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Workplace harassment policy governing public servants does not apply to PMO

A Canadian flag flies on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Aug. 2, 2015.

BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS

The Prime Minister's Office has called in an independent investigator to look into unspecified allegations against a senior staffer, but the workplace harassment policy that governs all federal public servants does not technically apply to PMO employees.

"That said, we are absolutely informed by it," Kate Purchase, communications director for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said Thursday.

News of the policy vacuum comes after Claude-Eric Gagne, Trudeau's deputy director of operations, confirmed he is on a leave of absence during an independent investigation regarding allegations that came to the attention of the PMO.

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In a statement late Wednesday, Gagne said he challenges the veracity of the allegations but is co-operating fully with the third-party investigator, who has given him the opportunity to explain his side.

"I hope that the process will succeed as soon as possible."

Gagne said he would not comment any further to avoid undermining the process he has agreed to participate in.

He has been on leave since Nov. 1, within a day of the PMO becoming aware of the allegations.

Purchase also said she could not comment on the nature of the allegations.

Calling in a third party to examine allegations of workplace harassment is one of the steps that can come into play under the policy governing those who work for the federal government – including ministerial staff.

The accompanying guidelines spell out in great detail what happens next, including the need for an independent investigator to be provided with a written mandate, assess the credibility of witnesses and submit a final report.

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The policy also allows for the occasional need to hire an investigator from outside the public service, which is what Purchase said the PMO has done.

At the moment, that Treasury Board policy does not officially apply to those who work in the PMO. But that is about to change.

The Liberal government introduced legislation last month aimed at giving workers and their employers a clear course of action to better deal with allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.

Purchase confirmed the legislation proposed in Bill C-65, which has yet to be debated in the House of Commons, would apply to PMO staffers too.

Departmental officials have said it could take at least a year before all the rules come into effect.

For now, Purchase said that in addition to modelling their response on the Treasury Board policy, the PMO tells all its employees the minute they are offered a job that they need to follow the open and accountable government document Trudeau issued when the Liberals took office in 2015.

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That document does not specifically mention workplace harassment, but does spell out the conduct expected of his ministers and their staff.

"As public office holders, exempt staff members are expected to act with honesty and uphold the highest ethical standards so that public trust in integrity, objectivity and impartiality of the government is conserved and enhanced," the 107-page document said.

"Specifically, exempt staff members must . . . in the conduct of their personal affairs, including their use of social media, conduct themselves in a manner that does not bring the Minister's office into disrepute," it said.

TVA, the French-language television network which first reported news of the investigation into Gagne, said the allegations involve inappropriate behaviour.

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