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Two opposing harrassment complaints in the Manitoba Legislature with opposite rulings

 

On  Thursday March 11,  I spoke on a  motion dealing  with a harassment   complaint  by a public servant  against  a Member of the Legislature in  relation to something  that the Member had said  in the Chamber of our Legislature.   The  curious  aspect of this is that there  were  two  harassment complaints  and two competing, opposite, rulings.   My comments are below (from  Hansard).

 

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I want to put a few comments on the record with regard to this motion.

      This is an important ruling which the Speaker has clearly spent a lot of time looking at, discussing, referencing previous rulings, and so on. It is an important ruling because it sustains what we have in terms of parliamentary privilege, and parliamentary privilege is one of the fundamental rights that we have as MLAs.

      Thank you to the Speaker for looking at this very carefully, and making a decision that it is important to sustain the privilege of the ability of MLAs to bring up issues, to raise concerns and to have those concerns listened to and heard in the Chamber.

      There were, of course, two allegations, which are curious. The one by the secretary of the Treasury Board, which was made against the MLA for St. James. This matter, as I understand it, was then looked at by our legislative procedures and a decision was made in favour, in that instance, of the [former] secretary of the Treasury Board.

      We also have a decision by the Speaker that the  approach which was used by the Premier (Mr.  Pallister) in supporting the [former]secretary of the Treasury Board and which appears to suggest that the process which was used by the secretary of the Treasury Board to request an evaluation of harassment was somehow wrong or misplaced.

      Let me start with the handling of the harassment complaint, because I think this is something that clearly needs to be looked at. I will remind the Speaker that Liberals have repeatedly called for an independent officer of the Legislature to handle such harassment complaints, rather than the present process, which is, in essence, an in-house process.

      I think that the ability of an independent officer to provide an independent perspective is going to be very important in the future.   This [the recent  events] has demonstrated one of the reasons why this has happened.

I will explore this further, because when this matter first came to light–and I am very much aware of the Speaker's remarks to both the MLA for St. James and the [former]secretary of the Treasury Board, that our current policy is that they will not bring these matters to public light, and the Speaker has, in fact, indicated that they were both wrong in the way that they handled this.

      But let us look at the process. There was publicly a concern of impartiality in the process, even though it was handled by a procedure which we had approved in the Legislature. There was not sufficient general public knowledge of the procedure and the recognition that it was impartial, and so there were a lot of people who felt that there was some partiality in the process, and it became almost like a political decision one way or another, rather than an impartial decision.

      I think one of the lessons that we have to learn from this is that we can't not have any information coming out. Clearly, we have to have enough information that all MLAs can learn and improve–and that it's not just MLAs, it's others who may bring forth complaints, as in the case of the former  secretary of the Treasury Board and that we need to be able to have some understanding of what has happened, some public discussion, if we're going to improve the ways that we approach identifying and preventing harassment and intimidation.

      This is, as we've seen in the ruling, a complicated matter, and it's not simple, but we're clearly going to need to go  back and have a look at what the harassment policies are for our Manitoba Legislature moving forward.

      There is an interesting aspect of this. It is important that members of the Legislature not be harassed or intimidated for things that are said in the Legislature itself, and yet there clearly needs to be an ability of people who are spoken about whether they are public servants or others to be able to respond and counter, if they disagree with what is said in the Legislature, particularly when it relates to personnel matters, as this does.

      I think we all, as collective members of the Legislature, want to be able to decrease harassment and intimidation and bullying. We are learning that it is not always a simple matter to do that, but, clearly, there is a need to decrease harassment or intimidation on whatever it is based, and clearly we know all too well that there have been people who are Black or Indigenous who have been discriminated against in one way or another.

      And it is not just such individuals, it is individuals in the LGBTQ community, individuals sometimes who are small, individuals who have large bodies, that this matter of making sure that we don't attack people on the basis of who they are. We do need to exchange ideas. We don't want people to be discriminated against. We want to make sure that, as we move forward, MLAs have the ability to speak out in the Chamber. But there is a line here which is actually extra­ordinarily important, and that is a line of making sure that we don't have harassment or intimidation either on one side or the other, and we need to reflect, I believe, on how we're going to do that.

      It is frequently the case that, in spite of two rulings, one on the original harassment complaint by the [former] Secretary of the Treasury Board and a ruling by the Speaker–which, in some ways, seemed to be counter to one another. But, at the same time, we have to, as the Speaker has mentioned, stand up for the ability of MLAs to speak out in the Legislature, and yet, at the same time, we have to work out ways to do this so that we are not harassing, bullying people, but rather we are able to address the critical policy issues of today, we are able to discuss the needs and desires and wants of those who have been marginalized too often in our society.

      We have seen, as an example, in the last two months, tremendous numbers of people in Winnipeg who have been homeless, who have been living in bus shelters, and there is a tendency to look at people who are living in bus shelters as somehow inadequate. But, in fact, the people who have been living in bus shelters who are homeless, all too often have had challenge in their life, have had unexpected circumstances, sometimes the death of a spouse, sometimes a breakup of a family relationship, sometimes a loss of a job, and that we need to be able to recognize people who are experiencing homelessness as human beings like us who need help to carry them through a difficult time.

      And once they are through that difficult time and have housing and have support, that individuals in this circumstance can do really well.

      I encountered, not very long ago, an individual who had, at one point, been homeless. Now he's got a good relationship with his two boys, he is working hard as a painter and he was recently injured by some individuals who went after him with mal intent.

      But, here he is, with an injured arm, absolutely determined that he is going to go on working and earning money, because he doesn't want to go on social assistance. And this was an individual who not too long ago, several years ago, was homeless and having great difficulty.

      There are many, many examples of people who have struggled and who have gone on to significant productivity, significant achievements, significant ability in their turn, to recognize and help others.

      So, let us move forward in spirit together to figure out how we better reduce, eliminate harassment, bullying and intimidation. And it will not be easy, and as the Speaker herself has said, it is complex. But let us go on this journey, all of us as MLAs together, and work toward a better future where we are more empathetic, more courteous, more sympathetic toward others.

      And let us do this in the spirit of trying to build a better Manitoba, trying to build a better democracy, trying to build a province which will stand out not only in Canada but internationally for the good things that we are doing and will do in the years ahead.

      Thank you, Madam Speaker, for this opportunity to speak. Merci. Miigwech.

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