Mr. Speaker, we are debating an important bill at a very seminal moment. The #MeToo movement, inviting women to bring light to instances of previously undiscussed sexual harassment and assault, until this weekend, had not had such a powerful impact on Canadian politics. This is certainly a difficult subject to discuss as parliamentarians because the victims and alleged perpetrators are, in many cases, people we know. We are leaders and policy-makers who are also personally close to these issues.
In that light, as we reflect on the events of the weekend, I want to commend and express my admiration for all the people in the Ontario PC Party who took a strong stand against this behaviour, even when it was not in their political or personal interest to do so. It is easy to call out this behaviour across the aisle, but women came forward to express concerns about the leader of their own party, and others in the party stood with them. In other places, we have seen political parties close ranks around their candidate, even in the face of credible and repeated allegations of such wrongdoing. The human instinct to be loyal to the tribe, even in the face of higher principle, is very strong, but Ontario PCs did not dismiss or obfuscate; they responded.
I also want to commend the women who have come forward to speak about the alleged behaviour of the former minister of sport and persons with disabilities, one of whom has received repeated death threats, including a note shoved under her door. This is something we should take very seriously, and I hope that the member for Calgary Centre will take the opportunity to condemn these threats.
In these types of cases, legitimate and important discussions are happening about the presumption of innocence and the need for due process. The presumption of innocence is central in criminal law, but I would also submit that people have to make judgments about their political leaders and their suitability for leadership all the time in the absence of absolute certainty: Is such and such a person a good leader, a good fiscal manager, able to confront a particular sort of foreign policy crisis? These sorts of questions are fundamental to determinations about whether a person is suitable for leadership, and yet they have to be made in the absence of anything like proof. The same is true for judgments about a person's conduct or character. Voters and political parties must make judgments about a person's character despite the absence of certainty. There may be some unfairness to that, but that is an unavoidable reality.
Some have wondered, then, if any man in a position of power and authority is now suddenly vulnerable to being felled by unproven accusations. Throughout legal history, there is no doubt that there have been cases where individuals have been falsely accused of bad behaviour. What is called for in the social discourse around these issues is the use of reasonable judgment, not presumption either way, and it is reasonable to decide, even in the absence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that the allegations are strong enough, such that a person is ill-suited to high office. It may also be reasonable to decide that a person has engaged in conduct unbecoming of a leader, even if that conduct has not crossed the line of criminality.
Recognizing that, men in positions of leadership should be clear in conducting their lives in ways that are completely above reproach. It is not good enough to play within the presumed line of criminal law while still behaving in a way that is exploitative and objectifies others. Such a pattern of behaviour may protect one from criminal prosecution, but it may also lead to justly deserved reputational damage. Men's behaviour toward women ought to be guided by more than just a set of lines and rules, but rather, by an ethos that affirms the full and equal dignity and personhood of every person. This is the alternative to objectification.
Objectification treats persons as objects for use instead of as persons. It sees people as means, as opposed to ends. Immanuel Kant formulated this ethos in the formula of humanity. He said, “So act that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.” Kant acknowledges that people can be helpful in the facilitation of the realization of some other end, but argues that it must never be lost, in the course of an interaction with another person, that the person is also an end, not merely a means.
In my view, one of the weaknesses of Kant's philosophy is that it presumes, but does fully engage with, its own spiritual heritage. It is difficult now, outside of the umbrella of that spiritual heritage, to justify this principle in terms that are broadly accepted. We are a society now too deeply influenced by materialism, by the idea that all that is and all that matters is the material. Materialism is not compatible with a doctrine like Kant's, which says that people ought to be treated as ends, not merely as means.
Certainly the grave problem of exploitative behaviour that we are confronting in this debate can be traced back to a philosophical core, which is the deviation from Kant's formula of humanity. People have been treated by men in powerful positions as mere means to their own gratification as opposed to ends in themselves with their own intrinsic worth and value. Women are now standing up against this, demanding to be recognized for who they are: persons, not tools.
We should note that there is a great deal of this treating people as means as opposed to ends in politics in general. It is when staff members are used for their work but not valued as people; it is when relationships are cultivated on a purely transactional basis; it is when communities of support are cultivated for the votes they bring, but not out of genuine respect for their perspective, experience, and values.
I do not want to conflate these issues with the one that we are confronting today, but simply to make the point that there is a continuity of a personhood-affirming ethos, and there is also a continuity of an objectifying ethos. People are whole and integrated beings. When people objectify in one aspect of their life, it stands to reason that they are also more likely to objectify people in other aspects of their life.
There was a time not that long ago when certain behaviours would be dismissed as part of a politician's private life. Much of what was once considered people's private lives was actually the way they were using their position to take advantage of others. However in any event, so-called private acts by leaders, which involve the objectification of others, do have relevance for the common good because these acts are a reflection of character.
I believe strongly—and this belief has been reinforced by these events—that character should be the principal qualification for public office. I would encourage members of all parties at all levels to think seriously about the character of the candidates and leaders whom they choose. Past allegations of inappropriate behaviour will obviously be considered, but markers of bad character and in particular the willingness to treat people as objects must also be considered.
Although I do not have the time to fully explore this aspect of the discussion, it is important to also look further at how exploitative patterns of behaviour are learned. We have a crisis of sexual harassment and violence. We also have a generation of young men whose early exposure to sexuality has been through violent pornography.
Why, while talking about the importance of ending sexual violence, do we tolerate the existence of violence-depicting pornography, which is available to minors? These images do not respond to pre-existing desires; they shape desires, and they shape ideas about what is normal and acceptable. They aim to associate, in the minds of impressionable young people, objectification and violence with arousal and they imply that things are okay, which they are not.
This was well established in testimony heard by the health committee in response to Motion No. 47, a motion asking the committee to study the impact of violent and degrading sexually explicit material on public health.
We support this legislation, and I also believe it is time for the government to act on the dangerous perception-torqueing material that associates violence with sex in the minds of boys and young men, as ably laid out by expert testimony during Motion No. 47 hearings.
I want to conclude this speech by sharing from the public Facebook post of a friend and former colleague. It is easy, as a man, to be quite innocently obtuse to the reality of sexual harassment that most women face. Women speaking out like this has helped me to be aware of the problem and to commit to being part of the solution. My friend wrote on Thursday:
Almost 10 years ago, when I was a 21 and a new grad excited to start in politics, a politician sexually assaulted me at a political conference. I was naïve and I didn’t know what to do, so I asked someone within my political party for advice. They told me that I was the one in the wrong, that I was probably coming onto him and clearly that was the case because when I told him no he stopped.
I spent almost 10 years blaming myself for this, questioning what I could do to prevent it from happening again. I could never find the answers, but I kept looking nonetheless. It’s only been in this last year that I truly realized that it was not my fault and I wish I had kept looking for advice until I found someone that believed me.
I honestly did not believe that I had been sexually assaulted for many years, because someone told me I hadn't been—even though in my heart I knew that it was true.
So I would implore everyone to believe the stories, believe the survivors and understand that it’s not an easy story to share.