There is much to praise in the Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservative party’s swift, decisive response last week to an allegation of sexual harassment against party leader Jamie Baillie. Especially in Nova Scotia with our tradition of look-the-other-way politics as usual, and boys will be boys, and on and on…
Twenty years ago, even a highly publicized criminal case involving Gerald Regan, a former Liberal premier of the province accused of sexually assaulting more than three dozen women — many of them at the time young, low-level civil servants, secretaries, and legislative aides — failed to change either the legislature’s lack-of rules of behaviour or the good-old-boys political culture that allowed such bad behaviour to flourish.
As recently as three years ago, when one of the current premier’s top aides pleaded guilty to domestic assault, the Liberal party — as Michelle Coffin, the woman who was the victim in the case, put it in an interview with the Globe and Mail last week— “sided with the individual who punched and kicked me…. [But] the Tories took a different position in that they protected the victim and removed Jamie Baillie from the position. I’d like to think that we can look at my case, and this case, and see the progress that has been made.”
She’s right, of course, but it’s also worth noting how limbo-low the bar for progress in Nova Scotia politics is.
And while the Conservative response represents progress of a sort, there are still lessons we can learn from what the party did — and didn’t do — in the Baillie case.
Let’s start with what we know so far about what actually happened.
That, in fact, is the first, and most important lesson for the party. We still don’t know all that we, as the public, have a right to know in order to fairly evaluate the party’s response — and what we do know so has only emerged in reluctant stutter-steps from party spokespeople unwilling to be forthright.
The party should have been as transparent as possible as soon as possible.
The facts? According to Tara Miller, the president of the party, “multiple sources” told her in December about a single incident of “inappropriate behaviour” involving Baillie.
The person who was the alleged victim did not complain directly to the party about what happened. Neither did she file an official complaint under a House of Assembly policy on the Prevention and Resolution of Harassment in the Workplace that all parties had agreed to in 2016. Instead, she confided to others, who brought the incident to Miller’s attention, who then triggered the investigation.
That’s reasonable. While the House of Assembly harassment policy includes a reporting mechanism that normally begins with the person filing a complaint to the party’s caucus whip, you can understand why a victim might not feel comfortable complaining through such a process about a man who happens to be the most powerful person in the party.
The fact the alleged victim was unwilling to file her own complaint, however, doesn’t absolve the party of its responsibility, legally or ethically. If it came out later that the party had known about the incident and done nothing, there would have been political hell to pay. And rightly so.
So the party did the right thing. It created what it called its own “appropriate process” closely paralleling the official one: hiring an independent, experienced Halifax lawyer to undertake “the detailed analysis and review of the situation in order to provide the party and caucus with findings under the Nova Scotia House of Assembly harassment policy.”
According to the party, both Baillie and the woman participated in the process, and were each represented by legal counsel.
The lawyer’s report was delivered to the party last Tuesday (January 23, 2018). By Wednesday morning, party president Miller and the caucus chair, Karla MacFarlane, had “requested and accepted the immediate resignation of Jamie Baillie.”
So who was the lawyer?
The party won’t say.
What did the lawyer discover? “The findings,” Miller said, “are a privileged report that will not be made publicly available, in order to protect the identity of the individual.”
So what then did Baillie, who’d been the public face of the party through two general elections, actually do to merit being fired from a job he was in the process of leaving anyway?
The party isn’t saying.
Was this the only complaint against him, or was this part of a pattern of behaviour? (In the aftermath of the same-week resignations of Ontario PC party leader Patrick Brown and federal Liberal cabinet minister Kent Hehr, there have been published reports suggesting both men had histories of harassing behaviour; I haven’t so far seen any suggestion that is true of Baillie.)
Again, however, the party’s lips are zipped.
We do know — not because the party said so, but because a reporter asked the police — that no one in the PC party filed a police report or asked for a criminal investigation. Should someone have?
The party’s vague description of the allegation against Baillie, “inappropriate behaviour,” can cover such a waterfront of actions — from one boorish comment after too many drinks at a Christmas party, to an ongoing history of demeaning comments, to sexual coercion, to worse — as to be meaningless.
That isn’t nearly good enough.
While one can understand the party’s desire to protect the identity of the woman involved, especially since she didn’t make a formal complaint, that doesn’t absolve the party of its responsibility — to the process, and perhaps to Baillie himself — to provide a Cliff’s Notes version of what Baillie is alleged to have done so voters are in a better position to make our own judgments about what happened and the appropriateness of the response.
So while the PCs significantly raised the bar with their response to the Baillie allegations, there is still much that needs to be done — within all parties — to make such processes more transparent in the future.
The bad news is that this probably won’t be the last time time we’ll need them.
I’m not sure what would be accomplished, by reciting the details, more than what has been accomplished by requiring that Baillie resign, other than possibly embarrassing the complainant whose identity we don’t know but, no doubt, lots within the party do know. There is no need to speculate on whether this was a continuing pattern since your report indicates it was a one time event with only one complainant. One hopes that the investigation was thorough enough to allow other complainants to come forward if there were any.
Too often, way too often, the media and the public get off on the lurid details of these events. What difference does it make? The complainant was subjected to inappropriate behaviour and it is not for us to judge whether it was a 1 or a 10 on the scale or how she should have reacted to it. And yes, the lurid details always lead to those “value-laden” judgements.
Whether or not there was a complaint to the police is also not anyone’s call but the complainant’s. The report indicates she had legal counsel throughout the investigation so one might assume she would know whether she could or wanted to complain to police.
This is not just about what the public wants or about the transparency of the organization. Fundamentally this is about this complainant being fully satisfied that she has been heard. I don’t see why we should try to deny her that, even in the name of some higher purpose.
There is a larger issue here, however. It’s the male privilege that has allowed this sort of activity to go on for so long, that has allowed (and encouraged) men to treat others with disrespect without even thinking that they are doing so. And, of course, mostly never being held accountable. Rather than looking for details the discussion should be around what we, as a society, (individuals, schools, governments, businesses, organizations) do not just to discover, publish and punish the behaviour after it happens but to make sure it is eliminated as a pillar of our society.
With respect Ronald I think the anonymized details are of vital importance.
Before this happened I never saw myself myself voting for Baillee’s party, but whatever he did that was ‘inappropriate’ was apparently serious enough to force the Nova Scotia Leader of the Opposition out of his job. It had better be damn serious! Right now I have no way to know.
If he had a few too many drinks at a party and called her “Tootsie” which so offended her (or those with whom she originally discussed it) it began this process, that doesn’t sound like an adequate reason IMHO. It would have just been dumb, warranting a full apology as soon as he was sober. If Baillee actually groped her, well, that’s different. Only the President of the United States is allowed to do that.
Both the law and politics have a way of co-opting common English language and broadening or distorting it to suit their purpose. If I told you that Tom assaulted Jerry, you would likely imagine violence – may Jerry was hit? Yet in legal terms “assault” could mean an unwanted touch. We saw this expertly played for political gain outside the Province House men’s room some years back. The same goes for terms like “inappropriate behavior” or “sexual abuse” each of which covers a spectrum of sins, some far more serious than others. It seem to me that today the tendency is for the general public to always assume the worst when these terms are used, and that is most certainly assisted by keeping the details under wraps.
It seems to me that the Ghomeshi trials and the #MeToo sensations represent two polar opposites.
Sexual assault and rape are criminal offenses, as serious as homicide. They deserve a proper and exhaustive trial for any kind of justice to stand a chance. Yet when the criminal courts are essentially tasked with trying to determine what was in the minds of two very drunk people alone together a couple of years ago, it’s rarely possible to prove the crime occurred beyond reasonable doubt – the benchmark for a criminal offense. That doesn’t mean it never happened, only that the court was unable to prove it did. Here the woman usually loses, and this discourages others from trying.
On the other hand we are now watching a cascade of explosive public denunciations by women claiming to have been abused or worse, by powerful men, who automatically end up losing their livelihood despite no charge being laid nor conviction obtained. It seem to me that any plaintiff can make any claim without having to back it up. Over their double doubles the court of public opinion will argue “Why would any woman say such a thing if it never happened?”, which leads to the presumption that it must have. That’s most likely true (especially when powerful, narcissistic men are involved and believe they can ‘get away’ with such atrocious behavior knowing that they would more likely be believed than the plaintiff and because they command the resources to gag and punish any woman who would dare to accuse them). Still what would happen should a group of women choose to bring down a hated department supervisor whose only crime was to strictly enforce the company rules, by alleging some sort of sexual impropriety? Is that absolutely impossible? I would guess unlikely but not impossible.
My point is that either way, the law does not yet serve the public very well in sexual allegations. We need to both secretly hear cases so neither party suffers from the legal process, but we need to be able to meet the burden of proving a criminal case beyond reasonable doubt. We cannot fairly try anyone in the news media – no matter how deserving they might well be, even if it does make great TV.
The justice system needs special ways to deal with these cases – ways that offers real justice for both sides. Anyone know if any serious effort is being put into this?
MeToo meets due process. Tough. Given the centuries of patriarchy I am more than willing to believe women over process.
Part of me feels bad for Patrick Brown or Jamie Baillie but if these potentially “innocent” men’s due process gets sacrificed for equality.
We should also remember the innumerable women who have never had due process or worse yet, due process includes slut shaming and all forms of degradations imposed by, our at times, shameful justice system (see Justice Lenehan).