OTTAWA — Former prime minister Stephen Harper and one of his senior aides are now publicly admitting they were aware a Conservative MP had been accused of sexual assault but let him remain on the ballot in the 2015 election.
In a statement late Friday night, Harper said his understanding of the matter involving Rick Dykstra was that the case had been investigated by the police and closed a year prior.
“Given this understanding of the situation, I did not believe that I could justify removing him as a candidate,” Harper said in a statement posted on Twitter late Friday after days of questions about what he and other party officials knew and when.
The allegations concern a 2014 incident involving Dykstra, who was then a Conservative member of Parliament, and a staff member on Parliament Hill. They were reported in Maclean’s magazine earlier this week.
They have not been tested in court nor independently confirmed by The Canadian Press and Dykstra has denied them, though he stepped down as president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party after they were made public.
Harper’s former chief of staff, Ray Novak, said what the campaign knew in 2015 was that police had investigated a complaint against Dykstra and the investigation was closed.
The party’s lawyer looked into the issue, but “unfortunately the facts available at the time were few,” Novak said in a statement.
Still, that Dykstra was able to remain on the ballot when other candidates were let go for seemingly lesser infractions — one, for example, for being caught on video years prior urinating into a cup — caused much consternation in the party’s rank-and-file this week.
Several MPs called for the party to clear up what had happened after differing accounts from campaign staff and executives emerged in the media, largely on an anonymous basis.
Novak said the matter wasn’t taken lightly by anyone involved, and hinged on whether a closed investigation without charges was sufficient grounds for firing.
“Certainly, with the benefit of hindsight and additional information, Rick Dykstra should have been fired as a candidate,” he said.
“But campaigns don’t get do-overs. To this day, I have hoped, particularly in light of recent media reports, that the alleged victim presses charges so this matter can be fully investigated and prosecuted by the police and the courts.”
Concern over how the matter was handled had prompted current leader Andrew Scheer to order an independent third-party investigation.
The details of that have not been announced but Scheer has pledged to make the findings public and said under his leadership, candidates facing such accusations would never be allowed to run.
In his statement, Harper noted that there are discussions all over the world about how to protect sexual assault victims and encourage them to come forward.
“At the same time, we must have some basic standards of process to try and ensure fairness for all involved,” Harper said.
“This is a healthy conversation and I hope it brings about positive change for everyone.”