Harassment allegations against 2 Liberal MPs rest with secretive committee
NDP leadership says accusers were unaware story was going public on Wednesday
The issue of harassment on Parliament Hill was thrown into the spotlight when Liberal leader Justin Trudeau suspended MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti from his caucus pending an investigation into allegations of "serious personal misconduct."
The allegations of harassment now rest with the House of Commons board of internal economy where seven members of Parliament will venture into uncharted territory when they meet behind closed doors.
While the House of Commons has a process in place to deal with complaints of harassment between MPs and their staff, there is no policy for dealing with allegations of harassment between Members of Parliament.
I'm delighted that the speaker of the House is moving so quickly because it means that harassment is simply unacceptable.- Kellie Leitch, minister of status for women
House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer is one of four Conservative MPs who sit on the board and will have a say in how the matter unfolds. Two NDP MPs and one Liberal MP are also members of the secretive board.
Kellie Leitch, the minister of status for women who also serves as labour minister, told CBC host Evan Solomon she was pleased that Scheer acted swiftly when the matter was brought to his attention.
"I'm delighted that the speaker of the House is moving so quickly because it means that harassment is simply unacceptable," Leitch said in an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Wednesday.
Scheer is said to be "seized with the issue," and taking the matter "very seriously."
A statement from his office said, "he has directed the House administration to make available all internal resources to the individuals involved," and has asked the board to meet "at the earliest available opportunity."
The board meets behind closed doors approximately every second week when the House is sitting.
But Parliament is not sitting next week which means if an emergency meeting is not called in short order, the matter may have to wait until the week of Nov. 17 when MPs are back in Ottawa from their ridings.
Liberals and New Democrats have said there should be an arm's length investigation.
Both Andrews and Pacetti have said they're confident they will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
MPs 'victimized a second time'
CBC News has learned the accusations of misconduct came from two female NDP MPs, but who they are or the precise nature of the allegations is unclear. How far back the alleged misconduct goes is also unknown.
Complicating matters is the NDP's claim that the two female NDP MPs did not know the allegations of harassment would be made public as they were on Wednesday.
New Democrat party whip Nycole Turmel told host Solomon the NDP MPs were victimized again when their allegations came to light.
"The persons involved, the alleged victims of this harassment or misconduct, didn't know that this would be coming," Turmel said in an interview on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.
"So imagine, they are victims and they are victimized a second time."
It's a serious matter but they've got to avoid it disintegrating into a partisan battle.- Rob Walsh, retired House of Commons law clerk
Liberal party whip Judy Foote noted it was one of the two victims who approached Trudeau directly with the allegations on Oct.28.
Foote said she alerted Turmel to the allegations in a meeting with her on Oct. 29.
"This is about doing the right thing for people who are victimized. It's about doing the right thing for women and men who feel that they are being done wrongly by."
"No one should be threatened by another member of parliament, no one working on the Hill should feel threatened … and there isn't a process, other than standing up in the House and drawing attention to what has happened to you, is blatantly unfair and needs to be addressed."
Rob Walsh, the former law clerk of the House of Commons, said raising a point of privilege is one of the options available to MPs who claim they have been harassed.
But if the victims don't want to go public, Walsh said Mulcair and Trudeau should decide on who would lead the independent investigation and make the report public.
"It's a serious matter but they've got to avoid it disintegrating into a partisan battle."
Walsh said that to his knowledge the board of internal economy does not have "any jurisdiction" in this matter.
At best, he said, the board could "mediate" the matter and find a solution as soon as possible.
The allegations of harassment against two Liberal MPs appear to have opened the lid on workplace culture on Parliament Hill.
Ian Capstick, a former Liberal and NDP staffer, alleged for the first time on Wednesday that he was sexually harassed by two former members of Parliament several years ago.
Capstick, who is a regular political commentator on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, told Solomon he never reported the abuse because he felt "powerless."
He said he would have a conversation with his family to figure out how to move forward now that his allegations are in the open.
Capstick added that sexual harassment on Parliament Hill is too common an occurrence.