Opposition MPs want Justin Trudeau to sanction Liberal MP accused of sexist remark

Opposition MPs want Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to "step up" and take disciplinary action against a member of his caucus accused of making a sexist remark about a Conservative MP while attending a House of Commons committee.

On March 8, International Women's Day, Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio and Conservative MP Dianne Watts were attending an in camera committee meeting when Watts's cellphone rang.

According to the National Post, which first reported the story, the ring prompted Di Iorio to say: "Where's your pole to slide down on?"


Watts told the newspaper that people in the committee meeting took that comment to mean a stripper pole. Di Iorio has yet to explain his version of events.

"A suggestive and very inappropriate comment directed at me was made by a Liberal MP during a public safety committee meeting in March which left me, staff, and other members of Parliament feeling very uncomfortable," Watts said in a statement Thursday. ​

"There should be no place or time where such comments are acceptable. I now leave it in the hands of the prime minister to take whatever actions he feels appropriate."


Now opposition MPs want Trudeau to take disciplinary action against Di Iorio.

NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson, the party's critic for the status of women, said it was unfortunate the comments were made, "especially that they were made on International Women's Day."

"I'd like to see the prime minister step up with some action on this. He's got some explaining to do," said Malcolmson.

The NDP MP said that she stands by whatever Watts thinks is an appropriate punishment for the remarks.

"The prime minister has asked people to leave his caucus in the past and if that's not a conversation he's having, then I think he should stand in front of the microphone and explain to the public his reasons," Malcolmson said.

Feeling 'safe and secure'

Karen Vecchio, the Conservative critic for families, children and social development, who was in the committee meeting at the time and witnessed the incident, said Trudeau should have acted by now.

"The prime minister has known for two weeks and put out a feminist budget, so I'm very concerned with him being hypocritical about it," said Vecchio.

The Conservative MP said everyone has to remember that Parliament is also a work place and all women need to feel "safe and secure" and be treated with respect while they perform their jobs.

In terms of what punishment would be suitable, Vecchio did not make a specific demand, except to suggest that saying sorry would not be enough: "What does an apology do now?" she said.

"At the end of the day it is up to the prime minister. This is his caucus member and he should do what he thinks is best," Vecchio said.

In an interview with the CBC's Julie Van Dusen last summer, Di Iorio recounted how he had befriended former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau while they worked together in Montreal.

Di Iorio explained in the interview how the elder Trudeau gave him parenting advice for how to raise his three daughters and taught him the meaning of good manners.

Calls and emails to Di Iorio's office Thursday evening were not returned. 

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office said the government whip's office would take the lead in reacting to the allegations. 

"When the matter was brought to the attention of the whip, he immediately took the appropriate action," said Charles-Eric Lépine, chief of staff to chief government whip Pablo Rodriguez. "Mr. Di Iorio offered an apology to Ms. Watts and explained no word that he himself uttered was intended to offend. He offered that apology again earlier this week.

"All members agree that any form of inappropriate language or behaviour is unacceptable. Every member of Parliament has the right to a safe and respectful working environment and we take this responsibility seriously."

At a news conference Friday, Trudeau said he had put a process in place to ensure members of Parliament would be treated with respect in the workplace.

"One of the things we brought in a number of years ago around issues such as this — as part of my commitment to gender equality, to a harassment-free workplace — we, for the first time, formalized an actual process that will be there to deal issues of this sort and this process is now properly underway."

In 2015, Trudeau expelled two MPs from the Liberal caucus after an independent report into allegations of sexual assault and harassment from two NDP MPs.

The fall-out of that incident led to a report on harassment, sexual harassment and abuse of power on Parliament Hill and a new harassment policy later that year.

The whip's office has not specified what "process" Di Iorio falls under.