Thursday, January 15, 2009

Old-fashioned misogyny

He hasn’t even sat down in his newly appointed Senate seat, and already people are calling for Patrick Brazeau’s resignation.

Brazeau, former national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), is facing allegations of sexual harassment from two former employees: Jade Harper, and an unnamed woman, dating back to 2007.

Harper filed a complaint against Brazeau and the CAP with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging drunkenness and sexual exploitation in the office. She told the CBC she decided to come forward after hearing about allegations made against Brazeau last year by another former employee.

Is it only coincidence, then, that Harper came forward as soon as Brazeau is appointed to the Senate?

It’s easy to dismiss Harper as a harpy, a vindictive woman determined to see her former boss fail because of some unknown grievance. What better time to exact revenge than when he’s appointed to a position of prominence and power in Canadian politics?

At the same time, Harper claims she went through complaints procedures at the CAP to no avail. Imagine her surprise, then, when she turns on the TV in December to hear the Stephen Harper has appointed Brazeau to the Senate.

After learning about the previous allegation, perhaps she decided to take her experiences to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, and thus into the middle of a political controversy.

Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford takes the view in her January 10 column, “Watchdogs of sexual harassment eager to bite as they ever were,” that Brazeau is at worst guilty of being an “old-fashioned” man.

While Blatchford believes it’s unfortunate women have to put up with sexual harassment in this day and age, she thinks women should just learn to cope with it.

Do we really want someone with such “old-fashioned” attitudes towards female co-workers in our Senate? I’m hard-pressed to see Blatchford take a pat on the head (or behind) by a male superior lying down, so why should we subject Brazeau’s female staff or Senate colleagues to the same treatment?

I agree sexual harassment is a grey area — I’ve worked in some sexually charged workplaces before where pats on the behind, sexual innuendo, and even drinking occurred on a regular basis. I was rarely offended, but I was working with friends. If they crossed the line, I let them know it.

We trod a very fine line, however, as newcomers might not share our depraved sense of humour. We ran a constant risk of subjection to sexual harassment cases ourselves. But can you find me a newspaper run by university students that doesn’t?

That being said, everyone has the right to feel comfortable and safe in the workplace. And if they don’t, they have the right to make their concerns known and see them addressed.

Blatchford fears allegations of sexual harassment could ruin Brazeau’s reputation, even if he’s found innocent. She cites an external investigation conducted into the first allegations last year at the request of the CAP, which cleared Brazeau.

But former CAP Board Member Will Menard told CBC the investigation did determine there was inappropriate behaviour on Brazeau’s behalf. He also said Brazeau didn’t violate the CAP’s sexual harassment policy only because it was “so weak.”

This doesn’t prove Brazeau’s guilt, of course, but it does cast a shadow of doubt. If he really is innocent, Brazeau should face these allegations head on, with the best lawyer his six-figure salary can afford.

If he’s found guilty, however, Stephen Harper should not only strip Brazeau of his seat, but also take a long, hard look into the closet of his next appointee for any “old-fashioned” skeletons.

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