Raj Saini, the Liberal candidate for Kitchener Centre, is ending his campaign for re-election after a series of allegations of unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments were made public this week.
In a statement released Saturday, Saini again denied all the allegations as "unequivocally false" but said he would no longer be running to win his seat.
"I am very proud of my work for Kitchener Centre, work to which I committed myself wholly, gladly, and effectively," the statement said. "However, continuing my campaign no longer serves the best interests of my family, staff members, campaign team, and constituents.
"For everyone's health and safety, I have taken the painful decision to end my campaign for the 44th Parliament."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had initially defended his party's decision to allow Saini to run, saying "there have been rigorous processes undertaken" after an allegation was made against Saini.
But in a statement released by the Liberals on Saturday, the party reversed course.
"Yesterday, a review process was initiated after new information was directly provided to the Liberal Party of Canada. Mr. Saini will no longer be a Liberal candidate," the statement reads.
The end of Saini's campaign comes after the deadline to file nomination forms with Elections Canada, meaning the Liberals will not be able to field another candidate in the riding. Saini won the seat in 2019 by almost 6,000 votes ahead of Green Party candidate Mike Morrice.
WATCH | Trudeau says system for dealing with harassment still not good enough:
The Liberals under Trudeau have insisted they have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct and workplace harassment, although they allowed MP Marwan Tabbara to run in the 2019 federal election despite having been subject to a party investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made against him in the previous mandate.
Speaking after the TVA French-language debate Thursday, Trudeau said there was deep outrage among Canadians that harassment continued to take place in Canadian institutions.
"The answer is always imperfect to say, 'You know there's a process we have to follow," he said.
But a female senior staffer who came forward and alleges Saini mistreated her denied that the system was rigorous. She said she wasn't allowed to take part in the workplace assessment, even though her concerns were what initially prompted the review. This staffer also said she was not the individual who came forward to the Liberals to give them new information on Friday prompting Saini to drop out of the race.
In response to Saini stepping down as a candidate, the staffer said unacceptable behaviour is too commonplace across party lines in Ottawa and ridings across the country.
"If more people can feel safe and secure in advancing workplace concerns in a rigorous reporting and resolution process, this will be a good outcome for all sides in the future," she wrote in a statement to CBC News.
The Conservatives wrote to the clerk of the House of Commons on Thursday to ask whether a review into one of the allegations against Saini was conducted properly.
The Conservatives accused two Liberal candidates of not taking the matter seriously. The former senior staffer emailed Bardish Chagger on April 25, 2020, according to an email viewed by CBC News, and said on a number of occasions Saini acted inappropriately toward her. The former staffer also contacted the Liberal Whip Mark Holland about her allegations.
"Liberal candidates Bardish Chagger and Mark Holland, who have been directly implicated in the coverup of these serious allegations, must also be part of Justin Trudeau's investigation into this troubling matter," party spokesperson Chelsea Tucker said in a statement.
In a statement on Saturday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticized Trudeau for failing to remove Saini as a candidate earlier, as well as mishandling sexual assault cases in the military and mistreating the women in his own cabinet.
"It's clear, if the allegations had not come to light in the media, Mr. Saini would still be on Justin Trudeau's team," Singh said. "Justin Trudeau's talk about feminism isn't reflected in his actions."
Sources allege four separate instances of inappropriate behaviour
CBC News reported the allegations against Saini Tuesday, after seven sources with knowledge of the claims spoke about four different instances of the then member of Parliament allegedly making unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate comments toward Liberal staffers.
CBC News agreed not to identify the sources with direct knowledge of the allegations because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about the matter or were concerned about career reprisals.
Saini denied on Tuesday ever acting inappropriately. He said an "independent third-party review" of his office conducted through the House of Commons last summer cleared him of harassment allegations. It's that review the Conservatives are calling into question, as the staffer who made the allegations was not interviewed during the process.
Saini maintained his denial Sunday, writing in his statement: "I have never acted inappropriately towards staff, volunteers, or constituents. As a trained professional, and as someone who values integrity, I have always maintained appropriate boundaries and fostered a working environment of respect, professionalism, and inclusivity, to which my staff and campaign team have publicly attested earlier this week."
Saini's campaign released a statement earlier this week on behalf of unnamed "female and male staff" offering support for Saini.
Several sources said four female staffers reported to a senior Liberal that Saini was acting inappropriately toward them, including "touching" or being "handsy," during a Liberal holiday party in 2015.
A senior member of the government brought those concerns to the Prime Minister's Office and Justin Trudeau's chief of staff, Katie Telford, sources said. The Liberal Party told CBC News in a statement earlier this week that "it has no record or knowledge of the matter."
Other sources said one staffer was uncomfortable with Saini following her around at subsequent events, and another about being called into the office late at night.
Another involved a former senior staffer who wrote to Saini to say she was going to take her own life in his office by overdosing on pills in March 2020, according to a written complaint to the human rights commission. She said Saini alerted mental health services, and paramedics were sent to his office to attend to her. She was admitted to hospital. She said Saini put his hand on her thigh several times during car trips and repeatedly mistreated her during her time working for him.
The staffer sent a series of text messages and emails to Saini demanding an apology or else threatening to sue, file an HR complaint or go public with her claims if Saini did not apologize, according to a letter written by a House of Commons lawyer. Saini contacted the House of Commons' legal team and police, who warned the senior staffer, who was on sick leave after the suicide attempt, to stop contacting Saini.
Saini says he was only ever aware of this allegation. The allegation resulted in a third-party review, which the staffer said she was told she could participate in when she returned from sick leave, but was then dismissed from her job.