Women who made allegations against former MLA Stan Struthers say conversation sidetracked by internal politics

Two women who have made allegations of sexual misconduct against former NDP MLA and cabinet minister Stan Struthers say they are are disappointed the conversation has shifted to party politics.

'The dysfunction that helped to enable Stan Struthers in the first place is still alive and well': VanRaes

Two women who have made allegations of inappropriate touching and tickling by former Manitoba NDP MLA and cabinet minister Stan Struthers say they're disappointed the conversation has shifted to party politics.

"Seeing two men further debate and argue over this really wasn't a heartwarming sight," said Shannon VanRaes, a former NDP communications staffer who said she had two encounters in 2010 where Struthers inappropriately touched her without her consent.

A CBC News investigation heard from seven women who have said they were inappropriately touched or tickled by Struthers during his time in office. Four of those women made complaints about Struthers's behaviour to Manitoba NDP brass between 2010 and 2015.

Struthers was first elected in 1995 and was one of five ministers who resigned from cabinet in 2014 in a revolt against then premier Greg Selinger's leadership. He remained an MLA until 2016.

The party told CBC that no formal disciplinary action was taken and the complaints were never formally investigated. Struthers has since apologized.

'He-said-he-said scenario'

On Tuesday, provincial NDP Leader Wab Kinew asked the party's former leader, St. Boniface MLA Greg Selinger, to resign. Instead, Selinger held a press conference to apologize and say he won't be stepping down as an MLA.

Selinger was Manitoba's premier and led the party from 2009 to 2016. He stepped down as NDP leader after the party's defeat in the 2016 provincial election, but remained as MLA for St. Boniface.

"It quickly dissolved into a he-said-he-said scenario," VanRaes said. "The end result of that is a situation where two men are debating, arguing even, over plausible deniability and inaction."

She said even after speaking up about such behaviour, women's voices are still being sidelined.

"Recent events and the call for Mr. Selinger to resign have only gone on to show that the dysfunction that helped to enable Stan Struthers in the first place is still alive and well."

Former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers has apologized after seven women told CBC News they were subject to unwanted touching or tickling from him. (CBC)
In 2010, Joëlle Saltel-Allard, Struthers's former press secretary, went on stress leave and eventually quit after she complained about Struthers and nothing was done, she says.

"I'm frustrated the conversation has shifted to the internal politics of the NDP instead of focusing on sexual harassment," Saltel-Allard said, adding it's been "completely sidetracked by whether or not Selinger will be staying in office."

She said the NDP's announcement that two women will lead a commission looking into the allegations against Struthers and the party's "systemic failures" is a good first step in addressing sexual misconduct in the Manitoba NDP.

"I hope that policy is developed and this never has to happen to anyone else ever again."

In a statement Friday, Kinew apologized for "the events this week that distracted attention from where it should be, which is on the experiences of the women who have come forward."

He said his priority right now is focusing on the new commission, and "setting a new direction for the party where everyone is safe from harassment."

He said more details will be announced about the commission soon.

For now, despite her frustrations with the conversation circling around Selinger, Saltel-Allard said it's time for him to step down.

"He's had his time," she said. "He's represented St. Boniface for a long time.… Nobody is really asking him to stay, as far as I'm concerned."

VanRaes said she would also like to see Selinger resign, or the NDP take a stand by kicking him out of caucus.

"At the end of the day, I am not particularly concerned with the health of the NDP," she said.

"I'm concerned that women are still prevented from fully participating in government and democracy by a culture that often denies them basic human rights in a system that puts them at a disadvantage."