OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh kicked Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir out of his party’s caucus Thursday as he tried to close the book on what has become a messy and increasingly combative controversy for the third-place New Democrats.
But an unrepentant Weir — pinning at least part of the blame on Singh’s own office — vowed to keep fighting to clear his name of what he has characterized as a politically motivated and unjustified smear campaign from within his own party.
Singh’s decision to eject the Regina MP followed a three-month investigation that started when fellow caucus member Christine Moore reported hearing second-hand allegations that Weir had harassed several women.
While Moore said she had not personally experienced anything untoward, Singh deemed the allegation serious enough to suspend Weir from his caucus duties and ask University of Ottawa law professor Michelle Flaherty to investigate.
Flaherty found credible evidence to support one allegation of harassment and three allegations of sexual harassment against Weir, Singh told a news conference outside the House of Commons.
He did not reveal specific details about the allegations, other than to say Weir “failed to read non-verbal cues in social situations and that his behaviour resulted in significant negative impacts on the complainants.”
However, he added, “when Mr. Weir was told his advances were unwanted, he stopped.” Based on those findings alone, Singh said, it appeared rehabilitation would be adequate to address the problem and ensure it did not happen again.
In an interview, Weir said he was not told the specifics of the sexual harassment complaints, but conceded that his failure to pick up on social cues had made some people uncomfortable — a problem for which he apologized and that he promised to address.
“I didn’t realize I’d done anything unwelcome. But when I had the chance to read the summary of allegations, it became apparent that sometimes I was slow to pick up on social cues,” he told The Canadian Press in an interview Thursday.
“I apologize to those who were uncomfortable with me being a bit of a close talker. I’ve resolved to be more attentive to non-verbal communication in future.”
Weir said he agreed on April 19, after he and Singh had a chance to review Flaherty’s report, to participate in conciliation with any of the complainants who wanted it, and to undergo training to address the issue raised during the investigation.
But the NDP leader’s office kept delaying the announcement, Weir said, until the CBC published a story this past Tuesday in which an unidentified complainant accused him of having spoken to her in an angry and belligerent way.
“When the CBC contacted me about it, I declined to comment,” he said.
“I notified Mr. Singh’s office and I asked whether he or I should respond. I didn’t hear back. The CBC ran the story and once the complaint was out there in the public domain, I did feel compelled to respond to it.”
Weir has alleged that the complainant is a member of former leader Tom Mulcair’s staff who was angry that he tried to question the Trudeau government’s national carbon-tax plan and its potential impact on western Canada at an NDP convention in 2016.
Singh did not address Weir’s allegations, which hinted at a wider plot involving Moore and Ontario MP Charlie Angus, but said he decided to kick Weir out of caucus because “What was clear (Tuesday) was that (he) was not prepared to accept responsibility.
“Attacking somebody who came forward with a complaint. Creating a wider context. This is about conduct and inappropriate conduct, and the first step to a rehabilitative approach would have been to accept responsibility.”
Weir, however, appeared to pin at least part of the blame on Singh’s office.
“It’s always possible in retrospect to say, ‘Well, knowing how Mr. Singh reacted, I wish I hadn’t done it,’” he said.
“But the situation I was in at the time was I tried to check in with his office, there was no communications plan from his office. The allegation was out there and I didn’t think it made sense to let it stand. I think it was important to respond.”
Weir says he remains committed to clearing his name, which will involve repeatedly explaining why the investigation was flawed, its findings exaggerated and Singh’s response was unjustified, even as he hopes the NDP leader will reverse course.
“I remain optimistic that Mr. Singh will come to his senses and realize that his initial instinct to reinstate me was correct,” he said. “In any case, I plan to continue representing the people of Regina-Lewvan as a member of Parliament.”
Asked if he felt he hurt his party, Weir replied: “What hurt the party was the former senior staff person making the complaint public. After that complaint was public, it was already damaging. And that’s why I felt the need to respond.”
The entire episode appears to have rattled the NDP caucus, whose members nonetheless appeared to stand behind Singh’s decision on Thursday.
“There was a process. The findings were done,” Angus said.
“I think we were all very, very surprised when Mr. Weir came out and then said that he believed that these women were trumping up charges to make him look bad. That’s not just professional. That’s not how you behave in 2018.”
Others, like B.C. MP Kennedy Stewart, were more circumspect.
“I’m not really party to any of those conversations. I haven’t read the report,” Stewart said. “I’m just kind of sad the whole thing has occurred.”
— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press