OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau’s past work with a women’s sexual assault centre helps explain why he came down hard and fast on two Liberal MPs who allegedly behaved inappropriately with two female NDP colleagues.
The Liberal leader suspended Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti from his caucus Wednesday, a week after one of the NDP women complained directly to him about what Trudeau termed “serious personal misconduct.”
Andrews and Pacetti have denied doing anything wrong and the New Democrat women have so far not lodged formal complaints.
Nevertheless, Trudeau chose to suspend the Liberal pair, while asking for an independent, third-party investigation into the matter.
Those close to the leader say his zero-tolerance approach to misconduct with women stems in part from his work with McGill University’s sexual assault centre.
In his recently published memoir, Common Ground, Trudeau says women’s issues “had come to the fore” for him with the 1989 massacre of 14 female students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, “a stone’s throw” from his high school.
A few years later, as a McGill student, he got involved with the sexual assault centre’s outreach program to educate students in residences and fraternities.
“I was part of the first cadre of men trained to join the women activists in leading discussion groups on sexual assault and date rape,” Trudeau wrote.
“We used role-playing exercises and other interactive methods to start students thinking about sexual assault in a different way. This new perspective was important because many people believed that rape was something that happened when a stranger jumped out of the bushes.
“We wanted everyone to understand that the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by people known to the victim and are as much about power as they are about sex.”
Among other things, the outreach group tried to teach women how to handle situations before they became violent or coercive and men how to recognize when a woman was trying to signal she did not welcome sexual advances.
When Trudeau announced the suspensions, he criticized the fact that there is no process for dealing with an MP’s complaint about the conduct of another member. He said it’s time for Parliament to realize it’s 2014, long past time for the institution to have a procedure for airing complaints and protecting victims.
It’s not the first time he’s challenged an institution to do something on the issue.
In his memoir, Trudeau recounted going with another student to see McGill’s president to air concerns about “a somewhat controversial staffing choice” for the newly created position of sexual assault ombudsman.
“It was a lesson for me on how resistant to dealing with delicate issues institutions can be: we were thanked for voicing our perspective and politely ignored.”