OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau came under fresh pressure on Wednesday over his handling of harassment complaints against a Liberal candidate.
The Conservative and NDP leaders both accused Trudeau of failing to take complaints against Liberal candidate Raj Saini, who is seeking re-election for the third time, seriously enough.
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole accused Trudeau of "a culture of coverup" and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the Liberal leader was "not listening to women."
CBC News published a report Tuesday, quoting anonymous sources, that alleged Saini had made inappropriate comments or unwanted sexual advances to female members of his staff.
The CBC also reported that concerns about alleged inappropriate behaviour were first shared with the Prime Minister's Office in December 2015.
Saini firmly denies the allegations and The Canadian Press has not independently verified them.
At his morning news conference, Trudeau faced questions for a second day running about his decision to allow Saini to stand again as the Liberal candidate for Kitchener Centre, a seat in southwestern Ontario the former pharmacist has held since 2015.
Trudeau had said on Tuesday that Saini had briefed his office on “processes” undertaken to investigate the allegations against him. He added that the matter had been “taken seriously."
“I’ve said many times and will continue to insist that everyone deserves to have a safe workplace, in the public service, in political campaigns and right across the country in whatever jobs they have,” the Liberal leader said.
“I know Mr. Saini has shared the details of all the processes that have been undertaken in his office because it is really important that we respond to any concerns and issues brought up and that is what we do.”
Asked again on Wednesday about whether the allegations had been investigated fully enough, Trudeau added that there had been "multiple processes" looking into the claims.
In a statement sent to The Canadian Press, Saini insisted he had “never acted inappropriately towards staff or constituents" while an MP.
He said he could not go into details of the allegations because of privacy concerns.
“I take the health and safety of all my staff extremely seriously," he said.
"As you know, confidentiality in any process like this is paramount. I have never acted inappropriately towards staff or constituents. I have only ever been made aware of one allegation regarding my office. The individual chose not to pursue a formal or informal complaint process. Upon learning of this, I insisted an independent third-party review of my office take place through the House of Commons. The outcome of that review, which was completed in June 2020, found that nothing arose regarding concerns of harassment in the office."
Saini also provided a statement attributed to unnamed "current female and male staff" in his office, which described him as "supportive, understanding and fair."
Speaking Wednesday in Ottawa, O'Toole said he wanted "a serious response" from Trudeau on the allegations.
“These are very serious allegations, and troubling allegations," the Conservative leader said.
"This is a pattern with Mr. Trudeau and his office — no accountability and a culture of coverup. We saw this in the Canadian Armed Forces with multiple allegations that went to the Prime Minister's Office, his chief of staff, the clerk of the Privy Council, the minister of national defence. Everyone knew except Mr. Trudeau, apparently. Now we see the same culture of coverup was taking place with their own paid staff members."
In Montreal, Singh accused Trudeau of "not listening to women" and "a pattern of behaviour."
"The big concern here is that these concerns were raised in this example, raised some time ago and then nothing was done to follow up," he said.
"At a minimum as soon as a serious concern is raised it has to be taken seriously and it has to be investigated and followed up. Ignoring it is really what’s at the heart of the problem here, that there’s nothing done. Concern was raised, no action was taken and that’s wrong."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 1, 2021.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press