Woman who made allegations against former Manitoba MLA Stan Struthers calls NDP investigation 'tone-deaf'
Commission tapped to investigate sexual harassment complaints will release interim report next month
One of the women who came forward with sexual misconduct allegations against former Manitoba MLA and cabinet minister Stan Struthers is voicing her frustration with the NDP's investigation, saying she feels no one will be held to account.
Karen Peters, a community activist, was one of the first women who came forward with allegations Struthers touched and tickled her when she served alongside him at the Manitoba Round Table for Sustainable Development. She says the incidents happened when he was conservation minister for the NDP government, from 2003 to 2009.
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Several other women also came forward with allegations against Struthers, prompting the Manitoba NDP to form a commission to investigate the "systemic failure" that allowed the harassment and misconduct to occur within the party.
Peters recently spoke to the commissioners, and walked away disappointed on multiple fronts.
She says the first red flag came when she was handed a package on the commission, in which three of the five pages promoted becoming a member of the NDP and donating to the party.
"It was shocking at best and it is surprising," she said. "And I think what they've done is pretty tone-deaf."
The NDP created the commission following a CBC investigation which found Struthers's unwanted touching and tickling was an open secret when the NDP was in power. Between 2010 and 2015, party officials received at least three complaints, but no official investigation was launched.
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The NDP vowed the commission would collect statements from affected people — such as former staffers and party members — and make recommendations for the party to build a workplace where everyone feels safe and respected.
Peters said she grilled the two commissioners — Kemlin Nembhard, a former provincial government civil servant, and Sandra DeLaronde, co-chairwoman of the Coalition for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — about how the party will hold people to account. Again, she said they had no answers for her.
"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."
Report won't name names
When approached by CBC with Peters's statements, Nembhard first apologized for the handout. She said it was given to Peters by mistake after they printed material off the party's website.
She admitted that the report wouldn't be naming names or holding individuals to account. Instead, it is about listening to people's stories.
The commission is not a legal process, she said.
"I think that is important to stress — what we are really about doing is hearing from people, hearing what their experiences are and their stories," she said.
"And also getting recommendations from people in terms of what they think would have helped their situation, or what they could see going forward would create a better circumstance."
Peters said she repeatedly asked the commissioners about how her statements would be used to in the investigation and no clear answer was given.
"I asked several more times, 'How are you going to be accountable to me and the other people who came forward and [came] to the commission, and how are you using [that] information?' And they didn't know," she said.
"They should have been able to say, 'This is how the party is going to be accountable to you and all these other people.'"
The interim report created by the commissioners is expected to be presented to the NDP convention in May.
'A very positive experience'
Other women had positive things to say about their experience with the commission.
Former NDP cabinet minister Sharon Blady said she felt respected and listened to by the commissioners.
She went to the commission to tell them about her own personal experiences with Struthers. She declined to offer any specific details about what occurred with her fellow former cabinet minister.
"The impression that I was given was they wanted to let me say my piece," she said.
"I also appreciate the fact that while the process might not be spelled out in the kind of detail that some might want," she said.
"Sometimes you need to just sit back and listen to people, and based on what they tell you, then you determine going forward … what the process will unfold to."
Joëlle Saltel-Allard, a former press secretary to Struthers and another person who came forward with allegations of unwanted touching, echoed Blady's statements.
If we need to do more to do right by people, including Karen, then we will.- NDP Leader Wab Kinew
"I basically had a positive experience.… It was a positive environment. They were very attentive. I felt safe sharing my story and it was a very positive experience," she said.
But she stressed everyone's experience is different and says she went in with only the expectation of being listened to.
"I don't want to discredit anyone's experiences," she said.
In a written statement, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he takes the issue seriously.
"I called the commission to get to the bottom of what happened, and I have confidence in the commissioners' ability to listen to those who want to share their experiences and give us recommendations on what we need to do as a party to make sure that something like this never happens again," he said in a prepared statement.
"If we need to do more to do right by people, including Karen, then we will."