Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there is no rule book on how he will respond to cases of members of the Liberal Party who are accused of sexual misconduct.
The comment comes days after former Liberal Sports and Persons with Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr resigned from cabinet over allegations he made inappropriate sexual comments to women in elevators during his time as a member of the Alberta legislature and groped others since coming to work on Parliament Hill. Trudeau was asked why Hehr can remain in the Liberal caucus while other members hit with similar accusations have been removed.
“I don’t have a rule book that’s been handed down by Wilfrid Laurier as leader of the Liberal party on how to handle these situations,” Trudeau said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Ottawa.
“Every case will be different.”
Hehr, who won the coveted seat of Calgary Centre for the Liberals for the first time in 2015, resigned pending the outcome of an investigation into his conduct.
However, Trudeau banished or allowed the resignations of four other MPs from his caucus over the last four years after similar accusations of misconduct were leveled against them.
WATCH: Trudeau won’t say whether results of Kent Hehr investigation will be made public
Montreal MP Massimo Pacetti and Newfoundland MP Scott Andrews were removed from caucus by Trudeau swiftly following misconduct allegations made by two female NDP colleagues in 2014, and some have used those examples to question why Trudeau has not kicked out Hehr from caucus.
Former Liberal MP Hunter Tootoo, who now sits as an independent, quit the caucus in 2016 after revealing a “consensual but inappropriate” relationship to Trudeau and checking himself into treatment for alcohol addiction.
Senior government officials later said he would not be allowed back into the Liberal caucus.
Most recently, Darshan Kang resigned from the Liberal caucus in August after a young female staffer accused him of misconduct and said he had offered to pay her $100,000 to keep quiet afterwards.
Conservative MP Erin O’Toole said Trudeau needs to explain what has changed between the cases where he booted MPs from caucus in the past and what makes the Hehr case different.
“He had a rule book in the last Parliament,” O’Toole said.
“Clearly he’s changed his own rule book and I think he needs to explain why. Is it different now that someone’s in a cabinet position or he thinks he has the popularity to withstand criticism? Because in third party he actually moved much faster than people were expecting.”
WATCH: The sexual misconduct scandal rocking Canadian politics has politicians facing questions about what they knew – and when.
Sexual harassment and misconduct on Parliament Hill is not a new phenomenon.
The culture in political circles of Ottawa rotates heavily around receptions and social events where booze flows heavily. For young staffers, it can be difficult to extricate themselves from a situation in which a more powerful or influential individual makes a sexual advance or acts lecherously, such as by groping or giving cheek kisses that veer uncomfortably towards the mouth.
Employment Minister Patty Hajdu said on Monday the issue has been a “crisis” for a long time but that ongoing cultural shifts mean there is now zero tolerance for abuse of power and predatory behaviour.
“It clearly is a crisis in this workplace,” she said, speaking with reporters after giving a speech in the House of Commons introducing Bill C-65 for debate at second reading.
The bill seeks to require federally-regulated workplaces to have sexual misconduct policies in place and to act on complaints when received.
It would also extend protections under the Canada Labour Code to political and parliamentary staff, who are currently not covered by its provisions.
WATCH BELOW: Michelle Rempel says anti-harassment bill isn’t enough, more severe codes of conduct needed
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who is also immigration critic for the party and a vocal proponent for action on harassment, also gave a powerful speech during her debate of the legislation.
In her speech, she alluded to officials within her own party who were allegedly complicit in allowing Rick Dykstra, who resigned from his position as president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party on Sunday night following allegations of misconduct against him, to run in the 2015 election despite being aware of such allegations.
She said anyone who knew about such behaviour should be ashamed and said legislation alone will not be enough to change a culture that has allowed such behaviour to flourish.
Rather, Rempel said, voters need to make it clear that such behaviour will not be tolerated.