Treaty 1 Territory, Métis Homeland, Winnipeg, MB - Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont has written Premier Brian Pallister and NDP Leader Wab Kinew asking for all-party agreement on calling an inquiry into multiple allegations of sexual harassment and even sexual assault in Manitoba's labour movement.
"We hope that all parties agree that the Government of Manitoba should call an independent judicial inquiry into covering up the mistreatment of women in the labour movement over the last decade," said Lamont. "Manitoba Liberals believe that an independent judicial inquiry is necessary because the current internal investigative process have failed to deliver either justice or a safe workplace for everyone."
Lamont and the Manitoba Liberals are calling for the inquiry in the wake of an article in rankandfile.ca which details multiple instances of harassment, threats, intimidation, and inviduals discounting sexual assault allegations.
Lamont said special measures need to be taken to ensure witnesses feel safe testifying free from intimidation or retaliation.
The Rank and File article, "Sexism in Winnipeg's Labour Movement" stated that:
"Over the course of the past six years, at least six women have documented accounts of sexual harassment within the Winnipeg labour movement
Among the concerns shared by the eight union members interviewed for this piece, there have been reports of intimidation and threats towards women who would not vote with their locals.
There are accounts of union members making remarks that women faked sexual assault claims against male union members. There is an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness regarding equity issues."
The article went on to detail a number of incidents in which prominent union leaders were alleged to have made inappropriate comments.
In January 2021, the President of CUPE Manitoba, Abe Araya, was arrested on charges of sexual assault, dating from an incident that occurred in early 2019.
When he was arrested, Mr. Araya had already been cleared by an internal investigation by his union, CUPE Manitoba, and media reports state that he refused to step down after being charged. He and the entire executive of CUPE Manitoba were removed and the union was placed under administration by CUPE National.
Lamont said public statements by former CUPE officials cast doubt on the union's ability to investigate the situation impartially and fairly.
On Facebook, one former union official for CUPE, Laurissa Sims, wrote of Mr. Araya, "There isn't a single person in the labour movement (especially in CUPE at all levels) who did not know this about this person PRIOR to his election. .. The level of CYA that MUST be happening would make you sick."
On February 5, the day of Araya's arrest, another former President of CUPE Manitoba, Terry Egan, suggested that the arrest and allegations were a politically motivated "set up".
Egan said, "This looks to me like a well planned set up. How is he supposed to recover from this. In my vast union experience I believe we stand with the mistreated member and protect our own."
Egan's statement - now deleted - was "liked" by CUPE officials from across Canada.
Lamont said statements like Egan's show that an independent investigation is required.
"Change is only going to happen if we give women and other workers in Manitoba's labour movement the ability to come forward and speak their truth in safety," said Lamont. "The central purpose of a labour union is to protect workers, and at the end of this process, Manitoba Liberals want to make sure unions in Manitoba are doing just that."
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