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Vicky Mochama: Treatment of Liberal MP is precisely why women don't report

Quebec MP Sherry Romanado doesn't have to accept Manitoba MP James Bezan's apology. He just has to make it.

Liberal MP Sherry Romanado, left, is flanked by colleagues as she leaves a committee meeting in Ottawa on Monday.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press

Liberal MP Sherry Romanado, left, is flanked by colleagues as she leaves a committee meeting in Ottawa on Monday.

This week, Conservative MP James Bezan rose in the House to apologize for a comment that he had made to Liberal MP Sherry Romanado.

“I have nothing but the greatest respect for this member, for this institution, and I sincerely apologize," Bezan said.

This apology came after a review by the House of Commons’ chief human resources officer who found that the comment did not rise to the level of sexual harassment and did not require disciplinary action. Romanado has repeatedly declined to accept his apology.

On Monday after Bezan spoke, Romanado told the House the comments negatively affected her work and later told reporters asking why she would not elaborate, "It's been an incredibly difficult seven months, that's why." She has not commented on the matter since.

That has not stopped many others.

In an opinion piece for the CBC, Robyn Urback sought to separate Bezan’s comment from the sexual harassment stories that have filled headlines. She wrote, “But her story is not of harassment and abuse: it is one of exposure to a rude, oafish comment, for which the culprit has rightly apologized.

For the National Post, Christie Blatchford suggested Romanado was being childish, saying, “James Bezan was entitled to assume that he was dealing with an adult who had a sense of proportion, if not a sense of humour.” (There is not a day ending in y when Blatchford does not want to blame women.)

Much less pettily, Susan Delacourt wondered, “Did it really need to be played out in the public arena at all? Was anything gained or learned as a result?”

It really be ya own women.

These responses are telling.

Women often do not report because they fear minimizing and condescending responses like these. Despite a gender-equal cabinet and much talk of branded feminism, women are vulnerable on Parliament Hill.

Earlier this year, Don Meredith resigned from the Senate over a sexual relationship he'd had with a teenager working in his office; though she consented at the time, her consent was compromised by the power and influence he held over her. Before then, former cabinet member Hunter Tootoo was removed from caucus and resigned after an inappropriate relationship with a young staffer.

Since my years in Ottawa and to this day, I hear rumours of impropriety. There exists an atmosphere on the Hill that compromises women’s safety.

It is in precisely that space where a Member of Parliament like James Bezan can make an inappropriate and sexual comment to a female colleague. For the commentariat to decide that her response is childish or trivial is to ignore the environment in which she works. It also requires ignoring precisely what the #MeToo movement has aimed for: to foster spaces for women to be heard.

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