HALIFAX – Justin Trudeau and Kent Hehr, a former minister who resigned from the prime minister’s cabinet over allegations of inappropriate conduct with women, were among the Liberals who attended a sexual harassment training session Saturday.
The hour-long session, which was closed to the media, marked the first time the ruling party has broached the issue of harassment at one of its national conventions.
Trudeau emerged to say the session was “a great ongoing part of an important conversation.”
“It’s not one group attending one session that’s going to make all the difference but it’s a step further in the right direction and I’m glad we’re having this conversation,” he said. “It’s an ongoing challenge that we all know we have to continue to work on.”
Hehr also called it “an excellent session.” “It talked about safe workplaces, how to intervene, how we need to lead by example and how we go forward,” the Calgary MP said.
Hehr resigned in January as minister of sports and disabilities, pending an investigation into a complaint that he had made inappropriate sexual remarks to women during his time as an MLA in Alberta, including telling the complainant she looked “yummy.”
Other complaints subsequently emerged, including an allegation that Hehr had groped a young female staffer on Parliament Hill.
Hehr would not comment Saturday on the status of the investigation.
“There’s a process in place and we have to let that process unfold and due process to occur and the like,” he said.
Asked if anything he heard during the training session that made him think some past behaviour may have been inappropriate, Hehr said: “We always have opportunities to learn in life … Of course, we always go forward to try to better ourselves.”
He added that he’s attended similar sessions in the past.
Four MPs have resigned or been kicked out of the Liberal caucus over alleged sexual misconduct since Trudeau became party leader in 2013, including another Calgary MP, Darshan Kang.
Trudeau, who has generally taken a zero-tolerance approach to harassment, has faced questions about why Hehr has been allowed to stay in caucus.
He’s said “every case will be different” and has acknowledged that he, like other political leaders, is struggling to figure out the best way to deal with allegations while still allowing due process for those accused.
“I don’t have a rule book that’s been handed down to me from Wilfrid Laurier as leader of the Liberal party on how to handle these situations,” Trudeau said in January.
Nova Scotia Liberal MP Darren Fisher, who attended Saturday’s session, said he’s personally seen no evidence of sexual harassment in the Liberal party but he’s heard about incidents of insensitive comments, such as someone calling a woman “little lady.”
He said it was “a good decision for everyone” to attend and had no problem with Hehr being in attendance.
Manitoba MP Dan Vandal said the fact that the party held the session “says that we’re very aware of the situation, we’re sensitive to the whole issue of creating safe spaces and it’s not something we take lightly.”