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Politics Conservatives hire lawyer, bring in anti-harassment policy for MPs, staff

Parliament Hill.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives have brought in their own anti-harassment policy for the party's MPs and staff, hiring a lawyer to help handle any cases that pop up as Parliament moves to bring in its own all-party system.

The development comes after allegations surfaced earlier this month that a pair of New Democrat MPs were harassed by Liberal MPs in separate incidents. In a letter sent to Conservative MPs last week and dated Nov. 18, Conservative caucus Whip John Duncan details the new interim policy.

"Complaints must be taken seriously, and responded to in a way that is consistent with our core values and the fundamental principles or procedural fairness and confidentiality, to protect all parties involved until an appropriate resolution has been reached," says the letter from Mr. Duncan, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

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The letter says Erin Kuzz, a Toronto employment and labour lawyer, will act as a third-party investigator if required.

Under the new process for Conservative MPs and staff, Mr. Duncan encouraged the use of methods that "focus on prevention and informal conflict resolution [for harassment complaints] where appropriate," but said any serious complaints are to be brought "immediately" to him. He would then speak with the people involved, "take steps to protect a complainant" if needed and determine whether to engage a third-party investigator, according to the letter.

"This interim policy will allow serious allegations of harassment to be dealt with in a confidential, fair and timely manner through a process in which all parties can have confidence," Mr. Duncan wrote, adding that the measures would be replaced by whatever permanent process is put in place for all MPs and their staff.

Ms. Kuzz did not return a request for comment. She is a past-chair of the Ontario Bar Association's Labour and Employment Section, according to her law firm's website.

Last week, the closed-door Board of Internal Economy (BOIE) – which sets many of the rules on Parliament Hill, and of which Mr. Duncan is a member – agreed to interim measures for handling harassment cases and is working toward permanent measures.

However, the Conservatives will not "wait for the BOIE process to be completed before taking additional steps to ensure that our members and staff have confidence in their right to a harassment-free workplace, including recourse to a process for handling allegations of harassment," Mr. Duncan's letter says.

Asked about the letter, a spokeswoman for Mr. Duncan said workplace harassment is unacceptable and the Conservatives are taking the matter seriously.

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"Recent events have highlighted a policy gap, and we are taking every possible step to ensure that our MPs and staff are protected until a policy is in place that applies to everyone. We appreciate the resources that have been made available by the Board of Internal Economy and consider them complementary to our efforts," Laura Smith, a senior adviser to Mr. Duncan, said in a written statement.

The issue erupted on Nov. 5, when Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced he was suspending two MPs from his caucus after allegations of "serious personal misconduct" over incidents involving two other MPs. Those MPs were later revealed to be female NDP MPs, and the allegations have since been referred to as "harassment."

However, the NDP MPs have given no indication they intend to proceed with any kind of formal process, leaving the suspended Liberals – Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews, now Independent MPs – with no clear path to respond to the allegations, or to be re-admitted into the Liberal caucus. Mr. Trudeau has also suspended their Liberal candidacies in next year's election. Both men have said they believe they will be exonerated.

The Conservativemeasures detailed in Mr. Duncan's letter are described as "interim," with

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