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Politics MPs agree to interim process for handling harassment allegations

Board of Internal Economy member John Duncan speaks with the media in the Foyer of the House of Commons Tuesday, November 18, 2014 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Parliament is introducing an interim process for informally handling allegations of harassment between MPs, but no neutral investigation is under way or in sight – in two cases made public earlier this month.

The secretive Board of Internal Economy (BOIE), which oversees many of the rules on Parliament Hill, agreed to some interim measures in a meeting on Tuesday, giving MPs immediate access to an existing informal conflict-resolution process used by staff, as well as a harassment prevention program.

Permanent changes, including a formal complaint process, will be finalized "as soon as possible," House Speaker and board chair Andrew Scheer said.

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The board's move was spurred by harassment allegations that surfaced earlier this month against two MPs, Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews, who have been suspended from the Liberal caucus.

The individual cases each involve a female NDP MP, neither of whom has come forward publicly. One of them relayed the allegations to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who later suspended his two accused MPs.

The cases involving Mr. Pacetti, Mr. Andrews and the two New Democrats are still not under any investigation. John Duncan, a Conservative MP, caucus Whip and BOIE member, acknowledged the suspended Liberals "are in limbo until such time that the logjam is broken." Both have said they are confident they will be cleared of wrongdoing, but whether they will have the chance is unclear.

The Liberals sent a letter on Nov. 5 asking Mr. Scheer for a "neutral third party" investigation and said Tuesday they had not received a reply. Mr. Pacetti said he has been given no new information about his case.

"I don't know what's going on. Everything I [know] I read in the newspaper like you do," Mr. Pacetti, a Quebec MP first elected as a Liberal in 2002, told The Globe and Mail on Parliament Hill on Tuesday. He declined further comment, although his office later issued a statement saying be will not be "commenting on all allegations and speculations that are presently being reported."

The specific allegations have not been made clear. Mr. Trudeau referred to "personal misconduct," while Mr. Andrews said the allegation was of "harassment."

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair dismissed the BOIE announcement, saying existing rules have "more to do with trying to prevent. Here, we're not dealing with prevention." Asked what would be a fair resolution process, Mr. Mulcair told journalists to "ask the Liberal Leader."

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Mr. Trudeau said the party is waiting for an independent, confidential, third-party investigation "regarding the four MPs in question" after its Nov. 5 letter. "We are waiting for the Speaker's response to that letter," Mr. Trudeau said.

A statement released later by the Speaker, Mr. Scheer, instead said a Conservative-dominated parliamentary committee should ask the House of Commons "to review these matters." The statement made no mention of a neutral process.

Neither of the NDP MPs has pursued any resolution process, and Mr. Duncan said on Tuesday he understands they do not intend to. They are free to use the interim, informal process, he said.

That leaves Mr. Pacetti and Mr. Andrews without a chance to speak in their own defence. Mr. Trudeau has also suspended their Liberal candidacy in next year's election, saying he will "default towards believing" those who allege harassment.

Some within his party are not satisfied that the two suspended MPs remain in limbo. Liberal MP Adam Vaughan said on Tuesday he "expect[s] a fair process," a view echoed by another caucus colleague.

"Whether it's a correct accusation or a false one, you have the right to defend yourself, and that's what has to happen. There has to be a way to balance the charges against you, and the allegations against you, with some fairness," Liberal MP Wayne Easter said on Tuesday. " …Once you're accused of something, it does affect your reputation. We've always had, in this country, this presumption of innocence. We cannot lose that policy."

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