By Medicine Hat News Opinon on January 29, 2018.
At the beginning of the year, the Taber Times published an editorial entitled “Leaders must lead the way on sexual assault.”
It argued that our representatives in legislature have a moral obligation to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment to serve as an example for their constituents.
Events of the past week in Nova Scotia, Ontario and federal politics suggest we may want to look elsewhere for leadership on that file.
First, Nova Scotia PC leader Jamie Baillie was forced to step down after an independent investigation commissioned by his party determined that he breached the House of Assembly’s harassment in the workplace policies.
The CBC reported that the allegations involve a female staffer in the PC caucus office, whose complaint to the party triggered the investigation.
Next, CTV News reported graphic allegations of sexual misconduct against Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown, long considered to be the province’s premier-in-waiting.
Brown held an impromptu press conference, trying to get ahead of the story before CTV aired it on the evening news.
He insisted that the allegations were “categorically untrue,” before being chased to his car by inquiring reporters.
Five of his advisers resigned almost immediately, suggesting that they saw these allegations coming.
PC legislator Lisa MacLeod said she was aware of the allegations, which she reported to members of Brown’s campaign team, who dismissed them at the time.
To make matters worse, Ontario’s Deputy PC leader Sylvia Jones described the allegations against Brown as a mere “hiccup” on the party’s path to victory in June.
But the issue of sexual misconduct in politics is by no stretch partisan.
Most recently, Kent Hehr, the Calgary-area Liberal MP and sport and disabilities minister, was forced out of cabinet pending an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against him.
This suspension came after allegations made against him on social media.
Of course, we should avoid trial by Twitter, and none of these allegations have been proven in court, but allegations of sexual misconduct by men in power should be treated with the utmost seriousness, particularly those with multiple accusers.
There will always be those who cry “witch hunt” and insist these powerful men are the real victims of “hearsay” allegations.
But there’s a fundamental distinction between hearsay and alleged victims coming forward to the media to tell their stories.
It’s incredibly courageous for a woman (or man) to come forward with allegations of sexual abuse and attach their names to it.
But some people don’t want to subject themselves to further abuse from sociopathic internet trolls, so they choose to remain anonymous.
It’s reporters’ jobs to determine the veracity of the allegations, otherwise they’d be opening themselves up to justified libel suits.
Should allegations of sexual assault be tried in court and not by the media?
Well, they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Far too often the legal system fails sexual assault survivors, with its high standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The media, when doing its job properly, operates on a balance of probabilities, like civil courts.
If the allegations against Baillie, Brown and Hehr are false, then they have every right to sue for defamation in civil court or comment when reporters ask for their side of the story, as the media is obligated to do.
Interesting that none of them have opted for that route.
Sometimes allegations of mistreatment are not technically criminal, but are still troubling.
We really ought to have higher standards for our elected officials than simply “not criminal.”
(Jeremy Appel is a reporter with the Cypress Courier and Bow Island Commentator)
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