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This article was published 8/2/2018 (709 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A former press secretary to ex-NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers said she found the strength to come forward with her allegation that he put his hand under her skirt and tried to grope her, after five women went public with their accusations against him.
Shannon VanRaes said Thursday she had told family, friends and colleagues about that incident, and others, that happened when she worked with Struthers when he was agriculture minister in 2010. She said even though she works in the media, she never contacted a reporter to tell her story — until now.
"I saw the story (Thursday) morning, and I felt like I was going to throw up," she said. "My first thought was I did speak up earlier, but no one cared.
"I had thought I had sat on this for too long. I had thought what will this do to my career? And, as a journalist, I didn’t want to be part of the story," she said. "But when I heard Joelle (Saltal-Allard, Struthers’ former press secretary) speak, I thought, this is the time."
VanRaes said the alleged groping incident happened when she and Struthers were the only passengers on a small plane heading to a community in northern Manitoba for a government announcement.
"There was a pilot. Beside him was who I thought was the co-pilot, but it turned out to be his friend, and Stan and I were at the back," she said.
"I was trapped. When you’re in a small plane, you can’t escape. He asked if I liked being tickled, and I said no. Then he put his hands under my skirt and attempted to grope me. I said ‘no’ and ‘don’t’ pretty forcefully."
VanRaes said Struthers stopped being physical, but made sexual comments.
She said when they reached their destination, the next few hours were tough for her.
"All I could think of during the three or four hours we were there is we would be going back on that plane. And it started again. But what stopped him is when I said something strongly and the pilot turned and said, ‘Is everything OK back there?’ I don’t think they knew what was going on, but that stopped him."
VanRaes said she didn’t go to the police about the incident.
"I didn’t consider at the time going to the police but, in hindsight now, maybe I should have," she said.
VanRaes said another time, at the Manitoba Legislative Building, Struthers grabbed her foot and attempted to put it towards his genital area, but that ended when others entered the room.
VanRaes said she complained to her boss about Struthers’ behaviour, who then went to Michael Balagus, then-premier Greg Selinger’s chief of staff.
"He came back with ‘suck it up,’" she said.
"And then I spent the last four months there in the basement. I was in a room where you had to go to the basement and then up again to a room between the basement and first floor. There is no further depth you could go to. The IT folks are there and they didn’t know why I was there. I was given no assignments — not a single assignment. It was constructive dismissal," she said.
"I didn’t even come in for the last six weeks, and they didn’t even know I didn’t come in."
VanRaes said when she quit and asked for two weeks of severance pay — "which I thought was minimal" — she said Balagus denied her request.
VanRaes said many people, including politicians, knew about Struthers’ alleged behaviour, but because no one did anything about it, it continued.
"Every time I met a woman and Stan’s name came up, it was known not to be alone with him. People knew," she said.
"But there’s such turnover there. There was always fresh people coming in who didn’t know about him. It would make it easy for him to keep doing it.
"I’m sure there are lots of people with stories, and I’d be surprised if my story is the pinnacle."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press.
Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
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