by Chantal HÈbert
In the matter of the alleged sexual misconduct that led Justin Trudeau to suspend two male MPs earlier this month, the ball is no longer solely in the Liberal leader’s court. But where it will ultimately land is anybody’s guess.
By laying out her allegations in the media, one of the NDP complainants kicked the issue unto the larger terrain of the House of Commons and – possibly – the courts.
The identity of the two female complainants remains confidential but what allegedly happened between them and two Liberal colleagues is no longer just a matter of informed speculation.
The accusation levelled at Montreal MP Massimo Pacetti falls just short of outright rape. His alleged victim says he had sex with her without her explicit consent.
She also claims that Newfoundland MP Scott Andrews subjected another female New Democrat to sustained harassment.
These are allegations that would do serious damage to anyone’s reputation. That damage is compounded when they are levelled – as is the case in this instance – at elected individuals whose stock in trade is public trust.
If they are unfounded as Pacetti and Andrews maintain, it is hard to see how they could let them stand without challenging them in a court of law.
But even if the two suspended MPs continue to stick to proclaiming their innocence without seeking legal remedies, the latest developments put the onus back on the Speaker of the House of Commons to resume the search for a process to address the situation.
On the heels of a string of interviews – given on the condition that the complainant’s name not be reported but nevertheless amounting to a detailed account of the events in dispute – it is difficult to continue to insist, as the NDP has done, that this alleged victim only wants to be left alone by whoever is concerned by the situation.
It was the same MP that initially took the matter up the parliamentary ladder by apprising Trudeau of it last month. By now walking various journalists through a painfully private, personal episode, she has raised it to yet a higher level.
She says she never expected her initial conversation with Trudeau to result in the public outing of the alleged Liberal offenders for presumed misconduct.
Now that this has happened and with Pacetti and Andrews in limbo, it may be that she has come to the conclusion that there can be no real closure until further steps are taken to air the matter.
In any event, she says she would now consider participating in a confidential process led by an independent third party, presumably tasked by the Speaker to bring a definitive resolution to the issue.
But whether that willingness can ever translate into an effective process in this particular situation is an open question.
As is often the case in such matters, the more information is brought to the fore the less easy it is to chart a way forward that does not lead to a dead end and/or a deadlock.
Based on the information published to date, the exercise would ultimately pit the word of an MP against that of another, with neither party able to produce evidence to corroborate his or her version of events.
With the same facts at his or her disposal as Trudeau had and assuming all protagonists stick to their guns, an arbitrator, as talented as he or she may be, would be hard-pressed to come to a conclusion that does not strike one side as arbitrary.
When asked what outcome she hoped for when she brought her grievance to Trudeau’s attention, the NDP MP suggested that she would have been satisfied with a personal apology and a promise of better behaviour in the future.
Her colleague may be similarly inclined.
But whether that would be enough to convince Trudeau to welcome the suspended MPs back into the fold is another matter.
To go back to the opening metaphor of this column: this particular ball is one of wool and the more it is kicked around, the more tangled it gets.
Chantal HÈbert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Torstar Syndication Service