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MLA's future depends on apologies for sex harassment

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Mohinder Saran will be booted from caucus if he doesn't apologize.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Mohinder Saran will be booted from caucus if he doesn't apologize.

Mohinder Saran will be booted out of the NDP caucus unless he apologizes to caucus and to a staffer he allegedly sexually harassed, an NDP source said Wednesday.

"If he digs his heels in, if he doesn't apologize, he's gone," said the NDP source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Officially, the party won't say publicly that it has issued The Maples MLA an ultimatum. And Saran and his lawyer aren't saying if he'll apologize.

But while the NDP has extended indefinitely Saran's suspension from caucus, so too extends the uncertainty over what happened, who did what to whom, what the NDP knows, and what the NDP wants.

The NDP will not specify what an apology must say, or what sort of reconciliation Saran and the complainant must undergo.

Saran has paid for, and undergone, sensitivity training but it's clear this training isn't enough to satisfy the NDP, nor does the party even know what the training entailed. Sources said Wednesday that the official opposition wants a "clean" settlement to the ongoing controversy, and is lacking so much first-hand information that the party appears to be dithering.

The caucus and party executive met for six-and-one-half hours Tuesday before extending Saran's suspension from caucus indefinitely.

Neither Saran nor his lawyer, William Gange, would comment Wednesday.

"(Saran) is attempting his best to observe the confidentiality of the process and an interview with the press is bound to lead to accusations that he has breached the confidential nature of the complaint process," Gange said by email.

Gange had said previously that Saran expected to be allowed to rejoin caucus once he completed his sensitivity training.

NDP press secretary Rachel Morgan said Wednesday it was the legislative human resources department --- to whom the staffer filed her formal complaint --- that advised which training Saran was to take, not the NDP caucus.

"The sensitivity training was recommended by HR and they are the appropriate people to contact about this," Morgan said.

The legislature HR department has declined interview requests about the Saran matter.

HR and management expert Barbara Bowes, president of the Bowes Legacy Group, said Wednesday that sensitivity training workshops typically cost $2,500 to $3,000 a day, and while some training can be done in a day, some clients may need as many as six to eight sessions. It may also involve coaching at $250 to $300 an hour.

"The investigations are pretty expensive too," Bowes said.

Judy Wagner, head of the legislature's administration branch, said Wednesday that "any information must be strictly confidential. The privacy of all must be respected. My office reports directly to the Speaker."

Any investigations, conclusions, and recommendations "wouldn't be shared with anyone else," and that includes any employee who may have filed a formal complaint with HR, Wagner said.

It is the second allegation of sexual harassment to arise about Saran. The first, which did not produce a formal complaint, came when the NDP was still in government.

NDP caucus chair Rob Altemeyer said Tuesday that it is entirely the woman's choice if she will participate in reconciliation, and not doing so will not affect her continued employment.

But it's still not clear what the NDP means by reconciliation.

Said Morgan: "All aspects of the process of reconciliation will be determined by the parties involved. The goal would be to allow a discussion involving both parties to talk about this. A part of the process would require an appropriate apology from Mohinder to the complainant and to his colleagues in caucus. Once this process is completed, consideration of next steps can be taken."

Bowes said it's common in the business world to try to resolve sexual harassment issues through processes such as an indigenous healing circle, regardless of the ethnocultural background of those involved.

Morgan acknowledged that's one possibility the NDP is exploring.

Bowes explained: "This is essentially a private discussion group usually facilitated with an elder. They use a 'talking stick' to control the conversation. The person with the talking stick is allowed to speak without interruptions. The purpose is to hear each person’s version of event in a direct and honest manner -- it is meant to create a better understanding of each other."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Nick Martin.

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