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This article was published 18/10/2018 (459 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A former Manitoba legislative staff member was "flabbergasted" when she read reports last week that Tory MLA Cliff Graydon had asked a young female subordinate to sit on his lap.
Nearly the same scenario happened to her five years earlier, she says.
The woman, who the Free Press has agreed not to name, said in an interview Thursday she was a junior staffer in 2013 when she had an uncomfortable encounter with Graydon. They were at an all-party banquet at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair in Brandon.
She got up from the table briefly and when she returned, the Emerson MLA was sitting in her chair, talking to her colleagues. She "jokingly" asked him to give her chair back but he wouldn't budge, instead patting his lap, she said.
"And then, in a joking but disgusting way, he told me to sit on his lap because he was refusing to get up."
Because Graydon was an MLA who had more power in politics than she did, the woman, who was in her mid-20s at the time, said she didn't want to disobey him. So, she briefly sat on his lap.
"At the time, I was younger, didn’t know what to make of it, kind of naive. It was just an awkward situation, and so I just did it because I didn’t know what else to do," she said. "I thought I was kind of in on the joke, but I also wasn’t really sure of what was going on.
"Of course, now I’m horrified, but back then I kind of didn’t really know what to make of the situation."
The woman told then-NDP MLA Dave Gaudreau about the incident a short time later. He asked whether she wanted to report it to the Speaker's office, but she chose not to lodge an official complaint.
Gaudreau said he respected her decision, and didn't press the issue.
"It’s not my story to tell. I didn’t want to do anything if somebody didn’t want me to do it," he told the Free Press Thursday.
After the incident, the junior staffer said many women approached her with similar stories about experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment at the legislature. One woman called her "brave" for how she handled the Graydon situation.
"At first, I didn’t get it. Like is this really a big deal? I just wasn’t sure whether it was harassment or not. The more people started talking to me, the more I thought about it and I realized, ‘Yeah that was super inappropriate and this is a pattern,'" the woman said.
She was shocked and angry when she read about another female staffer who was asked to sit on Graydon's lap at a busy PC luncheon last month.
Graydon, who is in his 70s, has held the Emerson riding seat since 2007.
"What really struck me was that this behaviour has been allowed to continue for at least five years, and no one has done anything about it. When the incident with me occurred, it was in a room full of people with either more power than him or at least equal power to him and no one did anything or said anything," she said.
"That’s why I was so flabbergasted to read that story because it was the same thing that happened to me, and yet he’s gone all these years thinking he can continue to act this way. I expect better."
The woman said Graydon's response — which includes going on medical leave, taking more sensitivity training and not running for re-election in 2020 — doesn't send a strong enough message about the Tories' stance on sexual misconduct.
"The PCs have been touting their 'no wrong door' policy. If they’re serious about protecting women, believing women and making processes easier for women to report instances of sexual harassment and assault, then they need to stand by their words and they need to expel Cliff Graydon immediately," she said.
It's uncertain whether Graydon will continue to receive a salary during his medical leave or whether he had to ask permission to take time off. It's also unknown whether Graydon will continue to serve on Manitoba Hydro's board of directors, where he's the only MLA representative.
The PC caucus has not responded to these questions directly or elaborated on what kind of sensitivity training Graydon will undertake.
Gaudreau said the woman's 2013 story about Graydon was the only one he had heard about sexual misconduct while working at the legislature. The former St. Norbert MLA served from 2011 to 2016.
Gaudreau said he used to hang out with Stan Struthers, the former NDP cabinet minister who allegedly tickled several women at work. But he had "no idea" about the purported behaviour that earned Struthers the nickname "Minister Tickles."
"I’m disgusted by it… I knew about this one incident with Graydon, I didn’t know there was more. I don’t condone that behaviour and I think it’s wrong. There are definitely lines, and a lot of them were crossed," he said.
Meantime, the woman who spoke out Thursday believes inappropriate behaviour at the legislature needs to be eradicated.
"Everyone tries to look the other way until something happens, and then the whisper network of women starts picking up. We’re trying to protect each other, but at the same time we don’t want to talk about it because it’s scary and it’s upsetting," she said.
"It shouldn’t be on us to protect one another. It should be on men to control themselves and not act like they have no respect for women."
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 7:37 PM CDT: Removes coding in text body