Friday, November 21, 2014

Sexual Harassment on the Hill. And the CBC. Probably everywhere, really.

Jian Ghomeshi at the Vancouver taping of Q.  Source.


Boy have things hit the fan lately.  Suddenly, and seemingly without warning on the 26th of October, Jian Ghomeshi leaves a rather lengthy post on his Facebook wall.  He claimed that a jilted ex-girlfriend was engaged in a smear campaign against him and that the CBC was groundlessly dismissing him after his faithful service on Q.  All because he has a taste for rough sex.

As it turns out, he voluntarily showed a photo to his superiors that proved he had caused physical harm to a woman, to the point that it had left marks.  The rumour mill is working overtime on this matter, and I would like to wait for the court proceedings (he is suing CBC for wrongful dismissal), until making my mind up.  That said, it appears that many women were harassed by Ghomeshi on the set of Q.  And, as an interesting legal note, under Canadian law it is impossible to consent to anything that will leave a mark, making anything he has done which left a mark a felony.

Not long after, a press conference was called on Parliament Hill.  Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, announced that he was suspending Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti for "personal misconduct" pending an investigation.  It soon came to light, though the source remains unknown, that they had been suspended for the sexual harassment of two female NDP Members of Parliament.

Criticism was swift and plentiful.  My first reaction, before I knew the allegations, was that Trudeau had jumped the gun.  The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone is, in fact, a thing that the Canadian judiciary is kind of big on.  Suspending the members before an investigation seemed premature at best.

It has since been revealed that the two MPs in question approached Trudeau with their allegations, which were supported by fellow Grit Craig Scott.  Trudeau approached NDP leader Tom Mulcair and discussed the situation.  They agreed that suspension would be the best course of action.  However, to protect the anonymity of the NDP MPs, the nature of the allegations would go unsaid.

As I previously said, and especially after the nature of the allegations were leaked, criticism was swift and plentiful.  However, it was not the kind I expected.  There has been a lot of criticism of the decision of Trudeau to "go public."  Megan Leslie and Nycole Turmel, NDP deputy leader and party whip respectively, reported that the publicity will re-victimise the women in question.  Leslie reports that Mulcair was made aware of the situation and asked the women how they wanted to proceed and respected their right to privacy.  Turmel echoed that women were not given their privacy.  However, one of the MPs approached Trudeau, and the rest of the story was set in motion.  

Trudeau reports that once someone approached him with this information that he felt a responsibility to act, and frankly I agree with him.  I'll briefly pause here and say it's easy for me, a male, to judge the situation from the outside and decide what's right and wrong.  I won't pretend to know what it's like.  Leslie suggested that possible alternative solutions would include things like ensuring that the female MPs in question would not have to work on committee with Andrews and Pacetti, or give them areas in which Andrews and Pacetti are not allowed.  This sounds to me like sweeping it under the rug.  Ignoring the problem in hopes that it will go away.  This is the sort of action that leads to the perpetuation of an alleged "old boys' club."  It is only by firm, decisive action that you challenge the culture of a place, and it is only by challenging a toxic culture that it might be changed.

Trudeau at wedding photo shoot.  Source.

At the very least, as Leslie pointed out on The House (excellent program, highly recommend), these events have prompted a national conversation on things like rape culture and consent.  It all seems obvious to me, but apparently we live in a society with a lot of idiots that don't understand how consent works, or that "no" does, in fact, mean "no."  For me, in brings to mind the ridiculous rant of Sun Media's Ezra Levant, in which he railed against Trudeau because of the photo above.   I'm not linking to the video because I don't think it deserves the web traffic, which is ultimately supporting him and his network financially.  Levant specifically asked how the new bride's father must feel, or how her husband would feel after this photo, and went as far as to suggest that Trudeau felt he was entitled to the droit du seigneur, which [allegedly] gave lords the right to have sexual relations and/or take the virginity of subordinate women.  Two things on that note: despite the fame of "prima nocta" in Braveheart, there is no evidence to suggest that such a law was ever on the books, let alone exercised.  Second, Levant did stipulate that he doesn't think Trudeau actually had sex with the bride, because that makes it better.

However, Levant never once mentioned the feelings of the bride.  He didn't seem to give a second thought to the idea that she is indeed a person, from whom consent was obtained before the photograph was taken.  He didn't even think that maybe all parties had harmless fun.  Probably because he was too busy with partisan hackery to think of the bride as a person, and I think that might speak to the larger issue in a distinct subset of our society.

I'll close here by pondering another of Leslie's points from her interview on The House. She mentioned that she has a colleague whose hair is constantly being touched, and that she never saw people going around touching the hair of her male peers.  My hair is long and curly, and I am often asked for permission to touch it.  I always grant it, to keep the glory of these luscious locks to myself would be profoundly unfair.  Perhaps in some cases, people like touching long hair and that's the end of it.  Perhaps we're getting closer to living in a country where we don't have to fear sexual harassment or even assault in the workplace.  Unfortunately though, the events of the past month would indicate we still have a way to go.


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