December 17, 2017

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Manitoba MP called out for "threesome" remarks

At a time when media elites and politicians in the United States are being called out for sexism and harassment, a Manitoba MP was held to account Monday in the House of Commons for remarks he made to a female MP about a “threesome.”

James Bezan (Conservative-Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman) rose in the House and offered an apology Monday for unspecified remarks, without going into detail.

Liberal MP Sherry Romanado stunned MPs into silence when she rose to say Bezan’s remarks were made towards her, and were “inappropriate, humiliating and unwanted” and sexual in nature. The comments have caused her great stress and negatively affected her work environment, said the Quebec MP, her party’s junior minister for veterans affairs.

Bezan, the Conservative party’s defence critic, issued a statement later in the day explaining he made the comment May 2 at a public event in Ottawa, while posing for a picture with a member of the House of Commons and another person.

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At a time when media elites and politicians in the United States are being called out for sexism and harassment, a Manitoba MP was held to account Monday in the House of Commons for remarks he made to a female MP about a "threesome."

James Bezan (Conservative-Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman) rose in the House and offered an apology Monday for unspecified remarks, without going into detail.

Liberal MP Sherry Romanado stunned MPs into silence when she rose to say Bezan’s remarks were made towards her, and were "inappropriate, humiliating and unwanted" and sexual in nature. The comments have caused her great stress and negatively affected her work environment, said the Quebec MP, her party’s junior minister for veterans affairs.

Bezan, the Conservative party’s defence critic, issued a statement later in the day explaining he made the comment May 2 at a public event in Ottawa, while posing for a picture with a member of the House of Commons and another person.

"While standing for the picture, I made an inappropriate and flippant comment by saying, ‘This isn’t my idea of a threesome,’ which was intended as a partisan comment about being in a photo with a Liberal member of caucus," read the statement from Bezan, who did not respond to a request for comment.

That kind of comment sounds all too familiar to a Manitoba woman who served as an MP and MLA for nearly 30 years.

"Compared to things I’ve experienced in the House of Commons, it fits in the category of ‘Go back to your knitting,’ ‘Are you having your period?’ and ‘You can’t balance your chequebook,’" said Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who as an MP served as the NDP’s finance critic from 2003 to 2007, and was a cabinet minister in the Manitoba government after being elected as an MLA in 1986.

"They’re hurtful remarks and sexist, but not warranting a resignation," she said, referring to calls for politicians in the U.S. accused of inappropriate behaviour to resign.

Bezan joking about a "threesome" shows how men continue to sexualize women and it needs to stop, said Shannon Sampert, an associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Winnipeg.

"To sexualize a female member of Parliament’s participation is just not on," Sampert said. "It also suggests that women politicians belong once again in the male gaze — as eye candy to be consumed by men and not taken seriously.

"Imagine saying that to (Conservative leaders) Stephen Harper or Andrew Scheer? You wouldn’t. Men are never sexualized like this."

Bezan’s "threesome" remark smacks of a 2006 comment made by then-Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz, who said he felt like Playboy founder Hugh Hefner at a photo opportunity with female Olympic athletes, Sampert said.

"It reminds me of when Katz said he felt like Hefner when surrounded by our female Olympians. How to once again remind women where they belong — in the bedroom and not in power. And that’s a message women and men need to fight."

Wasylycia-Leis said she hopes recent headlines drawing attention to the issue prompt many who’ve remained silent to speak up — perhaps including Romanado, who called out Bezan on Monday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick</p><p>Conservative MP James Bezan during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 2016. </p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative MP James Bezan during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 2016.

"This has probably been festering with her for awhile and now she’s empowered to do so, and it’s good that she has," said Wasylycia-Leis.

"I hope this prompts some action in the House of Commons so it doesn’t keep happening," said the former politician, who remembers it happening decades ago.

"I think, back then, women tended to bristle at those comments but not always make a public fuss about them," she said. The concern was speaking up would provoke a backlash. "It would be worse."

When a woman did speak up, her complaints went nowhere, said Wasylycia-Leis. "Those remarks I endured were sexist and hurtful and I never got a satisfactory response. There was never any action forthcoming."

In his statement Monday, Bezan said he realized his comment "was inappropriate" and he "attempted to apologize the following day, but was not afforded that opportunity."

He said on May 10, the chief human resources officer received a formal complaint about his comment from the MP and he "immediately offered to enter into mediation so that I could apologize to her. That request was also denied."

Bezan said he willingly participated in a subsequent review by the officer and continued to offer to participate in mediation. As part of his written submission to the officer, he said he apologized in writing to the MP.

On Aug. 16, the officer "confirmed in writing that his report ‘did not support a claim of sexual harassment,’" and didn’t recommend any disciplinary action against Bezan. He said he apologized in person to the MP, and completed sensitivity training offered by the House of Commons.

"Times are changing and it’s good," said Wasylycia-Leis. "One of the ways of dealing with it is to get more women into politics, positions of power and decision-making roles.

"It’s got to be approached from both ends and we have to take it on every step of the way as the Liberal MP did (Monday). We have to keep fighting hard to get more women into politics."

On Monday, when Romanado emerged from a closed-door committee meeting surrounded by other Liberal MPs, she was peppered with questions from reporters. She refused to comment.

Asked if there’s a reason for her declining to speak on the subject, she said: "It’s been an incredibly difficult seven months, that’s why."

She then walked away.

— with file from Canadian Press

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

 

Read more by Carol Sanders .

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History

Updated on Monday, December 4, 2017 at 9:56 PM CST: updates headline

December 5, 2017 at 10:09 AM: Minor changes

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