A Year After Expulsion, Questions Remain Unanswered
May 3rd, 2019
Today is the anniversary of Regina–Lewvan MP Erin Weir’s expulsion from the federal NDP caucus. He highlights five basic questions that remain unanswered one year later:
1.) What is the process for harassment allegations?
The federal NDP staff collective agreement contains longstanding anti-harassment provisions. The House of Commons also has an anti-harassment policy. No complaint was ever brought against me under either of those established processes.
When MP Christine Moore circulated a vaguely accusatory e-mail in reply to my candidacy for NDP caucus chair, the NDP leader responded by suspending me, declaring he would “believe survivors”, appointing an activist investigator, and emailing 250 federal NDP staff to invite anonymous complaints.
When Moore was later the subject of a specific and public complaint, the NDP leader appointed a more cautious investigator who reportedly did not even interview the complainant, let alone invite other complaints.
While these inconsistent investigations were underway, the NDP supported amending the Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Commons: Sexual Harassment to include a one-year limitation period for complaints to prevent the retrospective reinterpretation of past interactions that are difficult to properly investigate. Yet all the complaints solicited against me (and the complaint against Moore) were from more than a year beforehand.
The federal NDP leadership has been blatantly inconsistent in its approach to harassment allegations.
2.) What constitutes “harassment”?
Almost everyone has social interactions in which they could have been more attentive, careful or respectful. I welcomed the opportunity to learn from feedback that I had sometimes stood too close to other people and/or spoken with them more than they wished to talk to me.
However, to label such social interactions as being “on the less serious end of the harassment and sexual harassment spectrum” implies that most people are frequently guilty of some form of harassment.
The investigation report did not uphold any specific complaint as meeting a formal definition of “sexual harassment.” Instead, it lumped complaints together and concluded that, on a balance of probabilities, the amalgam reached the lower end of a spectrum.
3.) What is the basis for caucus expulsion?
If standing too close, speaking too long or having an argument were criteria for expulsion, very few MPs would be able to remain in the NDP caucus.
Indeed, based on the investigation report, the NDP leader privately agreed to reinstate me, but repeatedly delayed announcing this resolution until a former leader’s office staffer took her complaint to the media and I publicly defended myself.
By contrast, Moore was not expelled or disciplined for publicly blasting the complainant who challenged her in the media. Various New Democratic MPs have publicly criticized the leader or other caucus members without being expelled. Indeed, it appears the only MP expelled from a federal NDP caucus prior to me was Manon Perrault, who was charged and convicted in criminal court.
Since the NDP caucus did not vote at our first meeting after the 2015 election on whether to adopt the Parliament of Canada Act rules for caucus expulsion, it is unclear whether the NDP leader has the legal authority to expel MPs. What is clear is the absence of any consistent standard for expulsion from the federal NDP caucus.
4.) Why was there no appeal?
The established processes to investigate harassment allegations include appeal procedures. Yet the NDP leader invented a process for me with no appeal and publicly dismissed calls for an appeal by stating that he felt satisfied with his process.
On October 1, 2018, I wrote to the federal party president to invoke the appeal procedure in the NDP Policy on Discrimination, Harassment and Sexual Violence. He replied on October 13: “I’ve received your letter and will get back to you soon.” On November 2, he suggested “early next week.” I have not yet received a response.
Almost everyone understands that appeal procedures are fundamental to due process. Yet the federal NDP leadership has denied me an appeal without explanation.
5.) Who chooses NDP candidates?
The NDP used to pride itself on being a democratic party in which grassroots members decided policy and selected candidates. Of course, the NDP leadership sometimes had to appoint candidates in ridings with few party members and no local organization.
Regina–Lewvan is among the largest and most active NDP riding associations in Canada. Local members have repeatedly affirmed that I should be able to seek the NDP nomination, including through a resolution adopted by the 2019 annual general meeting.
The federal NDP leadership’s response is that I would not pass their “vetting process” to seek the nomination. If there is a genuine process, the leadership should not know the outcome before going through the process. Presumably, the party will not exclude every potential candidate who has ever stood too close, spoken too long or had an argument.
Therefore, the question remains whether federal NDP candidates are chosen by the local membership or at the leader’s whim.