Women's marches have become an increasingly frequent phenomenonElvert Barnes

I was initially intending to write about sexual harassment and the presence of the #MeToo movement in Canada this week. However, the events of the past few days, most notably the move by Patrick Brown to stand again for his old job as leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party (the PCs), have changed the nature of this discussion.

Not three weeks ago, Patrick Brown, the leader of the PCs, resigned after allegations of misconduct. Most damningly, in one incident the woman in question was said to be underage at the time of the alleged incident. Both incidents were said to have happened almost 10 years ago. At 9:30 PM on the 25th January, Patrick Brown stated publicly that he would stay on and clear his name. His staff resigned en masse, the parliamentary party abandoned him, and by 1:25 AM the next morning he was out the door.

“A newspaper has a responsibility to defend its sources from accidental inaccuracies; in this case it manifestly failed”

I was rather proud that the Canadian political establishment had acted so decisively. I gather, having spoken to some friends in Canadian politics (prior to his leadership, Brown had been a federal MP), that, while Brown had never been accused of anything publicly or privately, he had a storied reputation as a womaniser. Thus, in the aftermath of bombshell revelations, the sword fell swiftly. That the PCs did so only four months before the election campaign was arguably quite impressive (even if there was no doubt that Brown had become damaged goods). Yet, as of yesterday afternoon Patrick Brown is running to get his job back.

It turns out that one of the women in question was not actually underage at the time of the incident – despite this being the major headline when the story broke. Neither was she below drinking age or in high school, both subsidiary allegations that were replayed widely in the media. What is more, it now appears that the events relayed by the second woman in question have been undermined publicly by people at the party where the misconduct was said to have occurred. While obviously none of them saw the particular actions in question, a number of guests (including Brown’s girlfriend at the time) have cast aspersions on the victim’s behaviour and motive, describing her as “clinging to him”.

Thus, a column that was going to be about how we should act swiftly and decisively about questions of sexual misconduct – the Brendan Cox allegations offering yet more evidence – literally overnight became a cautionary tale about accusing public figures, especially politicians, of such actions.

Politicians live in a world of ambiguity, where words become weapons. What’s more, they survive in a soup of intense partisanship, where half-truths and hyperbolic accusations destroy and make careers. In this case, even though Brown’s actions were repulsive, invasive and wantonly aggressive towards younger women, the changed stories and reported factual inaccuracies have provided just enough cover for obfuscation and misdirection.

Factual inaccuracies are not uncommon in such allegations due to the vulnerable and traumatised state that survivors of sexual assault, harassment, or misconduct are often left in. However, why a credible news source did not feel compelled to fact-check, for example cross-referencing the date of the event in question or the age of one of the complainants, is beyond me. At some point a newspaper has a responsibility to defend its sources from accidental inaccuracies; in this case it manifestly failed. Now, a few key misremembered details are being used to exonerate someone who has clearly behaved inappropriately – underage or not.


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This particular case also offers a very strong word of warning to the ‘tactics’ of the #MeToo movement. Those who are victims of assault and harassment have every right to speak publicly, but the public square can also be a dangerous place. If the individual you are accusing has powerful friends, is media savvy and has nothing to lose, they can become a deadly enemy. The Trump phenomenon is the most obvious example. With Fox News in his pocket and a bevy of second-rate personalities at his beck and call, the President has spun himself out of over ten – or is it 20 – accusations of a sexual nature. Instead of closure, Trump’s accusers have been thoroughly destroyed in some parts of the press, and have had armies of trolls set against them. With figures like this, the story has to be absolutely watertight – otherwise every trickle will be turned into a flood.

Similarly, though not nearly to the same extent, Brown’s accusers have had their credibility repeatedly questioned, as misremembered details take front and centre stage. While in the past the media could explain and defend such things, the proliferation of other media outlets have meant that it is basically all out war across the web. Hopefully, whatever the outcome of the next few weeks, the media will learn to take its responsibilities more seriously, and give outraged victims the defences they so justly deserve

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