File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks with media following caucus.

Political leaders set tone for party on sexual misconduct: Singh

OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he has personally discussed the issue of sexual misconduct with his caucus members, and that his party has a zero-tolerance policy for such behaviour.

It’s vital for someone in a leadership role to send a strong message about unacceptable behaviour, Singh said Thursday — a view shared by former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.

“It is something that I need to show leadership on — I have and I will continue to do so,” he said in an interview.

“It is important for a number of reasons. I set the tone of the party and that’s why it is so important for me to make sure that I make it clear in our party that there is zero tolerance for any form of sexual misconduct, of harassment.”

It’s important that political party leaders send a message — particularly to men — that sexual misconduct won’t be tolerated, Ambrose said earlier this week.

Leadership involves letting members of an organization know where the boss stands, while clear sexual harassment policies are relayed with guidance on how to use them, she added.

“Say to the men in your party, ‘Look, I know I am not speaking to all of you, but if there’s any kind of this behaviour, it has to stop — and if we found out there is some of it, it is going to come out and we are going to deal with it.’”

Singh said he agrees with veteran NDP MP Nathan Cullen that male MPs should be playing a more active role in eradicating misconduct from politics.

“Men play a particularly important role in addressing the gendered nature of this misconduct,” Singh said.

A recent CP survey of female MPs found 58 per cent of respondents had personally been the target of one or more forms of sexual misconduct while in office, including inappropriate or unwanted remarks, gestures or text messages of a sexual nature.

Thirty-eight of 89 of current female MPs participated in the voluntary, anonymous survey, which also found 47 per cent of respondents had been subjected to inappropriate comments on social media.

Singh called the survey findings unacceptable and disturbing, as well as a sad reality for far too many women in all kinds of workplaces, including the political realm.

“Women have experienced some form of sexual misconduct in their lives in general and on top of that, in their places of work,” he said. “It is not acceptable anywhere, but we shouldn’t see it in our democratic institutions … the reality is it is there, and it is everywhere.”

The NDP is working on enhancing its training on harassment issues, Singh added, noting anyone who comes forward with a complaint about past or present behaviour will see it dealt with according to their wishes.

The party has had an anti-harassment policy in place for about two decades, he added.

Singh also cited the experience of Lauren Dobson-Hughes — a former party staffer who described being accosted and kissed by a much older NDP MP in front of witnesses on the Hill in 2007 — illustrates why more needs to be done to address unacceptable behaviour.

“We have an example right in front us,” Singh said.

Dobson-Hughes, a well-regarded women’s rights advocate, said male politicians wield enormous power, yet MPs and staff members are often no more than bystanders who do nothing to help create a safe workplace for their female counterparts.

“We need to ensure that we tackle the culture … in politics of having to be quiet about it, not being able to come forward,” Singh said. “As leader, I want to make sure it is clear that my first step is to say I believe survivors.”

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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