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'Enough is enough': Nunavut women's council says Hunter Tootoo should have resigned

Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council says former federal cabinet minister Hunter Tootoo abused his position of power and should have resigned as MP before getting involved in an 'inappropriate but consensual' workplace relationship.

Council unable to come to consensus as to whether they are calling for Nunavut MP's resignation

‘Far too long now we’ve had leaders who take advantage of their power,” says Elisapee Sheutiapik, the president of Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council says former federal cabinet minister Hunter Tootoo abused his position of power and should have resigned as MP before getting involved in an "inappropriate but consensual" workplace relationship.

"Far too long now we've had leaders who take advantage of their power," said Elisapee Sheutiapik, the president of Qulliit.

Tootoo made a statement in August addressing allegations he had an inappropriate workplace relationship with a junior staff member before his sudden resignation from cabinet and Liberal caucus in May.

Hunter Tootoo made a statement in August, addressing allegations he had an inappropriate workplace relationship with a junior staff member. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The Nunavut women's organization said in a release that Tootoo's relationship with the junior staffer was an abuse of power and he should have stepped away from his position as MP before pursuing it.

"We have an expectation of our elected officials to respect, to be role models," said Sheutiapik.

However, Sheutiapik said the organization's board is divided on whether to go as far as asking for Tootoo's resignation.​

Calling on Trudeau to 'put it in writing'

Qulliit is also calling on Justin Trudeau to do more to protect women in vulnerable positions.

"We have a Prime Minister that says this is not acceptable," said Sheutiapik. "Do something. Put it in writing."

Trudeau has said he has a zero tolerance policy for sexual misconduct. 

Although MPs are expected to abide by a conflict of interest code, it does not specifically mention consensual relationships. 

Justin Trudeau in Iqaluit with Hunter Tootoo during the election campaign. Qulliit is calling on Trudeau to implement a tougher code of conduct for the Liberal party. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Sheutiapik said it took her organization some time to release their statement because they wanted to investigate the federal government's current code of conduct. What they found was that it was vague.

"This is not a grey area," said Sheutiapik, adding that Tootoo himself has apologized for his actions and stepped away from his position as fisheries minister.

However, Sheutiapik said Tootoo's apology and resignation is "only half the battle.

"Here's an example of how our leaders view treating women in the workplace. We have to say enough is enough."

Tootoo stepped away from his position to deal with addiction issues, and Sheutiapik said Qulliit supports Tootoo's road to recovery.

"I don't think he's dealt with those demons," she said, adding that Tootoo needs to concentrate on his recovery, but  "addiction or not, it's not acceptable to abuse your power."

Uproar on social media

Tootoo's admission in August was followed by an uproar on social media, with many prominent women in Nunavut using the incident to open a dialogue about sexual harassment in the workplace.

'Inuit women expect us to say something,' says Pauktuutit’s president, Rebecca Kudloo. (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada)

In the face of public pressure, Pauktuutit, the national Inuit women's organization, issued a statement on sexual harassment in the workplace.

"Inuit women expect us to say something," said Rebecca Kudloo, Pauktuutit's president.

Kudloo said her organization does not have enough information on the circumstances around Tootoo's case to make any other statements about the MP at this time.

"We always want to remind women if anything is happening to them, they can do something about it," said Kudloo.

In Iqaluit, Mayor Madeleine Redfern organized a closed-door women's meeting on power and sexual harassment.

Other prominent Inuit women shared their stories about personal experiences with workplace sexual harassment or frustrations with Tootoo on Facebook and Twitter, with some using the hashtag #huntershouldresign.

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.