As a result of the #MeToo movement, past sexual transgressions are haunting high-profile men. How many is anyone’s guess, but the list is probably a long one. The Prime Minister is the latest casualty. I’m quite sure he will survive the allegation, but perhaps it is worthwhile to ask why some politicians who are confronted with allegations of past sexual misconduct survive, while some do not.
I will argue that it has nothing to do with fairness, and everything to do with politics.
Remember Patrick Brown? Although his name is already receding from public memory, recall that he is the former leader of the Ontario Conservative Party who was forced to resign as a result of allegations of past sexual improprieties that were aired on CTV News. He is currently suing the network, as he claims that he did nothing wrong. We don’t know how this will turn out, but it is quite astounding that this is a man who would have been the Premier of Ontario, but is now in a political hinterland, unlikely to return to a position of power.
What is the essential difference between his situation, and that of of the Prime Minister?
I suggest that there is no essential difference. In both cases there are allegations of non-criminal sexual advances gone wrong – awkward sexual advances that were definitely not appreciated by the women involved. Those women felt strongly that the men had treated them improperly. In both cases, the men deny that they had done anything wrong. Neither man is accused of the kind of behaviour that resulted in criminal charges against high profile men like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. Those are cases of criminal sexual assaults, with sanctions ordered in the latter case, and likely in the former.
In the case of Brown and the Prime Minister, no criminal proceedings are likely. In Brown’s case, the women making the allegations felt so strongly that Brown had acted improperly that they went on national news to make their point. In the case of the Prime Minister, the woman aggrieved felt so strongly that she apparently wrote an editorial in the British Columbia town where the incident occurred, naming the then-youthful Prime Minister and denouncing his conduct. There are many other similarities in the two cases, but this will suffice.
So, what is the essential difference in the two situations? Why did one man fall, while the other man will not?
I suggest that the difference is this: one man has the necessary level of political support within his party, and the other man did not.
In the case of the Prime Minister, his party will support him. In the case of Patrick Brown, his party did not.
If I am correct that politics will determine whether or not a man who is faced with allegations of past sexual improprieties will survive or fall, the question that begs to be answered is this: Where is the fairness?
The #MeToo movement arose in large part because of complaints that the criminal justice system denied women justice by treating them as criminals, rather than as people making legitimate complaints. There is certainly merit in what they say. The movement has certainly empowered legitimate victims of abuse by powerful men to find a voice, and denounce the improper conduct.
But #MeToo supporters also make the claim that the movement has introduced a level of fairness, where before there had been none.
But if any admittedly flawed criminal justice system is simply to be replaced by an equally unfair system – a system where one’s fate depends completely on the vagaries of where one stands politically when the complaint is made – how is that progress?