This week in Ontario, the Progressive Conservative party imploded amidst allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Again, women have spoken out, told their stories of how powerful men violated their person and dignity, and those powerful men experienced consequences. And because those consequences involved those men losing their powerful jobs and their prospects of leading Canadas most populous province, some people say that #MeToo has gone too far. I find this pretty shocking, given the repugnant, illegal behaviour the harmed women are describing.
The allegations havent been proven, some say. We dont know that these women are telling the truth, again and again people and courts say. But for the very first time, the media is not saying those things. The media is reporting and powerful men and powerful political parties and powerful policing institutions are facing consequences, which is, in theory, what is supposed to happen to people who harm other people.
So what lies beneath this discomfort some people (both men and women) profess when powerful men fall after a woman accuses them of sexual assault? I posit that the discomfort lies not in the perpetrators rapid demise nor the fact that he is facing a consequence outside of the laws protections, but rather in the fact these #MeToo-has gone-too-far proponents are beginning to realize just how widespread this behaviour is, just how many men and institutions are implicated, and how this groundswell may well break the foundation of our democracy and our government.
Because the #MeToo movement is international, here are some details about Canadas governmental structure and political context. Our government is comprised of three branches: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. The executive branch of government is made up of the Monarch, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. So far, one member of this branch has been accused of sexual impropriety Kent Hehr, Liberal Cabinet Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities from the Calgary Centre riding resigned from Cabinet in late January after allegations surfaced.
The second branch is the legislative branch. These are the law makers, those who serve as Members of Provincial and Federal Parliaments and Legislatures. From this group, at least two have resigned this month because of allegations of sexual impropriety Patrick Brown, leader of Ontarios PC Party and MPP for Simcoe North, and Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie. Members of the Canadian judiciary, responsible for upholding our laws, have not been directly accused of sexual assault, but Robin Camp (Alberta) was removed from the bench for his comments during a sexual assault trial, and Jean-Paul Braun (Quebec) and Gregory Lenehan (Nova Scotia) have faced investigations for their comments during sexual assault trials.
In addition, Canadian law enforcement institutions are deeply implicated in perpetuating sexual harassment, discrimination and assault, rather than protecting Canadian women from it. In May 2017, the Federal Court approved a class action settlement against the RCMP for sexual harassment and discrimination against women on the force. The Federal Government set aside 100 million dollars, expecting that around 1,000 women would come forward with claims. Last week, the CBC reported that as many as 4,000 women are expected to file claims. Only 20 000 women have worked for the RCMP since 1974 when the force allowed women into its ranks. That means 20 per cent
of the women who have ever worked for the RCMP are expected to receive compensation for gender-based harassment and discrimination. That is objectively appalling.
Other police forces facing allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination include Calgary Police Services, Waterloo Region Police Services and London Police Services. Individual officers from the Vancouver Police Department, Winnipeg Police Services, and Kennebecasis Regional Police Force in New Brunswick faced allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation in 2017, to name but a few.
What happens to a democracy when members of each of the three levels of government are accused of grave criminal acts, or their behaviour blames victims of sexual assault for what happened to them? It does not suffice to simply replace those people and move on as though the structures had nothing to do with it. Legislators, Police and the Judiciary – these are the institutions, we are told, that will make, enforce, and uphold the laws designed to keep us all safe. But they havent. So, where do we turn? What do we do?
How do we rebuild our government and law enforcement institutions, and further, our democracy, so that Canadian women can enjoy full, rich lives without the threat of grave personal and professional violations? First, we sit with the pain that our beloved Canada has failed us all. We lean into that discomfort. We study our failures, personal and institutional, and then we ask women to start to piece our government and our democracy back together. Men can listen and support and help, but this time, I think, women lead us forward. And to those who say that #MeToo has gone too far, I say this is just the very beginning.
Rachael Lake is a staff lawyer with Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, practising in the areas of Disability and Employment Insurance Law. Reasonable Doubt appears on Mondays.
A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Waterloo Region Community Legal Services.