Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.
Courageous young woman in Don Meredith case should inspire more change on the Hill: Mochama
Ms. M’s bravery in holding the Senator accountable must be met with equally bold response, writes Vicky Mochama.
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Don Meredith may be gone from the Hill, but the atmosphere that enabled him is still a concern for women.
When Ms. M decided to report her sexual relationship with Sen. Meredith to authorities, the police told her although a case like hers comes with a publication ban on her name, “her identity would be known to anyone who attended court or examined the court file,” according to The Toronto Star.
Instead, she chose to report to the Senate ethics officer, who offered her a cloak of confidentiality. (The ethics officer, believing a crime may have occurred, notified the police who asked the Senate to suspend its investigation. After four months, Ottawa police stopped the investigation without laying charges.)
Though not a Hill staffer herself, Ms. M chose to speak to Star reporter Kevin Donovan after hearing other media reports that Sen. Meredith was under investigation for sexual harassment in the workplace: “She was concerned that the investigators would not believe what the former staff members were alleging and she wanted to add her voice to the story.”
Her bravery and fortitude are beyond commendable.
Her story, however, is part of the problem and future of Parliament Hill.
For all we hear about “men in power,” the halls of government in Ottawa are female-dominated. Female staffers and volunteers are the backbone and engine of the legislative branch. Many are young, ambitious, and for those reasons, vulnerable.
Were that not enough, the systems of accountability can be unclear. To whom does a young staffer report their MP? Or their chief of staff? Or a fellow staffer?
The viable options can differ from party to party, which makes it even harder for young staffers. In a three-part series, the Hill Times reported on this dynamic: “Even if someone does report, they may be reporting the harassment to either their own MP or one of their MP’s colleagues, through the whip’s office, though the House chief human resources officer is also a reporting avenue.”
In 2014, the House of Commons launched a harassment policy. And while this led to more complaints being filed, there are also many that exist outside of the House’s jurisdiction, yet entirely within their culture.
A VICE essay by former staffer Beisan Zubi showed how the culture of Parliament Hill can deter someone from reporting sexual harassment. From lobbyist parties to bar nights with colleagues to one-on-one meetings, being both collegial and ambitious can put workers on the Hill in danger.
Ms. M’s bravery in holding the Senator accountable must be met with an equally bold response.
The bubble of the Hill ought to make way for a cultural change and policies that ensure the safety of its most vulnerable workers.