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In April, Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara was arrested and charged with assault, break and enter, and harassment. Roughly a month later, media learned of the disturbing charges, and the Kitchener South-Hespeler MP "stepped back" from the Liberal caucus, but did not resign his seat. Tabbara revealed he was receiving counselling for anxiety and depression and that he would continue to "work diligently" for his constituents despite the charges — which may be difficult, given the circumstances.
The fact Tabbara was arrested in April but no one seemed to know until June is somewhat eyebrow-raising. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his disappointment at Tabbara for not sharing the news earlier, instead leaving the prime minister to read about the charges in the newspaper like the rest of us.
For some reason, the Guelph police were quite discreet about the arrest. But, besides that, this is a story about criminal allegations made against someone who happens to be a politician.
At least, that was the story.
While it is conceivable that Trudeau was kept in the dark about the recent charges against Tabbara, it was soon revealed that the MP had also previously had allegations levelled against him. These allegations, which date back to the 2015 election, were that Tabbara had inappropriately touched and made sexual comments to a female staffer.
Journalists learned that at least some of the allegations were substantiated by the Liberal Party’s internal investigation, but it was unclear what sanctions, if any, Tabbara had faced.
There was one penalty that Tabbara eluded: despite seemingly credible allegations of inappropriate behaviour, Tabbara was given the opportunity to run for re-election as a Liberal candidate. Following a longer-than-usual period of deliberation, the party’s internal committee that approves or disapproves potential candidates "green-lit" Tabbara, and the incumbent MP went on to win re-election in the 2019 federal election.
That Tabbara was permitted to run as a Liberal is striking, for two reasons. First, the party has disallowed candidates for far less than the original allegations made against Tabbara; and second, the decision is hardly consistent with Trudeau’s zero-tolerance policy on matters of sexual misconduct.
After all, Trudeau had permanently expelled two Liberal MPs, Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti, following allegations of misconduct made against them by another MP. "It’s 2014 — we have a duty to protect and encourage individuals in these situations to come forward," Trudeau argued at the time. "The action must be fair and decisive. It must be sensitive to all affected parties but, recognizing how difficult it is to do so, it must give the benefit of the doubt to those who come forward."
The question is why Andrews’ and Pacetti’s careers were torched as a result of allegations of misconduct, while Tabbara was permitted to run again. It is difficult to know the answer when internal party investigations are shrouded in secrecy.
When asked whether he knew about the previous allegations levelled against Tabbara and, if so, why the MP was allowed to run again, Trudeau was cagey. "I am continually informed as leader of the Liberal Party of allegations of processes going forward and that have existed," he said. "We always ensure that there is a rigorous process in place whenever there are any sorts of allegations brought forward."
That seems to be a roundabout admission that Trudeau did know about the previous allegations made against Tabbara. And the word salad that Trudeau served up in response to the question is characteristic of the Liberal Party’s approach to this simmering scandal. "The party does not confirm or comment on the specifics of complaints," Liberal Party spokesman Braeden Caley wrote in response to questions about previous party investigation of the allegations made against Tabbara.
I hope journalists keep up the pressure on both Trudeau and his spokespeople. Canadians deserve some clear answers, given the serious charges against Tabbara. Did Trudeau know about the previous allegations against Tabbara? If so, what role did the PM play in the process to green-light the candidate for re-election, and how was that decision arrived at?
While confidentiality is important in these matters, the recent criminal charges against Tabbara make it important for both Trudeau and his party to clear the air about its previous handling of the troubled MP.
Royce Koop is head of the political studies department at the University of Manitoba.
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