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Politics and #MeToo: voices from a survey of staffers on Parliament Hill

Last Updated Mar 19, 2018 at 5:00 am EDT

OTTAWA – Long hours. A male-dominated workplace. Precarious employment. Alcohol. A culture of silence.

The Canadian Press surveyed those working in the offices of MPs, senators and cabinet ministers in Ottawa, asking them to share their experiences with sexual misconduct on Parliament Hill and their thoughts on the surrounding culture. Here’s some of what the respondents — who completed the survey in anonymity — had to say.

— “It is a workplace, but there is widespread alcohol before, during and after official duties are carried out. Is there any other workplace in Canada where consuming alcohol on the job is acceptable, and even promoted by management (MPs in this case)?”

— “Save your voice for when it counts, when it’s silent, when someone needs you, or when you need to speak up. Don’t waste this opportunity.”

— “I am concerned that this movement could have some unintended, negative consequences for female staffers. I have already heard male parliamentarians say they will no longer hire female staffers and it is difficult for us to break into legislative work as it is.”

— “Partisanship can be an ugly beast that prevents us from standing up for ourselves. It’s not right. We, staffers, deserve a safe and harassment free workplace just as does anyone else.”

— “The whisper network is very real. As soon as I got a job on the Hill, friends who already worked there started telling me stories and giving me names of MPs and staffers to avoid. It was never in a gossipy way, simply friends trying to help me protect myself.”

— “As a male working on the Hill for many years, it has become apparent to me that women speak of and warn each other about male abusers. The fact that they talk about it between themselves, yet haven’t felt able to disclose publicly, condemns our system and all of us and it’s tragic.”

— “I find there are a fair amount of ‘stories of stories,’ but very little actual first-person or directly witnessed events.”

— “In my experience what has bothered me the most are the comments and jokes of a sexual or sexist nature that come out of the blue and unexpectedly turn a formal work situation into an uncomfortable, embarrassing, or humiliating situation (usually, but not always, for women). As a staffer, you are expected to laugh it off or be branded as uptight or not to be trusted.”

— “Ever since the #MeToo movement has come to Parliament Hill, I have noticed a change surrounding how male MPs treat me. I feel even more disrespected because instead of staring at my chest, they’ll refuse eye contact or take the next elevator to avoid being alone with me. It makes me equally uncomfortable that so many men have to do that to control themselves. I think the solution to this is to promote more women and give more men female bosses so that they learn to respect women and take them seriously.”

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