Raj Saini, a Liberal candidate in Ontario, says he will no longer be running in Canada’s 2021 federal election, following allegations that he harassed a former member of his staff. Saini has firmly denied the allegations.
In a statement Saturday, Saini confirmed he has taken “the painful decision” to end his campaign for the 44th Parliament.
“Continuing the campaign no longer serves the best interests of my family, staff members, campaign team and constituents,” Saini said in the statement. “For everyone’s health and safety, I have taken the painful decision to end my campaign for the 44th Parliament.”
Saini also said that he intends to concentrate on fighting these allegations.
“I will be focusing all my attention and efforts to challenge these defamatory, false accusations and am in the process of consulting legal counsel to review all options,” he said.
Ever since the allegations — first reported by CBC — the Liberals have faced pressure from the Conservatives and the NDP over their decision to allow Saini to run for office a third time.
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.”
At a news conference last week, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau faced demands for an independent inquiry into the conduct of Saini.
Trudeau ruled out a further probe, saying that there were already “strong, rigorous, independent processes in place.’
‘Dismayed and sickened’
On Friday, Trudeau faced further questions about whether the “processes” that looked into the Saini allegations were sufficiently independent.
Trudeau said he took such allegations “extremely seriously.”
The Liberals say they began investigating Saini last year after hearing an allegation against him, but the person who made the allegation chose not to pursue a complaint or participate in the process.
They say that at that point, the House of Commons conducted an independent workplace review, which didn’t find any concerns about harassment in his office.
The party says it approved Saini’s candidacy on the basis of that review.
Reacting to the resignation Saturday, the woman who reported Saini for inappropriate workplace behavior towards her said people who experience questionable conduct should not feel hesitant to speak out.
“Everyone is dismayed and sickened,” she told Global News in an emailed statement.
“Unacceptable behaviour seems regrettably commonplace in Ottawa and in ridings across the country,” she added.
“If more people can feel safe and secure in advancing workplace concerns in a rigorous reporting and resolution process, this will be a good outcome for all sides in the future.”
New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh on Saturday criticized Trudeau’s silence after Saini was removed as a candidate.
“It’s clear, if the allegations had not come to light in the media, Mr. Saini would still be on Justin Trudeau’s team,” he said.
In a statement Saturday night, a spokesperson for Liberal Party confirmed that “Mr. Saini will no longer be a Liberal candidate.”
The statement also said that a fresh review process was initiated Friday after “new information was directly provided” to the party.
Call for further investigation
The Conservative Party on Sunday called for further investigation into the House of Commons policy regarding the allegations against Saini.
In a letter to the Clerk of the House of Commons — obtained by Global News — Conservative Candidate Michelle Rempel Garner has raised questions on whether the complainant was prevented or steered away from an investigation and asked for recommendations on the issue.
During a campaign stop Sunday, Conservative Leader Erin O’ Toole further criticized the Trudeau government of showing “no serious approach with respect to allegations of harassment or sexual misconduct.”
“It’s important to make sure we all build a a federal institution and military free from harassment,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson and Abigail Bimman