of work to do," he told the approximately 195 registered convention delegates.

NDP vows to implement recommendations

Kinew told CBC News his commitment going forward will be to implement all of the commissioners' recommendations. He said he would ask the government for help implementing any recommendations outside his control as party leader of the Opposition.

One of the primary messages in the report is that it's not just overt forms of harassment and abuse that need to be dealt with, he said.

"We have to tackle the more subtle forms too, whether that's bullying or intimidation," he said.

Kinew says some change needs to come from society in general, including embracing a culture of consent. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

But he also said some of the change needs to come from society in general, a sentiment echoed by the commissioners.

Embracing a culture of consent is essential, Kinew said, as is respecting the rights of all, calling those principles "a higher standard than our society has been accustomed to in the past, and guys like me were exposed to growing up."

The biggest change he'll make, he said, is at home, instilling these values in his two sons — and his third child on the way.

On mobile? Read the report here. 

Alleged victim not satisfied with process

The effort to review how the NDP handled the original incidents and subsequent complaints faced criticism recently from one of the women who came forward with allegations against Struthers.

Karen Peters told CBC News last month her interaction with the commissioners was less than positive.

"People who are accountable are not going to be held accountable," she said. "It seemed like they were just going through the motions to say that they've done something."

'People who are accountable are not going to be held accountable,' by the commission, says Karen Peters. (CBC News )

The commissioners' report isn't the only item of business for the NDP convention. Participants also have a mound of party business and resolutions to work through.

The party faithful will debate proposed initiatives such as twinning Highway 59 to the U.S. border, calling on the current Progressive Conservative government to restore an NDP policy for reduced class sizes, and urging the Tories to change their carbon tax policy, along with a host of health care resolutions.

The party will also vote on a new president and treasurer.

The convention wraps on Sunday with a speech from Kinew.

On mobile? Read the report here.


Sean Kavanagh

Civic affairs - city hall reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sean has had a chance to live in some of Canada's other beautiful places (Whistler, B.C., and Lake of the Woods, Ont.) as well as in Europe and the United States. In more than 15 years of reporting, Sean has covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections, including as the CBC's provincial affairs reporter.