The Canadian Press surveyed current female Members of Parliament last month to find out the extent to which they had been the targets of sexual harassment, assault or misconduct of all kinds, including during their time in elected office. The responses make clear that politics in Canada still remains a male-dominated baston and Ottawa is no stranger to inappropriate behaviour against women, no matter their stature, with social media being the most common source of complaints.
Of 89 current female members of Parliament, 38 chose to respond to the voluntary survey, which sought their input on everything from lived experiences to their views on the global conversation growing out of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, among others. Anonymity was promised to ensure MPs could share their experiences and opinions without fear of reprisal.
Nearly 58 per cent of respondents said they had personally been the target of one or more forms of sexual misconduct while in office, including inappropriate or unwanted remarks, gestures or text messages of a sexual nature. That includes three MPs who said they were victims of sexual assault and four who said they were the targets of sexual harassment, defined in the survey as insistent and repeated sexual advances. 47 per cent said that they were subjected to inappropriate comments on social media. Twenty-two MPs who said they had personally experienced some form of sexual misconduct in office chose to answer a question about the perpetrators, with five saying it came from an MP from her own party. Ten said it came from an MP in a different political party.
Eight respondents said the perpetrator was a lobbyist, constituent or other stakeholder known to them through their role in elected politics, while 18 said it was either someone from outside the world of politics or someone who is anonymous or otherwise unknown to them.
One MP recalled a voter slipping his hand onto her buttocks when they posed for a photo together during the 2015 federal election campaign. “I remember the discomfort of having to push his hand away after,” she said, but decided to stay silent. “What does one do with that? Tell him he’s disgusting and that it’s nauseating?” she said, noting she was on the campaign trail. No, I let it go and it’s over.”
There was a higher number of MPs who said they had either witnessed, or been told about, sexual misconduct targeting another woman in their entourage, be it a staffer, page, intern, House of Commons employee or MP. Two-thirds of respondents said such behaviour had occurred rarely, while another four said it happened often. The vast majority said they had never heard about the same things happening to a man, although six respondents did say they had either witnessed or been told about sexual misconduct directed at men in their entourage. They described the instances as rare.