What sexual misconduct in Canadian politics says about our democracy

Allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Patrick Brown, the former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader, took the news cycle by storm. In many ways, this was an event that ushered the #metoo movement into Canadian politics. The quick resignation of Brown’s top team members paired with the statement from PC MPP Lisa MacLeod, indicating that she had reported concerns of sexual misconduct against Brown to the PC Party which were dismissed, heavily suggested that Brown’s alleged inappropriate behaviour was an open secret.

Shortly afterwards, accounts of sexual misconduct and harassment in Canadian politics surfaced. Allegations against men in all three major parties emerged, revealing the pervasiveness and impunity of a culture of abusive behaviour. Most of those who spoke out against this culture in Canadian politics were young women who experienced it firsthand when volunteering or working in local campaigns and as staffers on the Hill. In a CBC interview, Lauren Dobson-Hughes, a former young staffer on the Hill, described being grabbed, groped and kissed as a normal part of her every day.

Unfortunately, this has meant that young women who are eager to get involved in politics are too often confronted with normalized sexually abusive behaviours. Too many young women leave their political careers before they reach positions of power because of gendered barriers. Arezoo Najibzadeh from the Young Women’s Leadership Network noted, “Women leave politics because the political structure is not made for women to succeed.”

Often overlooked, however, are the effects that this systematic exclusion of women from politics have for our society and democracy as a whole. These barriers result in the underrepresentation of women among politicians and judges, which in turn lead to policies and laws that ignore women’s experiences, realities, and perspectives. No doubt this exclusion is responsible for the large number of cases that have been tossed out by judges and juries who dismiss women’s experience of sexual abuse. For instance, only 12% of sexual assaults reported to police have led to a criminal conviction and only 7% to a custody sentence.

As it stands, 50% of our population is not being meaningfully represented because we have allowed a brutal culture of abuse to stop women from achieving high positions in politics. If we want a truly democratic society that represents all of its members, then we need to fight the culture of sexual assault in Canadian politics, not only because it’s unethical but also because it threatens the legitimacy of our democracy.


Winter cold snap reveals another dimension of Toronto’s housing crisis

When people think about Toronto’s housing crisis they often think about rising rent prices and the growing difficulty to buy a house. However, the increasing unaffordability of the city has pushed many individuals into homelessness. The recent extreme cold temperatures brought Toronto’s growing homeless population to the forefront, and the city’s inability to deal with the crisis entered mainstream conversation.

The city’s homeless population, an estimated 5,253 in 2013 (a number that is expected to increase in the 2018 report), is one of the most vulnerable populations in Toronto. At the height of the cold snap, 98% of the city’s shelters were at full capacity, causing a public panic that led to thousands of Torontonians to sign a petition demanding the opening of Moss Park Armoury as an emergency shelter. The petition ultimately resulted in City Council successfully voting to open the Armoury on January 3 which only temporarily helped to relieve the estimated 1000 bed shortage until the end of January.

On January 25, Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) revealed the city’s purchase of an Annex building which he plans to turn into a shelter that is expected to provide 90 new beds in April 2018. At a news conference, the councillor stated, “I want to be clear on the issue of shelters, that communities do not have a right to say no to shelters. If they did, we would have no shelters. Communities have a responsibility to work with their neighbours and cities to welcome shelters and to make them work for everybody.”

Solutions to Toronto’s housing crisis need to address and include the homeless and lower income population. For too long housing has been spoken about in terms of private developments and homebuyers rather than addressing the needs of individuals who are most affected by unaffordable housing. The city needs to invest in more shelters and subsidized government housing to create lasting solutions that make the city inclusive and diverse. Conversations about the housing crisis need to start addressing those whose lives are most affected and at risk by Toronto’s unaffordable housing.