Liberal candidate Raj Saini, who is facing allegations of sexual misconduct, dropped out of the federal election campaign on Saturday one hour before the party said it had launched a review of him after “new information” was brought forward.
The two-term Liberal MP from Ontario, who denies the allegations, said in a statement he is leaving the race following a CBC News report this week in which several women alleged he had behaved inappropriately toward them.
“I am very proud of my work for Kitchener Centre, work to which I committed myself wholly, gladly, and effectively. However, continuing my campaign no longer serves the best interests of my family, staff members, campaign team, and constituents,” Mr. Saini said.
“For everyone’s health and safety I have taken the painful decision to end my campaign for the 44th Parliament.”
Mr. Saini said he would challenge the “false allegations” and is in the process of consulting legal counsel to review his options.
Mr. Saini has previously said he was only made aware of one allegation against him, and the individual chose not to pursue a formal or informal complaint. He said he initiated a third-party review of his office through the House of Commons in June 2020 and was cleared. However, the woman at the centre of that allegation said she was never part of the process.
In a statement issued after Mr. Saini dropped out, a spokesman for the Liberal Party said another review was launched after “new information” was brought to the party on Friday. A source with knowledge of the matter said the new information has to do with an allegation that has not been publicly reported. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source as they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
“Everyone deserves to work in a safe and respectful environment free from violence or harassment. Fair, trusted, and accessible complaint processes are also essential,” said the statement from Liberal Party spokesman Alex Deslongchamps.
“Last year, a process was initiated after an allegation was made against Mr. Saini. When the individual chose not to pursue a complaint or participate in the process, an independent workplace review assessment was conducted through the House of Commons. The review found that nothing arose regarding concerns of harassment in the office. Mr. Saini was approved as a candidate on that basis.
“Yesterday, a review process was initiated after new information was directly provided to the Liberal Party of Canada. Mr. Saini will no longer be a Liberal candidate.”
The timing of Mr. Saini’s departure means the Liberal Party won’t have a candidate in Kitchener Centre, although his name will still appear on the ballot because it is too late to remove it.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has previously stood by Mr. Saini and defended the processes in place to handle harassment and misconduct complaints.
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“We have always acted decisively on showing that we don’t tolerate sexual misconduct or harassment. Not only that, we acted to put in place much stronger, more rigorous processes, in Parliament, within our party, and in organizations across the country,” Mr. Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Mississauga on Friday.
One former member of Mr. Saini’s staff told the Globe that throughout her time working for him, he made inappropriate and suggestive comments to her. She also alleged that on one occasion he pushed her up against a wall. In a complaint filed to the Canadian Human Rights Commission in May 2020, she described a hostile work environment that included unwelcomed advances, harassing behaviour and psychological abuse. She said she was placed on a mandatory leave of absence in March, 2020, which culminated in a suicide attempt at the workplace. She was fired in August, 2020.
Emails obtained by The Globe show the former staffer raised concerns about Mr. Saini’s conduct last year with the Liberal Party’s president Suzanne Cowan, its national director Azam Ishmael, and the chief of staff to Mark Holland, the Government Whip in the House of Commons.
In her emails to Ms. Cowan and Mr. Ishmael, she says she dealt with harassing behaviour and unwelcome advances. The emails, which date from April to October, 2020, do not include a response from Ms. Cowan. Ms. Cowan and Mr. Ishmael did not respond to requests for comment this week.
In an email dated May 1, 2020, Mr. Ishmael responds to say the two understand the issue was being handled by Mr. Holland’s office and that the response should be co-ordinated through that office. The former staffer responded and said the Whip’s office was doing nothing to address the situation. She also warned that she would go public with her accusations if Mr. Saini were allowed on the ballot again.
The former staffer also raised her concerns with other Liberal MPs who represented ridings near Mr. Saini’s Kitchener-Centre seat. She emailed Waterloo MP Bardish Chagger, who is also the minister for diversity, inclusion and youth, on April 25, 2020. In the email response, Ms. Chagger said she had raised her concerns with the Whip’s office and directed her to that office, which recommended mediation. A spokeswoman for Ms. Chagger sent the Globe a response this week from the MP saying, “the individual asked for confidentiality but gave me permission to raise it with the Whip.”
The former staffer also emailed Kitchener-Conestoga Liberal MP Tim Louis on May 1, 2020. Mr. Louis’ campaign did not respond to The Globe when asked what he did about the concerns raised with him.
She also emailed the Liberal riding association for Kitchener-Centre in October and November, 2020, raising concerns about Mr. Saini’s conduct and suggesting the association think twice about which candidate they select in the next election. The chair of the board of the riding association, Gordon Greavette, told the Globe on Thursday that the board is a “small volunteer organization” that doesn’t have resources or expertise to pursue such claims. He said the allegations were forwarded to the Liberal Party’s Ontario region office and it was his understanding they were sent to the central office in Ottawa. He said the riding association supported Mr. Saini.
Following news of Mr. Saini’s exit, the former staffer said she hopes in the future more people will feel safe raising concerns about workplace misconduct.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh on Saturday criticized Mr. Trudeau for refusing to investigate Mr. Saini or remove him as a candidate as soon as the allegations were made publicly.
“Justin Trudeau’s talk about feminism isn’t reflected in his actions. He has mistreated women in his cabinet, mishandled sexual assault cases in the military, and refused to act on sexual misconduct allegations against his own candidates. Justin Trudeau has consistently failed to stand up for women,” Mr. Singh said in a statement.
The Conservative Party on Saturday called for Ms. Chagger and Mr. Holland to be investigated.
“Liberal candidates Bardish Chagger and Mark Holland, who have been directly implicated in the cover-up of these serious allegations, must also be part of Justin Trudeau’s investigation into this troubling matter,” said party spokeswoman Chelsea Tucker.
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In a statement to the Globe on Thursday, Liberal Party spokesman Alex Lawrence said the party was aware of the concerns raised about Mr. Saini and offered the former staffer the opportunity to file a complaint on at least four occasions, but she never did. Mr. Lawrence said options offered to the woman included going to the Whip’s office, the House of Commons human resources department, mediation, or through the Liberal Party’s respectful workplace policy.
“We are aware that an individual has raised a concern about this MP. When that individual raised a concern in early 2020, about their workplace environment, staff engaged immediately. Staff provided multiple avenues and processes, both formal and informal, for the individual to initiate a complaint investigation and resolution process, including by providing the details and contact information for how to initiate a complaint investigation and resolution process confidentially and securely,” Mr. Lawrence said.
The human rights complaint was first reported by CBC News on Tuesday. The CBC report also included seven sources with knowledge of claims describing four different cases against Mr. Saini of unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate comments. CBC News reported that concerns about Mr. Saini’s behaviour toward young female staffers were raised to Mr. Trudeau’s office dating back to 2015. The Globe and Mail has not independently verified all of the allegations.
The automatic loss of Mr. Saini’s seat for the Liberals is significant in the competitive election where the Conservatives hold the upper hand in the most recent polls, said Nik Nanos, founder of Nanos Research.
“The Saini resignation is a yet another distraction from a Liberal campaign which has been defending their election call - trying to manage the crisis in Afghanistan and dealing with anti-vaccination protesters looking to disrupt Trudeau’s tour,” Mr. Nanos said in an email.
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