OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh launched an investigation Thursday into the conduct of Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir, without waiting for an actual victim of alleged harassment to come forward with a complaint.
The investigation was prompted by an email sent earlier this week to all New Democrat MPs by one of their caucus colleagues, Christine Moore, who had not personally experienced anything untoward.
The email alleged that Weir has “engaged in harassing behaviour towards women, specifically members of the NDP staff team,” Singh told a hastily assembled news conference.
The allegations were sufficiently serious that Singh said he felt he had to take some immediate action.
“The idea is that we believe in a survivor-led process … but just because we don’t have a survivor, we don’t have someone who’s experienced (harassment) and is willing to come forward, it’s my responsibility as a leader that is committed to creating a safe working space to at least do something to examine or to look into any allegations that raise concerns about the work place.”
Singh did not identify the name of the email writer or disclose the content. But both quickly found their way into the media.
In response to an email Weir had sent to his caucus colleagues Tuesday announcing his intention to run for the position of caucus chair, Moore hit reply-all, telling Weir he’s “the last person in the caucus I would like to see to get that position.”
“There is too many women (mostly employee) complaint to me that you were harassing to them and as a women I would not feel comfortable to meet with you alone,” she wrote.
Moore, who represents a northern Quebec riding, issued a statement late Thursday further confirming her role in the matter.
“As you are now aware, I sent an email expressing some concerns I had regarding a colleague’s behaviour. It is important that we take this kind of information seriously and I have confidence in the process that is being put in place and will be participating in any way I can.”
In addition to engaging an independent investigator to look into the allegations, Singh said Weir has been temporarily suspended from asking questions in the Commons or sitting on committees, although he remains a member of the NDP caucus.
So far, Singh said nothing suggests Weir’s alleged misconduct was “sexual in nature; it’s just harassment.”
In a statement that was issued shortly before Singh’s news conference, Weir protested his innocence, but also pledged support for the party’s investigation.
“As politicians, we are placed in a position of public trust. We are, and should be, held to the highest possible standards and it is absolutely right that our party has a process to investigate any allegations of harassment,” he said.
“However, I do not know what is being alleged. I am confident that I have not harassed anyone and welcome a prompt investigation to clear my name.”
In an interview later with CTV’s “Power Play,” Weir said Moore’s complaint hit him like a bolt out of the blue.
“It feels like it might have been politically motivated,” he said, noting the connection with his intention to run for caucus chair.
While he acknowledged that Moore’s email put Singh in a difficult position and that any allegation of harassment needs to be investigated, Weir did question the fairness of being publicly named in the absence of a specific complaint.
“I guess what I would say in terms of procedural fairness is I think it’s pretty important that the starting point of an investigation be to have some sort of specific allegation to investigate,” he told CTV.
“So, that’s really what I’m looking for, is to know what I’m being accused of.”
Weir, 35, a former economist with the United Steelworkers union, was first elected in 2015 in the riding of Regina-Lewvan.
An NDP spokeswoman was not able to say whether Moore had witnessed Weir’s alleged harassing behaviour or had heard about it second or third-hand. However, she said some additional information came to light after the email was received.
She said the party is sending reminders to all staffers that there are processes for dealing with harassment complaints, through the House of Commons, through their union and, now, through the independent investigator as well.