How common is harassment on Parliament Hill?

·Politics Reporter
Liberal MPs Massimo Pacetti (left) and Scott Andrews have been suspended from caucus over allegations of sexual harassment. (Yahoo Canada News)

Parliament Hill was rattled with story, on Wednesday, that some senior press gallery types noted that they hadn’t seen before.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was forced to suspend two members of his party’s caucus ethics critic Scott Andrews and Quebec MP Massimo Pacetti after two female New Democrat MPs alleged they were harassed by them.

"I am aware of how difficult it is for people to come forward. I believe strongly that those of us in positions of authority have a duty to act upon allegations of this nature," Trudeau said, according to CBC News.

"It’s 2014 — we have a duty to protect and encourage individuals in these situations to come forward. The action must be fair but decisive.It must be sensitive to all affected parties but, recognizing how difficult it is to do so, it must give the benefit of the doubt to those who come forward."

It’s unclear, at this point, what kind of harassment the NDP MPs are alleging. We don’t know if it was sexual, verbal, physical or otherwise.

Both Liberal members deny any wrongdoing but will be suspended from caucus while the Speakers’ office conducts an investigation.

[ Related: Why so many women are stepping forward with stories of sexual assault now ]

While no MP has ever been suspended for harassing another MP, that doesn’t mean that there’s not a culture of harassment on the Hill.

A former Hill staffer who goes by the name Jasmine Ali wrote about the “sexism” she faced in a blog post in 2013.

I witnessed everything from stalking to older married MPs/senior staff sleeping with 20/19 year old foreign interns to allusions to sexual innuendo about and in the presence of young women in every major party: Liberals, NDP and Conservatives are all guilty of harassing female staff and young interns.

My second day on the Hill as a parliamentary intern:

"The parliament is not a place for women. The parliament is a men’s locker-room, where it is all about whose THING is bigger," [he said pointing] to his erect penis bulging in his khakis stuffed with his aging obese girth. He sabotaged my work after I refused to go on a date with him, and when I still refused his advances he fired me. Bald and pink from the summer, he had striking resemblance of features to the cartoon character Poky the Pig. I was 22, just finished my last semester of university, and he was around 40."

The National Post's John Ivison wrote about Ali's experience in a column published on Wednesday morning.

"Having met with Ms. Ali, and having been around the Hill for long enough to know the imbalance of power that exists between mainly male MPs and senior staffers, and mainly female interns, I found her story entirely plausible," Ivison wrote.

"What can be said with confidence is that Parliament is not a typical workplace. It offers the incendiary mix of power and opportunity — lonely, competitive men in positions of authority, thousands of kilometres from their families, in charge of impressionable, ambitious, attractive young women. Throw in the copious amounts of booze available on the Hill and bad behaviour is all but guaranteed. One female colleague said she would always leave Hill events before certain MPs drank too much, such was the testosterone-charged atmosphere."

Political consultant Marcel Wieder sayst that harassment sexual or otherwise has happened on the Hill for decades.

"While blatant examples of sexual harassment on the Hill are few and far between there have been some less overt situations. All parties have made an effort to keep things quiet and deal with these sensitive issues internally," Wieder, President of the Aurora Strategy Group, told Yahoo Canada News.

"Given the nature of the environment in Ottawa where people are separated from their families for long stretches coupled with the high pressure jobs, an active social scene and attraction to power has caused some people to lose their moral compass.

"This has contributed to strained relationships that resulted in a number of divorces among MPs and staffers in Ottawa and resulted in some unpleasant situations involving accusations of sexual harassment."

Again, we don’t know exactly what Andrews and Pacetti are being accused of or even if they’re guilty of anything.

What is clear however, is that not many people are surprised by the allegations. People understand that this stuff exists on the Hill — enough people that something now needs to be done about it.

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