New Brunswick

Sensitivity training for Chris Collins after harassment deemed 'founded in part'

Members of the all-party legislative committee charged with coming up with a "remedy" in the Chris Collins case were split on the decision that will be released later today.

Liberals on legislative committee decided a remedy in workplace harassment case

Chris Collins was being informed Friday afternoon of the response decided by the legislative administrative committee to an investigation into allegations of workplace harassment against the Speaker. (CBC)

Speaker Chris Collins must write an apology letter and complete anti-harassment and sensitivity training after harassment allegations against him by a former legislature employee were deemed "founded in part."

Members of the all-party legislative committee charged with finding a "remedy" to the case were split on the decision, which was determined Friday afternoon after a 90-minute meeting.

The decision by the legislative administration committee was "based on legal advice," said a government of New Brunswick release. 

The release said the committee "is satisfied that these are the appropriate measures to take in the circumstances," but the vote was not unanimous.

One MLA, Green Party Leader David Coon, said the committee "failed" the person who made the allegations against Collins. He called the 90-minute meeting a farce.

"I couldn't read the legal opinion because our Liberal members voted against us receiving the legal opinion that our lawyer prepared for us," he said. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but this is how it went down."

Only Liberals support decision

PC MLA Ted Flemming said the five Liberal MLAs on the committee voted for the remedy, and the three opposition members voted against it. The other two opposition members were Coon and Progressive Conservative MLA Pam Lynch.

Flemming said he was disappointed with the decision.

Speaking to media Friday, Green Party Leader David Coon said the committee has failed the victim. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

"Don't suggest there's any unanimity about it because it wasn't. It was a completely one-sided deal," he said. 

"We were just shut out. It was a real we-and-they. We were provided practically nothing in terms of information. It is completely party lines."

"It is the five Liberal members voting one way."

Committee meets in private

Liberal MLA Serge Rousselle said Flemming should not have discussed how the vote went. The legislative administration committee always meets in secret and usually makes decisions by consensus.

Coon said the committee "failed the victim," who was not provided with "effective and clear recourse." 

PC MLA Ted Flemming said he was disappointed with the decision, noting it was only Liberals who voted in favour. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

The committee needs to ensure the legislature workplace is a safe place, Coon said, and it hasn't been doing that.

"Recourse in the event of harassment needs to be clear and effective and timely. None of these things are in place yet."

Wants policy for legislature

Although Collins was found to have partly violated the provincial policy against workplace harassment, the legislature does not have its own policy. A subcommittee was struck to create one but Lynch, a member of that committee, said it hasn't met.

"It is frustrating," she said. "I was appointed to the committee and I was expecting to meet long before this and we haven't."

The committee did not receive the full report compiled by the investigator, Osgoode Law School adjunct professor Leslie H. Macleod. Members saw only a summary of the findings.

Took 'full responsibility'

On Tuesday Collins's lawyer T.J. Burke said the Speaker accepted "full responsibility" for the actions that violated the province's workplace harassment policy. He said Collins is "apologetic" for his actions but did not expand on what those actions were.

Burke did say the harassment was not physical in nature. He said Friday that he had nothing else to add.

T.J. Burke, the lawyer representing Speaker Chris Collins, said the harassment was not physical in nature (Jacques Poitras/CBC News)

Liberal MLA Bernard LeBlanc's statement Monday on behalf of the committee did not specify what the allegations were, which parts were seen as founded and who the complainant was.

Collins announced this spring he won't run with the Liberals in September's provincial election.

Sees no protection

He will still be Speaker by title until a new one is chosen on the first day of the first session of the legislature after the election. His term as MLA will end the third week of August.

Coon said the lack of legislature policy on sexual harassment means legislature employees cannot be protected.

The New Brunswick Women's Council commended the legislative administration committee for attempting to create a workplace harassment policy but asked members to share progress more often and update the public.

"We are in a cultural reckoning on gender-based harassment and sexual violence that revealed that institutional responses … that occur behind closed doors are too often flawed and inadequate,"  co-chair Jewell Mitchell advised in a note to the clerk of the legislature.