A lawyer hired to investigate sexual harassment allegations levelled against Steve Paikin, the long-time host of TVOntario’s The Agenda, has concluded he did nothing wrong.
Mr. Paikin, a well-known broadcaster who has moderated several federal and provincial televised leadership debates, faced allegations in February from Sarah Thomson, a former longshot candidate for mayor of Toronto, that he had offered her time on his current-affairs show in exchange for sex.
TVO, a publicly funded provincial channel, brought in Toronto employment lawyer Rachel Turnpenney, after Mr. Paikin revealed the allegations to his employer in February. TVO released the report Friday.
In blog posts earlier this year, Ms. Thomson, publisher of a website called The Women’s Post, alleged that a well-known broadcaster – she did not name him – had made the remarks at lunch at a midtown Toronto restaurant with her and her executive assistant during the 2010 mayoral campaign. On Feb. 3, Ms. Thomson also sent Mr. Paikin an e-mail, threatening to reveal his name unless he stepped down.
But after an 11-week investigation, Ms. Turnpenney said she did not find any “reliable corroboration” of Ms. Thomson’s allegations, which also included comments she said Mr. Paikin made later at a Liberal convention in 2012.
Ms. Turnpenney said that Mr. Paikin, “as a seasoned journalist with an immense knowledge of politics and politicians, would not have propositioned, in any manner, Thomson in a public place in the presence of a stranger.”
However, Ms. Thomson did provide the probe with an e-mail, which appears to have been addressed to her by the executive assistant who attended the lunch.
The e-mail, date-stamped just hours after the lunch, states that when Ms. Thomson asked how to get onto The Agenda, Mr. Paikin “didn’t answer you but instead asked you to sleep with him.” But Ms. Turnpenney concluded the e-mail was unreliable evidence.
When interviewed for the investigation, the executive assistant, identified only as Witness J in the report, denied that anything Ms. Thomson alleges occurred. He also said he could not recall sending the e-mail, or using that specific e-mail address, and said the e-mail’s wording did not sound like him – but he did not allege it was a fake.
Ms. Turnpenney said she had “serious concerns” about Witness J’s credibility, calling him “evasive” and saying his inconsistent evidence suggested “he was someone who either had engaged in disseminating inaccurate statements in the past or was doing so during this investigation process.”
She was also critical of Ms. Thomson, saying she had “doubts surrounding Thomson’s ability to accurately observe and recount the events in question,” and that her evidence “veered towards being exaggerated and untrue.”
For example, her initial assertion that she was never invited back on The Agenda after 2010 was false, the report states, as she appeared on the show in 2011. Her assertion that her inability to appear on the show harmed her mayoralty campaign was also inconsistent, the report points out, as the lunch occurred in November, 2010, after the October municipal election.
Mr. Paikin, who denied the allegations from the beginning and was allowed to stay on in his job as the investigation was conducted, declined to speak to The Globe and Mail on Friday. On Twitter, he welcomed the news, saying that “while the last 11 weeks have been pretty difficult, I’m relieved to read this report. My deepest thanks to all who believed me.”
Saba Ahmad, a lawyer for Ms. Thomson, said her client maintains her allegation was true. She said the report was issued too quickly, before Ms. Ahmad could provide some additional requested evidence.
“Obviously it’s disappointing to Sarah and to me that [Ms. Turnpenney] did not reach the same conclusion that we did,” Ms. Ahmad said.
Ms. Thomson, who posted the e-mail from her assistant and other correspondence apparently with him on her website on Friday, did not immediately respond to a request for an interview. Ms. Ahmad said she had no comment about any further action her client would take.
TVO chief executive officer Lisa de Wilde issued a statement saying the allegations were not substantiated and that the matter was closed.