In a stunning turn of events, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown resigned after being accused of sexual misconduct by two women earlier in his career.
According to a CTV investigation, one of the women was a teenager when Brown took her to his house, gave her booze, and pulled out his penis, asking her to perform oral sex on him a decade ago. The other woman was one of his staffers—a university student—when he was a federal Conservative MP. She alleges Brown gave her lots of alcohol at a charity hockey event she organized in Barrie, Ontario, and invited her and one other back to his house where he took her into his bedroom. There, she told CTV, he started kissing her, and lay on top of her while he had an erection. She said she was immobilized and told him to stop at which point he took her home.
“I would characterize that as a sexual assault,” she told CTV.
In a brief and bizarre press conference Wednesday night at the Ontario legislature, Brown denied the allegations before CTV published its story.
“A couple of hours ago I learned about troubling allegations about my conduct and my character,” he told reporters. “These allegations are false. Categorically untrue, every one of them. I will defend myself as hard as I can, with all means at my disposal. It’s never OK. It’s never OK for anyone to feel they have been a victim of sexual harassment, or feel threatened in any way.” He went on to say the allegations are “not how I was raised, it’s not who I am.”
Shortly after the presser, six of Browne’s aides including his press secretary, campaign manager, and chief of staff resigned. Brown issued a statement 1:30 AM Thursday saying he’d decided to resign following conversations with members of his caucus.
“These allegations are false and have been difficult to hear. However, defeating Kathleen Wynne in 2018 is more important than one individual,” the statement said.
“For this reason, after consulting with caucus, friends and family I have decided to step down as Leader of the Ontario PC Party. I will remain on as a MPP while I definitively clear my name from these false allegations.”
The controversy comes just half a year before the next provincial election and less than 24 hours after Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie was forced to resign over allegations of workplace harassment. Meanwhile, Kent Hehr, the federal Liberal minister for sports and people with disabilities, was accused Wednesday of sexually harassing former colleagues while he was in the Alberta legislature.
It appears the #MeToo movement has found its way to Canadian politics. However, not everyone is convinced the spate of scandals will result in real change.
Arezoo Najibzadeh, 22, a sexual violence survivor and former Liberal party volunteer has long been outspoken about the culture of misogyny on Parliament Hill.
Reacting to the news about Brown, she told VICE, “it’s about time.”
Working on the Hill, she said you often hear allegations about powerful men but until now, none of them have come out publicly. In looking at the allegations against Brown, she said it’s important to consider the power dynamics at play.
“It’s folks with a lot of influence and social and political capital on Parliament Hill and on the other hand we have young women who have nothing to fall back on.” For victims who come forward, she said, they’re risking isolation and credibility.
But Najibzadeh also said women in powerful positions are to blame as well.
“All the more influential women MPs and advocates who know about men like (Brown) who know these abusive behaviours and say nothing and do nothing,” she said. For women to make it in politics, she said there’s a pressure to join the “boys club” and overlook misogyny.
She also emphasized the isolation felt by women of colour or queer women in the political space.
“You have women having to overcome language barriers, you have women having to trust government again or trust in the power and the good of politics again and to be carrying all that baggage as a racialized woman while trying to deal with white supremacy and sexism—that’s a huge burden.”
In October, VICE reported on a women’s panel at which Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi was accused of making victim blaming remarks regarding sexual harassment in politics.
Najibzadeh and others in attendance told VICE Ratansi said "sexual violence happens because women sexualize themselves" and that when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment, women should should have thicker skin and treat these encounters "like water off a duck's back."
Ratansi later issued an apology over her remarks.
Najibzadeh said if the #MeToo moment is actually going to result in long-term change in politics, survivors’ voices and stories need to be elevated.
Last summer, the federal government unveiled its strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence, including $100 million to research the problem and come up with solutions.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.