Politics·Exclusive

Liberals allowed MP Marwan Tabbara to run in 2019 despite sexual harassment investigation

MP Marwan Tabbara — who had a court hearing today on assault and criminal harassment charges — was approved to run for the Liberals in the 2019 federal election despite a party investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made against him during his last mandate, CBC News has learned.

Allegations include unwanted touching and lewd comments aimed at female staffer

The Liberal Party approved Marwan Tabbara to run in the 2019 election despite an internal investigation into misconduct. (Twitter/KSH Liberals)

Member of Parliament Marwan Tabbara — who had a court hearing today on assault and criminal harassment charges — was approved to run for the Liberals in the 2019 federal election despite a party investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made against him during his last mandate, CBC News has learned.

The Liberals looked into detailed allegations of misconduct made against the Kitchener South-Hespeler MP that included inappropriate touching and unwelcome sexual comments directed at a female staffer, according to sources with knowledge of the allegations. The allegations date back to the 2015 election campaign, the source said.

The sources who spoke to CBC News requested anonymity, citing the risk of being blacklisted within Liberal circles and it negatively impacting their careers.

CBC News has confirmed the party's internal investigation determined that some of the allegations were substantiatedbut has not been able to learn whether Tabbara faced any consequences.

Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's zero-tolerance policy on sexual misconduct in the workplace, the party approved Tabbara as a Liberal candidate last year.

The decision to clear Tabbara to run as a Liberal took the party's Greenlight Committee more than six months to make — an unusually long period of time for an incumbent, according to a government source with knowledge of the investigation.

Tabbara, the past chair of the Commons committee on international human rights, stepped away from the Liberal caucus two weeks ago but is still working as an MP. He left the caucus after CBC and Global reported on his arrest by Guelph Police on April 10 for a different incident.

He has a scheduled court date in Guelph today for two counts of assault, one count of "break and enter and commit an indictable offence" and one count of criminal harassment.

Party alerted about allegations several times over 5 years

Guelph police have defended their decision to not publicize the charges against Tabbara. Prime Minister Trudeau said he and his office only learned about the criminal charges the day the news stories aired on June 5.

Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's stated zero-tolerance policy on misconduct in the workplace, MP Marwan Tabbara was approved to run in the 2019 federal election even though he had been investigated for allegations of sexual harassment. (Facebook)

The Liberal Party may not have been warned about the criminal charges — but it did know about the misconduct allegations dating back to 2015.

Claims about inappropriate behaviour involving Tabbara and a female staffer were reported to the Liberal party multiple times over the past five years, according to a source. Senior decision makers in both the Trudeau government and the Liberal Party knew about the claims. One of the individuals who was aware of the allegations is now working at the Prime Minister's office. 

But the party did not take the alleged misconduct seriously until recently, said the source. The source argues the prime minister's staff members are not reporting sexual harassment up the chain and are failing to meet his stated zero-tolerance policy on this kind of misconduct.

Lengthy wait to clear Tabbara as candidate 

The investigation of the allegations likely played a role in the long delay in approving Tabbara to run as a Liberal in the 2019 election. 

Applications for all potential candidates had to be submitted in October 2018 and Tabbara's wasn't completed until roughly six to eight months later, according to a government source. The process usually doesn't take that long, especially when it's an incumbent who already has been vetted in the past.

The Greenlight Committee's work includes conducting police checks and credit checks, calling numerous references and speaking to people on Parliament Hill. The committee also combs through a potential candidate's social media accounts for red flags.

MP Marwan Tabbara canvassing during the 2019 federal election. (Facebook)

CBC News has sent a list of questions to Tabbara about the allegations. His office has not answered any of CBC's questions for the past two weeks.

"No comment," wrote Peter Maloney, Tabbara's executive assistant, on June 11 and 18.

The Liberal Party also hasn't been forthcoming about the past investigation, citing privacy reasons.

Trudeau was pressed for answers by reporters at a press conference today in Chelsea, Quebec. He said he is continually informed of investigations into allegations against members of his party — but he wouldn't say exactly when he was told about Tabbara's case, or why Tabbara was approved to run in the last election. 

"Whenever there are allegations against members of the Liberal Party, part of the process is for the leader to be informed," he said. "At the same time, the process that kicks in is a rigorous process that has been established to ensure that every single allegation or complaint around misconduct is appropriately dealt with, that there are conclusions and next steps and recommendations that are fulfilled."

Trudeau said he couldn't comment on the case because it's confidential.

"We take every single case extremely seriously," he said.

Watch: Trudeau on Tabbara allegations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that, as leader of the Liberal Party, he is informed about investigations of allegations against caucus members — but he isn't saying if he knew about the sexual harassment allegation against MP Marwan Tabbara before he was approved to run in the 2019 federal election, despite pointing to "a rigorous process" being established to ensure "every single allegation or complaint" is dealt with. 5:25

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called the charges both "disappointing and troubling" today but said confidentiality concerns limited what she could say about the case.

"Let me be very clear that our government and I, personally, take the reality of sexual harassment very, very seriously," the minister said. "We're a feminist government. We know how important these issues are."

The deputy minister said the claims were being investigated closely.

Watch: Freeland reacts to Tabbara allegations

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland calls the case of MP Marwin Tabbara — who was approved to run for the Liberals in the 2019 federal election despite a party investigation into allegations of sexual harassment — "disappointing and troubling" and says that it is being investigated very carefully by the government.   2:05

Liberal Party workplace policy

Senior party communications director Braeden Caley said the party has a "Respectful Workplace policy" in place for all candidates, staff and volunteers to prevent harassment in the workplace and on the campaign trail.

"In line with the Respectful Workplace policy, the party does not confirm or comment on the specifics of complaints out of respect for the confidentiality, privacy and safety of those involved," said Caley in a statement to CBC News. "Based on extensive consultation with experts and with the aim of ensuring that individuals always feel safe coming forward with their stories, it is not the Liberal Party's place to breach that confidentiality."

He added that everyone in a democracy should feel safe and respected.

"The Liberal Party of Canada takes this responsibility very seriously," said Caley.

Before his election, Tabbara worked in construction and as a line supervisor at a Frito-Lay plant. He immigrated to Canada from Lebanon as a child to flee that country's civil war. (Facebook)

The Liberals' workplace policy states that allegations of harassment can be informally resolved. If a formal complaint is submitted, the party's national director can launch an investigation; both parties are interviewed and are allowed to submit and rebut evidence, and both parties receive the results in writing. 

If claims are substantiated, consequences can include disciplinary measures such as a warning, suspension or termination, according to the policy. There are also non-disciplinary options available — an apology, mediation or additional training.

The Liberals said the party also launched a new, online training program ahead of the 2019 election on what constitutes harassment, how to create a safe campaign environment and report incidents. Caley called it a "first of its kind for a Canadian political party."

The party, Tabbara's office and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) have not confirmed the existence of an investigation into Tabbara. The PMO referred CBC News to a statement written by the Liberal Party.

Tabbara will be back in a Guelph courtroom at the end of August for his criminal charges. 

On a Friday morning audio call, Ontario Court of Justice Judge Lorelei Amlin adjourned the matter until Aug. 28. Tabbara's voice was not heard on the call. 

About the Author

Ashley Burke

Reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca

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