Kent Hehr’s political career is ruined. Wheelchair-bound since a 1991 drive-by shooting left him a quadriplegic, he made an inspiring rise through the ranks of Canadian politics to serve as the minister of veterans affairs in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s famously diverse cabinet. But it all fell apart earlier this year.
On January 24, in a tweet addressed to the gadfly political commentator Warren Kinsella, Kristin Raworth recounted what she described as her “political #MeToo movement.” During his time in the Alberta legislature a decade ago, Hehr, she said, was widely known to “make comments” to women, and make them “feel unsafe.”
“There is literally no woman who worked in the annex who didn’t experience this,” Raworth tweeted. “He made verbally sexually suggestive comments to all of us, who [sic] In an elevator with me and only me said ‘you’re yummy.’ ”
Her thread closed with an ultimatum to the prime minister: “Get rid of him.” And Trudeau did.
Hehr was removed from cabinet the day after Raworth’s tweets, and a full investigation was commissioned. The charges were soon broadened to include allegations that Hehr had, at one point, also inappropriately touched another woman.
On June 6, the Hehr investigation wrapped up — though its findings were never made public. Hehr maintained he did “not recall meeting or speaking with the first person” and that any touching of the second was “unintentional,” given his disability. Though there was no apparent finding of guilt, the prime minister did not invite Hehr back to cabinet, leading Raworth to declare that day “a win.”
Was Trudeau too harsh on Hehr? The question has been raised given that the prime minister himself is the subject of an allegation of sexual impropriety, which is proving a complicated test of the limits of #MeToo in the political realm.
Once again, the story involves Kinsella. The day after the Hehr investigation ended, Kinsella’s blog reposted a short and oddly-written anonymous editorial cut from an August 2000 issue of an obscure rural newspaper. It alleged that Trudeau had, in some unspecified way, “groped” a female reporter at an outdoor music festival in British Columbia. Subsequent reporting revealed that the editorial’s strange syntax was because the piece had actually been written by the alleged victim, but was formatted in the third person to conceal her privacy. Nearly 18 years later, privacy remains important to the woman; she refuses comment and has not been named by other reporters who have spoken to her.
Thus, unlike Hehr, Trudeau faces limited opportunity for his accuser’s charges to be scrutinized. Trudeau simply replies “I don’t remember any negative interactions.”
In voids like these, a case is often built from circumstantial evidence about personal character and patterns of behavior.
A non-subtle undercurrent of Trudeau’s popularity has always been his sex appeal, an attribute he has consciously leaned into over the years. He’s stripped and posed shirtless for charity, and often affects a flirtatious persona in interviews. A persistent criticism of Trudeau is that he is a spoiled dilettante who does not take life seriously. He has admitted to smoking marijuana — including since being elected to parliament — bounced from college to college, and made some questionable friends. Though Trudeau claims he has “been very, very careful all my life” around women, it does not strain credulity to believe he may have behaved improperly at an outdoor music party nearly two decades ago, long before he was contemplating a political career. His alleged quote in his accuser’s editorial — “If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward” — suggests a man with some familiarity with how to handle his fame as heir to Canada’s most famous political dynasty, but also how to test its limits.
That said, Trudeau’s conservative opponents have probably been overly optimistic about the story’s damaging potential — an enthusiasm that has been steadily rising as a once-cautious media begins covering the matter in earnest. The prime minister’s progressive self-righteousness is so grating, there clearly exists a desire to elevate him as the poster boy of liberal hypocrisy (“Male feminists. EVERY. Time.”— tweeted Breitbart, referencing a story the website published about Trudeau) and make him suffer at the hands of the left’s supposedly preposterous system of “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment. In other words, it is precisely because the charges against Trudeau are not particularly robust that the desire to see him suffer for them is so great.
Is there an easy out? The prime minister is fond of stunts, and one could imagine him agreeing to a temporary resignation — as Kent Hehr did — in order to allow himself to be investigated, setting an ostentatious precedent for other world leaders. Given what we know about the facts of the groping charge itself, any findings would probably be inconclusive given the lack of interest by key witnesses. Trudeau could respond with a long, bloviating statement of self-examination and cultural critique, then seamlessly reassume office.
Of course, a strong case can be made that even diffusing things this way would be an absurd overreaction. For all the talk of #MeToo as the great equalizer, much cold calculation is still used to determine how seriously we take sexual-assault allegations. The power of the man, and the consequence of his downfall, exist in proportion to the evidence required to credibly charge him.
Call it the Trudeau Standard.