Me-too mantra says all accusers must be believed. But when the facts are faceless or uncorroborated, what happens to fairness? The second element of confusion stems from the definition of sexual harassment.
By SHEILA COPPS
First published on February 5, 2018 in The Hill Times.
OTTAWA—Fifty shades of confusion is the only way to portray the spate of sexual harassment accusations that have overtaken legislatures across the country.
Me-too mantra says all accusers must be believed. But when the facts are faceless or uncorroborated, what happens to fairness?
The second element of confusion stems from the definition of sexual harassment.
Elevator chit chat is not the moral equivalency of slamming someone against a wall and trying to penetrate them against their will.
Yet in analyzing the problems, we lump all the foregoing together.
Take the case of Kent Hehr. A quadriplegic victim of a drive-by shooting himself, Hehr has stepped outside the bounds of political correctness on more than one occasion.
He is certainly not your average politician. Given his own life story, you can understand why he doesn’t mince words when it comes to what he characterizes as constituent “sob stories.”
After being randomly gunned down as a bystander at a shooting, Hehr could have spent the rest of his life being righteously bitter.
Instead, he worked hard to pull himself up from what must have been an emotional abyss. He refocused his boundless energies, pursued a career in the law and ultimately politics.
According to a story in the Ottawa Citizen, the shooting left him with limited use of his left hand only. This would likely make it difficult for him to reach out of his chair and grab someone.
I paint that picture because his elevator accuser spoke of her fear. That does not ring true, because a quadriplegic does not present a clear and present danger. Well, words can be weapons too.
The accuser now says she wishes she had not spoken out about Hehr’s inappropriate elevator comment years ago. But in the week following her allegation, there has not actually been a stampede of former staffers to back her up.
Does the descriptor “yummy” really constitute a firing offence?
The prime minister is now characterizing Hehr’s demotion as a leave of absence.
Politicians are human too and sometimes say stupid things. Sometimes salacious statements can be laced with sexual innuendo.
In 1982, I attended a meeting in former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s office. I was a young member of the Ontario legislature running for leader against eventual winner David Peterson.
Senator Keith Davey, dubbed the “Rainmaker” of Liberal politics, had set up the private meeting with Liberal icon Trudeau. What was supposed to be a courtesy call ended up lasting almost an hour.
We had a fascinating conversation about the state of Canada and the world, but his opening question had me stumped.
What is a good-looking young woman like you doing running in politics, was the query that took me aback.
In today’s climate of sexist hysteria, that comment could be lethal.
But Trudeau meant it in the most cerebral of ways. He was really trying to wrap his mind around what elements of politics would be interesting for young people, and especially a 29-year-old woman.
On another occasion, eight years later, I met Trudeau for a lunch in Montreal to explore my interest in the federal leadership.
We ate sushi at his favourite spot and on the way back to his law office on foot, we were stopped by two star-struck women who appeared to be in their early forties.
One was positively gushing, stating that she loved the former prime minister so much that she had a picture of him up on her bedroom wall.
Without blinking an eye, Trudeau quipped that he wished he had a picture of her up on his bedroom wall.
We all laughed uproariously and the women went away with a wonderful souvenir of what some called Canada’s sexiest prime minister.
That same conversation today could be a firing offence. Times have changed. Thankfully, the days when sexual harassment by people in power went unpunished are finally over.
But an elevator comment is not on par with rape and we should stop pretending that it is.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.