Former Manitoba cabinet minister apologizes after staff allege he tickled them
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 8, 2018 1:08PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 8, 2018 6:06PM EST
WINNIPEG -- A former Manitoba cabinet minister is apologizing after women came forward alleging he touched and tickled them and made inappropriate remarks while he was in government.
Stan Struthers, who was in cabinet for more than a decade while the New Democrats were in power, says he recently learned his behaviour made former colleagues and staff feel disrespected.
"I am sorry," he said in a statement Thursday. "I apologize for any interactions I have had that have been inappropriate and that have caused any person to feel disrespected or uncomfortable.
"My intention was never to treat women as anything other than equal and respected."
Joelle Saltel-Allard said he used to touch her when she worked for Struthers as his press secretary between 2009 and 2011.
"I would be working with him in his office and he would come and touch me or tickle me, often in front of other people," she told The Canadian Press.
Saltel-Allard said that during a car ride to a news conference, Struthers put his hand on her knee and talked about sex acts he would enjoy. That prompted her to lodge a complaint with her boss who took it up the chain of command.
"It was relayed back to me that I basically had to shut up and suck it up," she said. "They weren't going to do anything. There was an election coming up and nobody was going to take any action in regards to my complaint."
Saltel-Allard said she became stressed and anxious, and eventually took a three-month mental-health leave. She decided not to return to the legislature.
"I really felt like I was insignificant and my complaints weren't respected or even acknowledged. You really don't feel like working in that type of environment," she said.
"It becomes very toxic -- just the fact that nobody would even acknowledge what I had to say or what I was going through. It was a struggle and it eventually led me to leave."
The allegations were first reported by the CBC.
Karen Peters, a community activist, told the CBC that Struthers tickled her countless times when he was conservation minister and serving with her on a sustainable development roundtable. She said the touching also happened in front of other people, including other members of the legislatures.
Peters said she didn't complain to the party and just tried to avoid Struthers.
"He should have been disciplined. He should not have been a cabinet minister," she told the CBC. "He should have been probably kicked out of the party."
NDP Leader Wab Kinew, who took over the party leadership after it was defeated by the Progressive Conservatives in the last election, said Thursday he was very disappointed. He said the NDP is supposed to stand up for vulnerable people but failed those within their own party.
Kinew said the lack of action was "a failure of leadership," both on the part of former premier Greg Selinger, who is still a member of the legislature, and others in leadership roles throughout the government. Kinew said Struthers should have been removed from his cabinet position and the party.
"Doing the right thing should always come before politics," said Kinew.
He said a party commission will investigate the allegations and release recommendations. It will also look at the broader culture that contributes to the problem, he said.
Struthers was one of five ministers who resigned from cabinet in November 2014 to protest the leadership of then-premier Selinger. Struthers announced in May 2015 he would not run in the April 2016 election for the "good of our family" and his Dauphin constituency.
He was first elected in 1995 and held various cabinet portfolios that included conservation, agriculture, finance and municipal government.
"I have been fortunate to work with many strong, intelligent and talented women and have always valued these relationships. I believe it's imperative that workplaces be safe and respectful sites for all," he said in his statement.
"My commitment is to learn from this and do better."