Two Liberal members of Parliament are facing harassment allegations from two NDP MPs, a development revealed on Wednesday when Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau suspended the MPs from his party caucus.
On Oct. 28, Mr. Trudeau was approached by a female New Democrat MP who relayed the accusations to him personally. She made the harassment accusations against Liberal MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti on behalf of herself and another NDP MP, also female, sources say. The Liberals said the two incidents are unrelated.
Mr. Trudeau handed the issue to Liberal MP Judy Foote, who holds the disciplinary role of Liberal caucus Whip. Ms. Foote met NDP Whip Nycole Turmel and each of the two NDP MPs over the next two days, sources say. (Read the Liberal letter to the Speaker)
On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau announced he had suspended Mr. Andrews and Mr. Pacetti from caucus and also their candidacy in the 2015 election. The announcement surprised many on Parliament Hill, including the two MPs who say they were harassed, Ms. Turmel said in a television interview.
The allegations are surfacing amid a national discussion of sexual harassment and why many women do not report incidents to authorities that grew from the dismissal of Jian Ghomeshi as a CBC Radio host over allegations of sexual abuse. Mr. Ghomeshi says the allegations are untrue.
Both Liberal MPs deny the allegations against them. Mr. Andrews and Mr. Pacetti each released statements on Wednesday saying they are confident they will be cleared of wrongdoing. Both will sit as independents.
"I believe that our Parliament needs to be a workplace free of harassment, for both staff and MPs. I intend to fully co-operate with answering any and all questions," Mr. Andrews wrote, later stressing he is confident an investigation "will find that no harassment has occurred."
In his statement, Mr. Pacetti said he was told on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. that he was being suspended "based on allegations against me of 'personal misconduct,'" but that he has not been provided with the specific details of the allegations that led to this suspension. He said he is confident an investigation will exonerate him.
The NDP MPs do not intend to discuss the allegations publicly, one NDP source said. The party has refused to confirm that its MPs were the subject of the alleged harassment.
The specific allegations haven't been made public. The Liberals called it "personal misconduct" while one of the accused, Mr. Andrews, and the NDP Leader called it "harassment."
How the investigation will proceed is unclear. Ms. Foote sent the case to House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer because she wanted a neutral third party to look into it and because Parliament has no rules for dealing with accusations from one MP against another. Mr. Scheer pledged to "make available all internal resources to the individuals involved" but referred the issue to the secretive Board of Internal Economy, a group of MPs that oversees many of the rules in Parliament. When that committee will act, or how, is not clear.
Anthony Salloum, head of the union representing staffers for the NDP (the only party with such a union), said he is prepared to field any allegations that may come forward. "I have no official complaints as yet," he said.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair gave a brief statement surrounded by four of his MPs, including his status of women critic and women's caucus chair.
"We're deeply saddened by these serious allegations," Mr. Mulcair told reporters. "… Here on Parliament Hill and in every workplace, women have a right to be in a secure work environment. Everyone who works in these places has a right to be in a secure work environment, free of harassment."
In Question Period, Mr. Mulcair allowed female party members to handle early rounds of questions.
In his news conference, Mr. Trudeau said Parliament Hill needs stronger harassment rules. "It's 2014. It's time this workplace, like workplaces across the country, has a process where these issues can be aired and dealt with," he said.
NDP MP Françoise Boivin, who has a background in labour law, noted the NDP caucus has a large number of young MPs and expressed hope that the House of Commons takes the issue seriously.
The NDP caucus has more female MPs than any other, with 35 of 96. The NDP caucus is also the youngest of the three main parties in the Commons, with 21 MPs under the age of 40.
"Sometimes it takes an event like this, a moment like this, to hopefully change things for the best, for the future," Ms. Boivin said.
Liberal MP Judy Sgro stressed the importance of waiting for the facts to come out.
"I felt very badly for all of the MPs involved. Nobody wants to be in this situation. We have to remember people are innocent until proven differently," she said. "The fact that we have four MPs involved in this kind of difficult issue, it's just a really sad day for the House of Commons."