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Powerful women inside NDP push for stronger harassment policy as #MeToo hits politics

OTTAWA New Democrat women are challenging their party to do better on implementing its anti-harassment policy, in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct emerging across Canada’s political spectrum.
At the party’s biennial policy convention, grassroots delegates decided on Sunday to adopt an emergency resolution that “urgently recommits to the work of eliminating sexual harassment in the NDP and in our political system.”
NDP members should commit themselves to “believing and supporting those who bring forward concerns or allegations,” address harassment at all levels and encourage all, “particularly male-identified members,” to educate themselves about the issue, it reads.
Another resolution adopted Sunday compels the NDP to put a full anti-harassment policy on its website alongside its mission statement.
“It is one thing to have some nice words written down and slapped up on a website. It is a whole other thing to be prepared to take the leadership to put that policy into practice,” said Vicky Smallman, the director for women’s and human rights issues at the Canadian Labour Congress.
“My friends, we are not immune as a movement from the spectrum of behaviours that constitutes harassment and violence. And I’m afraid that we have not done a good job at making this party … safe, making it inclusive, making it welcoming.”
The NDP’s status of women critic Sheila Malcolmson said the conversations are part of recognizing “we are in a totally new time” in Canada. “This work is vitally necessary,” she said. “The work is underway. … We need to walk our talk.”
Outgoing party president Marit Stiles had opened the convention with an apology to women in the party who have ever felt harassed, and a statement against discrimination.
“I think it’s an important moment, maybe a bit of a tipping point,” she said in an interview with the National Post. “And as outgoing president and a woman myself, who’s of course experienced, like I think almost every woman, my own share of that kind of behaviour, it felt like the right moment to send a really strong message.”
The #MeToo movement recently reached New Democrats as the Post investigated and published allegations of sexual impropriety by beloved former MP Peter Stoffer. The Post’s reporting showed that concerns about Stoffer’s behaviour were brought to the party as early as 2006 but no formal actions were taken to investigate or discipline him.
Stiles said she asked Stoffer not to attend the convention this weekend because of the nature of the allegations and “he was very gracious about it.” She confirmed she and the party’s new national director, Melissa Bruno, are “making some inquiries” about Stoffer.
“I’m going to be urging the next president and officers to continue that work,” she said, adding she believes that it’s been made clear at the convention “we have a broader responsibility to stay on top of these issues.”
Stiles said five or six months of work has gone into a new harassment policy. The draft policy circulated among delegates this weekend is about eight times longer than the existing one, which was adopted in 1999.
The new version is specific and detailed in its definitions and procedures, listing numerous examples of what could constitute discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment and bullying.
“What we’re trying to do here is just changing the whole culture, being very clear about what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour, for everyone who is involved in our party, in our movement,” Stiles said.
Current MP Erin Weir is being investigated for undisclosed issues of harassment. There is no indication that the harassment alleged to have occurred is of a sexual nature.
He is not the only Canadian politician to have been accused of misconduct as the #MeToo movement ricochets across halls of power across the country.
“In the last few weeks, you know, coming out of the Patrick Brown allegations in particular, as we were finalizing (harassment policy) to come to this convention I think it did force us to think a little bit more,” Stiles said.
Much oxygen at the convention on Friday went towards conversations about Brown’s decision to enter the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race, which had been called to replace him after a resignation prompted by sexual misconduct allegations reported by CTV News last month.
On the sidelines of the convention, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath did not take an opportunity to comment on Brown, despite earlier statements supporting the “bravery” of women who came forward with accusations against him. What happens in the Ontario Progressive Conservatives’ leadership race is “their business,” she said on Saturday, and members of that party will have to decide how they feel about Brown’s candidacy.
Asked about her views on updating the harassment policy, Horwath said she applauds organizations that update their policies to make workplaces safer.
“I think it’s incumbent upon everyone in every organization, in every workplace, and every circumstance to take a hard look at what’s happening in their environment, in their community, in their area of responsibility,” she said. “It’s time to listen to women.”
In a speech Saturday, federal leader Jagmeet Singh spoke about the #MeToo movement but didn’t link it to his own party. “It’s an opportunity for us to grown for us to build a better society where women are safe in every aspect of life,” he said.

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