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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pictured at the Maytree and Caledon Institute of Social Policy conference in Toronto on Monday, Nov. 27, 2017.

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau says the recent wave of sexual-assault allegations represents a societal "awakening" and is urging Canadians to speak out against harassment when they see it.

Appearing at a social-policy conference in Toronto, the Prime Minister expressed frustration that many people only speak out after someone is publicly accused of harassment.

"Whenever there's news about this person or that person, a whole bunch of people show up and say, 'Oh yeah, I wasn't surprised at all by that. We saw that coming for a long time.' Well, why didn't you say something, then?" he said.

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But at least one veteran Liberal MP said there also needs to be a fair process in place for the accused.

In late 2014, when the Liberal Party was in opposition, Mr. Trudeau suspended two Liberal MPs from caucus – Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews – after the two men were accused of sexual harassment by two female NDP MPs. The two were permanently removed from caucus in 2015 after Mr. Trudeau received the result of an independent investigation into the allegations. They denied wrongdoing.

Liberal MP John McKay, a 20-year veteran on Parliament Hill, said there was no due process at the time.

"I watched Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews be destroyed," Mr. McKay told The Globe and Mail.

"And to this day, I don't know what was involved in that, for whatever they did. And I have no facts, absolutely no facts whatsoever. But I do know that their reputations were completely destroyed. So the punishment is grossly disproportionate to whatever the offence might be."

Mr. Trudeau referred to the recent wave of news stories related to alleged sexual harassment by high-profile personalities as an opportunity for more discussion about the issue.

"There is an awakening happening over these past weeks but it has taken years and decades of activism and pushing and frustration – and willfully ignoring the facts by institutions and cultures – to get change to happen. And even then there's just so much more to do," he said.

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NDP MP Matthew Dubé also criticized Mr. Trudeau for his handling of the 2014 situation, because he made public statements about the allegations without the NDP MPs consent.

Mr. Dubé said he agrees with the need to call out harassment, but only if victims choose to do so.

"The more we see the denouncing of this kind of behaviour, I think the better it is collectively, because we can work towards putting into play structures that make these women feel comfortable and that they actually will get justice for the horrible wrongdoings that have been done to them," he said.

Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu said the more women speak up, the more it encourages others to come forward. But she said there should be confidentiality if the process is dealt with internally.

"There's a real danger of revictimizing the person that's had the harassing behaviour and sometimes bringing names forward would call that into play," she said.

Parliament Hill has had several cases of sexual harassment that have become public in recent years and some on the Hill have said there are many other incidents that have remained private.

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Calgary MP Darshan Kang quit the Liberal caucus in August in response to allegations that he sexually harassed some of his employees in both his Alberta constituency office and when he was in provincial politics.

Mr. Kang has denied the allegations. Pierre Parent, the House of Commons chief human resources officer, is currently investigating, and a spokeswoman declined to provide any updates.

At Monday's conference organized by the Caledon Institute on Social Policy, Mr. Trudeau was asked whether he expects there will be new allegations of sexual harassment on Parliament Hill.

"I hope not. We have been very, very clear. I have been very, very clear. There's zero tolerance," he said.

The Prime Minister said his party has conducted extensive training sessions with MPs and staff. He also said MPs and staff must sign contracts and comply with a harassment policy.

"Parliament Hill is a workplace like many others and therefore has the same kinds of challenges others have," Mr. Trudeau said. "But we also have a responsibility to lead and be a model for solving the challenges that exist elsewhere."

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