Liberals blame email for delay in sex harassment claim response

The Liberal Party is blaming an email mix-up for its late response to allegations of sexual harassment against Senator Colin Kenny.

Email from Colin Kenny's ex-staffer marked 'Senate reform' handled with bulk email, Liberals say

Senator Colin Kenny has withdrawn from the federal Liberal caucus while the Senate investigates a sexual harassment complaint against him. Kenny says the complaint is without merit. The Liberal Party says it missed an email from the complainant. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

The Liberal Party is blaming an email mix-up for its late response to allegations of sexual harassment against Senator Colin Kenny.

CBC News reported yesterday that Senate authorities have opened a sexual harassment investigation following a formal complaint lodged by Pascale Brisson, a former employee of the long-time Liberal senator. 

Kenny withdrew Wednesday from the Liberal caucus, backdating his withdrawal to Nov. 13.

Reporting by Radio-Canada's Brigitte Bureau has also uncovered that this is not the first time that Kenny has faced complaints about his behaviour towards women.

A former Liberal MP confirmed she received complaints about Kenny from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Parliamentary Assembly in 2001.

Brisson, who worked as an assistant to Kenny for about two months, not only complained to Senate authorities but also sent an email to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's office about harassment by Kenny.

None of these allegations against Kenny have been proven in court. The senator said he cannot comment on the complaint by his former Senate staffer because the matter is under investigation. He called all the allegations “bogus.”

In a statement Friday, Kenny said he looks forward to the matter being resolved.

"The allegations against me are without merit," he said in the four-sentence statement.

'Backlog on our system'

A spokeswoman for Trudeau said his office missed the email because the subject line was "Senate reform."

Brisson sent the email on Aug. 22, 2013, Kate Purchase wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"The same day, our office received a high volume of emails, [appoximately] 400, with the same subject line because of the Wright-Duffy affair," Purchase said, referring to a long-running scandal involving Nigel Wright, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Senator Mike Duffy, whom Harper appointed.

"As well on the same day, we received an additional 70,000 emails regarding the situation in Syria, resulting in a backlog on our systems. Unfortunately, Mme. Brisson’s email was triaged into a bulk folder of the Senate reform emails and was not seen by our office."

CBC News reported on Oct. 22 that Brisson had been assigned tasks related to Kenny's personal life, spending as much as half of her work day on them.

Purchase said Brisson wrote to Liberal Senate Leader James Cowan two days later and mentioned the first email, which "was immediately flagged to the chief of staff, Cyrus Reporter."

"Mr. Reporter wrote to Mme. Brisson immediately, apologizing and explaining the delay, and subsequently met with Mme. Brisson on Oct. 28," Purchase said.

"In addition to this email to Mme. Brisson on Oct. 24, Mr. Reporter forwarded her original email to the Senate clerk for appropriate followup. Following their meeting, on Nov. 4, Mr. Reporter sent a summary of this meeting to the Senate clerk for his information and for appropriate followup."

In question period, Conservative MP Roxanne James called the allegation "incredibly serious," and accused the Liberals of knowing about it for months.

"If the Liberal senator is found responsible, he should face the full force of the law. What is also disturbing is that the Liberals' top adviser knew of these allegations for months and did not say anything," James said.

As Bureau reported for CBC News, Brisson wasn't the first woman to allege Kenny was paying her unwanted attention.

International complaints

Former Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish, who was also vice-chair of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, says she was asked in 2001 to leave Kenny off of assembly trips.

The 2001 letter from a NATO Parliamentary Assembly official, obtained by CBC News, alleged Kenny paid "persistent" and "unwelcome" attention toward two women working at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

"In both cases, the women affected by this problem have indicated ... that the attention they received was unwelcome, upsetting and made their work environment uncomfortable," wrote Simon Lunn, who was at the time the secretary general to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

One of the women was "considerably distressed" by the attention, Lunn said. The other said that "what began as a friendly meeting became persistent and unwelcome attention," he wrote in the letter.

Parrish described the behaviour relayed to her as "general harassment."

"All that came to my attention was hundreds and hundreds of phone calls and requests to go out for dinner and requests to socialize," Parrish said.

Another woman, who worked at a tanning salon Kenny used to own, complained to police that he told her to perform oral sex or risk losing her job. Police dismissed the complaint as not credible.

Trudeau‛s office said Thursday that Kenny had already withdrawn from the Liberal caucus while the investigation continues.

”We can confirm that Senator Kenny informed us yesterday that he was withdrawing from the Liberal caucus effective November 13, pending the outcome of an investigation by the Senate administration,” Purchase wrote in an email to CBC News.


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