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Politics Sex allegations led to Tootoo’s ouster from Liberal caucus

Hunter Tootoo responds is seen during question period in the House of Commons on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Former fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo is out of a treatment centre for alcohol addiction, but he remains banned from the Liberal caucus and refuses to address accusations that he had an inappropriate relationship with a junior female staff member.

Sources told The Globe and Mail that the Prime Minister's Office became alarmed in late May when informed that Mr. Tootoo allegedly had a relationship with a staffer that it judged to be inappropriate.

This improper sexual relationship, along with Mr. Tootoo's drinking, led to his resignation from cabinet and ouster from the Liberal caucus, sources say.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct and harassment of women. While in opposition, Mr. Trudeau kicked MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti out of caucus after allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour surfaced.

The Prime Minister's Office issued a blunt statement on Wednesday, saying Mr. Tootoo would not be allowed back into the Liberal caucus.

"We wish Mr. Tootoo well as he resumes his parliamentary functions as MP for Nunavut," Mr. Trudeau's office said.

"His status with regard to the Liberal caucus remains unchanged."

Sources say Mr. Trudeau will not discuss Mr. Tootoo's alleged improper behaviour to protect the identity of the woman involved.

In a telephone interview with The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, Mr. Tootoo was asked if a specific incident led him to seek help for alcohol abuse.

"It's been a difficult journey," he said. "There's deeply personal and private issues that have haunted me. And I just saw myself going down a road I didn't want to go on, and I knew I needed to be healthy again, and that's why I chose to seek help and go to treatment."

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Mr. Tootoo was asked five times whether he had an inappropriate relationship with a female staffer.

"I recognize that there are all kinds of rumours out there, I mean, that's politics. But for me, the difficult thing was admitting that I had a problem with alcohol and I had to deal with it, and that's what I chose to do," he said.

Asked several times why he would not simply deny the accusations if they were not true, Mr. Tootoo continued to repeat what sounded like prepared remarks.

"Like I said, my issue was with alcohol. I used it as a coping mechanism for trauma. There are some deeply personal and private issues that have haunted me. And I knew I needed to seek help to deal with it, and that's what I did," he said.

Mr. Tootoo, who got out of rehab on Saturday, said the Prime Minister has not spoken to him and he does not plan to have a discussion with Mr. Trudeau or any members of the cabinet. He insisted it was his decision to leave the government.

"The decision to leave … was mine, and mine alone. I chose to step away from cabinet and from caucus because I knew that I needed to focus all my energy and all my attention on getting healthy. And that's what I did," he said.

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Mr. Tootoo said he would attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and remains committed to his work as the MP for Nunavut.

"I have a lot of respect for the Prime Minister and I believe in the Trudeau government," he said at an open house at his constituency offices in Iqaluit on Wednesday. He told reporters he once stopped drinking for 13 years.

It was apparent from the moment Mr. Tootoo suddenly announced he was seeking treatment and leaving the government that something was amiss. The Prime Minister's attitude was remarkably different than the way he responded when Newfoundland Liberal MP Seamus O'Regan sought treatment for alcohol addiction in January. He was not removed from caucus, and Mr. Trudeau was effusive in his praise of Mr. O'Regan, saying he had his "full support." With Mr. Tootoo, the Prime Minister called it a "very difficult situation," but did not offer any kind remarks. He would not answer questions about why Mr. Tootoo was removed from caucus.

House Leader Dominic LeBlanc took over Mr. Tootoo's duties as Fisheries Minister.

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