January 25, 2018 / 5:22 AM / 4 months ago

Canadian politician steps down, denies misconduct allegations

TORONTO/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The leader of the main opposition party in Canada’s Ontario province on Thursday stepped down from his post after broadcaster CTV News reported allegations of sexual misconduct that he strongly denied.

FILE PHOTO: Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader, Patrick Brown, watches from the gallery as Quebec's Premier Philippe Couillard (not seen) makes his visit to the Ontario Legislature inside Queen's park in Toronto, May 11, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/File Photo

By resigning as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, Patrick Brown ended a quest to unseat Ontario’s Liberal Party Premier Kathleen Wynne in a June election he was favored to win. His party now faces the uncertainty of how and when to select a new leader to run against Wynne in the election in Canada’s most populous province.

Brown is one of the highest-profile Canadians to see their careers derailed by allegations of sexual misconduct since a widespread #MeToo social movement by victims of sexual harassment and abuse began last year in the United States.

Progressive Conservatives said they planned to name an interim leader on Friday. Brown said he would stay on as an Ontario lawmaker while working to clear his name.

“These allegations are false and have been difficult to hear,” he said in a statement. “However, defeating Kathleen Wynne in 2018 is more important than one individual.”

Reuters was unable to verify the claims against Brown. CTV did not identify the women or show their faces.

The #MeToo movement surfaced in the United States where as allegations of misconduct by prominent U.S. entertainment, politics and media figures, resulting in many firings and forced resignations. In recent weeks it has gained momentum in Canada, sidelining the careers of a national gymnastics coach and the artistic director of a prominent Toronto theater company.

The leader of Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservatives, Jamie Baillie, resigned on Wednesday after a party investigation concluded he had breached a policy on workplace harassment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday said he would speak to Liberal Cabinet Minister Kent Hehr when asked at a news conference about allegations that Hehr has made inappropriate comments to women about their bodies.

“I am unequivocal in my support for women who step forward with allegations of this nature and that continues,” Trudeau said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Trudeau said he would discuss the matter with Hehr, minister for sport and persons with disabilities, then comment further on Thursday.

In Ontario, Brown’s abrupt departure forced the Progressive Conservatives to scramble to find a new leader ahead of the June elections. The deputy leaders said in a statement that while Brown was entitled to legal defense and due process, “he cannot lead us into an election as a result of these allegations.”

Wynne declined to comment on how Brown’s sudden resignation might affect election.

“I think many of us feel very shaken by what we heard last night,” she told reporters at the Ontario legislature.

The CTV report included allegations from two women who said that Brown made unwanted sexual advances toward them in separate incidents at his home several years ago.

One woman told CTV she met Brown in a bar more than 10 years ago when she was in high school, that he invited her to his home, provided her with alcohol, even though she was under the drinking age, exposed himself and asked her to perform a sexual act.

The second, who said she worked for Brown in his office when he was a member of parliament, described an incident in which he

kissed her, lay her down on a bed and got on top of her when she was drunk.

Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto and Julie Gordon in Vancouver; Additional reporting by Andrea Hopkins in Ottawa, David Ljunggren in Quebec and Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Bill Trott and Bill Rigby

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