Ontario Premier Doug Ford has publicly acknowledged for the first time that he forced former trade and economic minister Jim Wilson to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct, not only addiction issues, as his office had originally said.
Speaking to reporters in Trenton, Ont., where he was making a military-related announcement, Mr. Ford said he has “zero tolerance” for improper behaviour. He explained that he learned of misconduct allegations against Mr. Wilson on Friday and took “decisive” action, forcing him to resign from cabinet and the Progressive Conservative caucus.
“When we sat down with the person that gave the allegations, they repeatedly asked us not to make this a media story,” Mr. Ford said, explaining that that is why his initial statement didn’t include any information on the allegations.
“I want to make sure that every single person on our team at Queen’s Park knows they’re going to have a safe environment, and if they come forward, they’re going to be protected.”
In a terse statement released late on Friday, Mr. Ford’s office said Mr. Wilson was resigning from cabinet and the PC caucus to deal with addiction issues.
It was later revealed through news outlets that Mr. Wilson was facing sexual-misconduct allegations.
When asked why addiction was cited as the reason for Mr. Wilson’s resignation, Mr. Ford said it was also a factor.
“The addiction issue is a real issue,” he said. “Mr. Wilson has gone to rehab.”
Mr. Ford said that if Mr. Wilson didn’t resign, “he would have been fired instantly.” He also said he approved the statement about Mr. Wilson’s departure that went out on Friday, which didn’t mention the allegations.
Mr. Ford also confirmed that his office launched third-party investigations into Mr. Wilson and Andrew Kimber, one of Mr. Ford’s former top staffers who also resigned last Friday, over allegations of sexually inappropriate text messages. “In the case of Andrew Kimber, one person came forward, an investigation was immediately launched, since then, others have come forward. The investigation is ongoing,” a spokesman for the Premier said.
Mr. Ford said a “reputable” organization of former police officers is handling the investigations, but he wouldn’t immediately name the company or commit to making the findings public.
Mr. Ford repeatedly said alleged victims who don’t want to make their stories public will be protected. “With all due respect to the media, they trump the media.” He said his office has offered counselling to the alleged victims, who he said haven’t wanted to contact police.
He said his message to caucus is to be respectful, or you’re gone.
“I’m sending a clear message to our team. Come forward, if there’s any other allegations, please come forward. You will be protected,” he said.
NDP deputy leader Sara Singh said in a statement that protecting a victim of sexual misconduct “is the right thing to do.” But she added that it was not necessary to protect “a powerful man accused of sexual misconduct.”
“Mr. Ford absolutely could have been honest, and told Ontarians that there were serious allegations against his most senior minister, and could have done that without revealing the identity of anyone impacted. He didn’t – he chose to mislead the public to protect Mr. Wilson,” she said.