New Brunswick

MLA's executive assistant charged with assault of provincial employee

Shawn Douthwright, the executive assistant to Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Minister Ross Wetmore, is being charged with assaulting a provincial road worker.

Shawn Douthwright is scheduled to make an appearance in Moncton court on Friday

Shawn Douthwright is charged with assault for allegedly shaking a Department of Transportation and Infrastructure employee, Scott McLaughlan, on July 4, 2019, along route 112. (Twitter)

Shawn Douthwright, the executive assistant to Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Minister Ross Wetmore, is being charged with assaulting a provincial road worker.

Court documents say the alleged assault on Scott McLaughlan took place on July 4, 2019, near Second North River, about 28 kilometres west of Moncton. The documents were filed Dec. 27.

McLaughlan could not be reached by CBC News for a comment, but CUPE 1190 laid out the allegations, quoting union member McLaughlan, in a news release last November. 

The release said Wetmore and Douthwright drove up to a Department of Transportation roadside work site along Route 112, where McLaughlan and other workers were gathered.

Agriculture Minister MLA Ross Wetmore, who the union says was present for the alleged assault by his executive assistant, has said little about it. (Philip Drost/CBC News)

Wetmore "shouted at us, insulted us, using derogatory words and saying road workers were incompetent," McLaughlan is quoted as saying.

The union accused both the Progressive Conservative MLA for Gagetown-Petitcodiac and his assistant of insulting the employees. The release went on to allege that the situation escalated when Douthwright grabbed McLaughlin by the shoulders and shouted an expletive at him.

Union president Brent Wiggins alleged this was not an isolated incident and said in the release that there has been "repeated harassment" of highway workers by Wetmore.

When reached by the CBC, Douthwright replied in an email: "I look forward to telling my story in the proper venue. I have no comment at this time."

Communications director Vicky Deschênes said there would be no comment from the province because "it would be inappropriate to discuss a matter before the courts." 

But the alleged assault was addressed in the legislature on three separate occasions late last year. 

Robert McKee, the Liberal MLA for Moncton Centre, broached the issue on Nov. 22, 2019, when he outlined the allegations during question period and said, "we would like to give the minister an opportunity to give his side of the story to the house here this morning."

Liberal MLA Lisa Harris questioned Wetmore in the legislature in November, asking if he would step down. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

To which Wetmore replied, in part, "I've been told that this has been forwarded to the RCMP, so right at the time being I'll have no comment."

McKee then asked Wetmore if he would be willing to step down from cabinet until the matter was fully resolved.

Wetmore answered by saying: "This is an HR [human resources] issue that has been dealt with, and I have no intention of commenting any more until this has been concluded with the RCMP."

McKee accused Wetmore of deflecting and then asked Premier Blaine Higgs about removing Wetmore from his position.

Asked in the legislature to clarify how the matter was dealt with and about any consequences for Wetmore and Douthwright, Premier Blaine Higgs said he could not respond because of privacy issues. (CBC)

"I can't speak of the particulars of that situation, but I am under the understanding it has been fully dealt with," said Higgs, who said that because of privacy issues, he wasn't free to discuss what happened.

The next week, questions persisted from the Liberals. Lisa Harris, the Miramichi Bay-Neguac MLA, asked the premier specifically how the matter was dealt with and what consequences there were for Wetmore and Douthwright.

Wetmore responded again that it was a human resources issue, and anyone wanting to know more should file an access to information request with the province. 

He then spoke about his success as a minister, a response that surprised Harris.

"Mr. Speaker, it is unreal that the member opposite would switch the conversation when we are talking about a serious allegation." 

Liberal MLA Rob McKee asked for specifics surrounding the assault allegations. (CBC)

She again asked if Wetmore would be stepping down.

Higgs replied: "I agree with the member. It is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to have any type of abusive situation, whether it be physical or verbal. We would not tolerate it, and we did not."

He then suggested someone had been disciplined.

"We feel that the disciplinary action was suitable for the situation and that it was done promptly," Higgs said.

But he did not say what disciplinary action was taken.

Higgs said if the RCMP were to investigate, his government would co-operate.

An investigation by the RCMP resulted in a charge of assault against Douthwright. He is scheduled for a first appearance in a Moncton court on Friday.