Bullying and Abuse



                     by Kenneth Bagnell



    Over the years, the word bully has been distinctly male, but, in fact, I’ve seen women who can actually surpass her husband in anger. The most vivid example of that is engraved on my memory and will remain there forever. It was, of all places, aboard a bus in Sarasota, Florida. The wife was virtually dragging her harried husband up the aisle –- the driver looking back to me slightly cynical –his expression partly pitiful for what the husband was getting. Women can be dictators. A few days ago, The Toronto Star had two major articles, dealing with abuse, one singling out Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party, for allegedly bullying her staff; the second, and most serious, the alleged and apparently common practice of sexual intrusion by male MPs, apparently from virtually all parties. Too many men are rude and crude.

        For now, the worst problem, is alleged to be sexual harassment by MPs. Quite apart from morality, it raises the questions of prudence, the very liable danger of causing problems over pleasures. It’s rich in danger, improbable in the prudence of women, especially in a parliamentary setting. A few years ago, a senior person of the Commons told me that an MP who makes these advances is walking the tightrope which is virtually certain to break.  A few days ago, the Liberal Labour minister, Patricia Hajdu, was candid in spelling out the fact that the House of Commons had reached “a crisis” in that MPs of all parties, had moved vigorously to stop the harassment which apparently has been experienced mostly by young women, some of whom were so disgusted, they were on the verge of moving on. Ms. Hajdu puts it frankly: “We have young staffers often in precarious work positions, who are uncertain about the stability of their positions, who are working with much older, much more powerful people. There is liberal access to alcohol. You know, this is an environment that actually sets up a culture that allows and perpetuates this behavior…. You know, people will leave parliamentarians and try to find jobs with other parliamentarians because their workplace has been so abusive.” Consider what she said for it’s a very strong statement: the public house of commons has been “so abusive…” In my experience most of the private sector would dismiss such men for practicing what the House of Commons accepts. Taking it all for granted is being both disgraceful and self-evident. The House of Commons is truly in crisis.

    It’s difficult to expect every MP to be a first class person, male or female. But we have the right and indeed the responsibility to do all we can to elect MPs who have ethical and moral standards. Obviously they all can’t be morally perfectionists. But, what we do have by the reportage that has come out on the House of Commons is actually close to sleaze. A senior journalist put it very candidly: “The culture in political circles of Ottawa rotates heavily around receptions and social events where booze flows heavily. For young staffers, it can be difficult to extricate themselves from a situation in which a more powerful or influential individual makes a sexual advance or acts lecherously, giving cheek kisses that veer uncomfortably towards the mouth….”  The place is too close to impurity.

      One thing we ought to be grateful for: the press. At last, it raised the curtain for us.  In years past, it was known in private circles that this guy and that girl were well…… shall we just say “friends” or put it in more colorful and honest prose. Yes, it goes on in the world, but in a House of Commons it should not. The country expects, deserves and believes, that there is a high level of integrity, trust, probity and, for certain, a code of honor.  Does a code of honor accommodate drunkenness? It happens. What about intimacy? I think Mom and Dad back home would not approve. To her credit, the government’s Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, stood and spoke candidly and effectively in the commons. “It’s a culture where people who are victims of harassment or sexual violence do not feel like bringing those complaints forward.” The opposition was with her when Conservative MP Michelle Rempel followed her with strong support:  “For all the talk of feminism, women at all levels are still used for ‘photo op props’ and remain vulnerable to abuse. We are still given hugs and cheek kisses that linger a bit too long… To fit in, we still laugh at the lewd jokes and maybe even tell one ourselves to be considered safe to socialize with the boys.  These things are used to control us, to demean us, and to silence us.”

    Well said. Obviously the women are right. As I read the various reports, in The Star, The Globe, The Post and Mcleans, a saying that I once used in a talk many years ago, came back as if to support all that the women believe: “Follow your honest convictions and be strong.”  Ms. Rempel and Ms. Hajdu are.  


1 Comment

  1. James Hickman
    Feb 6, 2018

    Hope you read the piece by Carol Off in the Saturday Globe and Mail. It was about female journalists and their struggles with politicians (and male journalists) in Ottawa. Ties in with your essay above.