Milton, Ontario, November 5, 2015:
When is harassment actionable? For real? It isn't meant to be a provocative question. When choosing the ‘issue page’ for this topic, I ultimately chose 'Politics in Canada' because the accused in this situation is a politician, and as yet his party has not acknowledged the following situation.
I'm a professional freelance journalist based west of Toronto, in the Town of Milton. This is my firsthand account of a situation I have found myself in, quite incredulously, since May of this year. I'm a writer and photographer. I am involved in our community and town events and have been for the ten years in which we have lived here. I am also one of the leaders of a prominent and popular local cause. I was a long-time Liberal, however, I supported the Liberal nominee who was not elected as candidate in our Milton Riding.
How did I end up in the situation I find myself in? I believe it was due to my visibility in the community, combined with my unwillingness to support the candidate who won the Liberal candidacy, that a target was placed on me. Of course, this I can only guess. This is my opinion, my perspective, but after months of harassment and intimidation by this candidate and his associates, I have asked myself many times why me? There are others, allegedly. I have spoken to at least four of them firsthand. One is fighting the harassment in civil litigation, some are too scared to come forward and name names, except in quiet corners where they may feel they are out of the reach of those threatening them. Another woman was allegedly aggressively harassed five years ago, but she did not report the harassment when it occurred. She reached out to me to let me know I am not alone. I’ve been warned by the candidate’s business peers to be careful of him. Though meant to be helpful, there is nothing that I can do with this information except to feed my fears.
Despite all of this, despite the knowing glances in town, despite the concurrence of anecdotes, the sympathetic warnings and shoulders to cry on, what happened here in our Milton Riding during this election has remained a dirty secret, no matter how great our efforts to turn the microscope on our situation. This candidate’s behaviour has been discussed throughout our riding, it is referred to in whispered conversations, it has been documented and addressed in closed door meetings, but so far I am one of only two people who has come forward openly to authorities about this situation.
Why have I come forward? I was scared after the situation escalated on the evening of September 30th, 2015. I know others have been hurt, and I could not expect them to come forward if I too was afraid and not speaking up. I came forward finally—also--because I document. It’s what I do. By simple habit I record my thoughts, my observations, and my feelings on paper and with my camera. Perhaps I have documented this since May of 2015 because it has allowed me to keep some distance from the growing apprehension, anxiety, fear, shame, frustration, and anger that has accompanied me. Harassment is a cumulative experience, being the repeated recipient of unwanted, inappropriate behaviour by someone in a position which demands trustworthiness and civility. Someone who should never be enabled to abuse his authority, especially by a system which looks the other way. So with that information laid out, let me know begin again with more clarity.
I am a woman living in Milton, Ontario with my husband. Since May of 2015 I have been the repeated victim of unwanted attention, inappropriate attention, verbal and physical harassment and intimidation by our Liberal candidate, Azim Rizvee, his wife, and by various men on his campaign. I have filed complaints with the Liberal Party of Canada since July. I have yet to receive acknowledgment of any investigation on their part into this matter. I filed complaints with Elections Canada. Though they were sympathetic, I was told this is not under their jurisdiction. I filed two reports with police, since I have been told that I must be sure to report the behaviour. I have done this. The matter has now gone to court. This week it was determined that indeed a situation of harassment and intimidation s taking place and proceedings are initiated for a protective order against this man directly and indirectly to ensure the harassment is stopped. The court date is scheduled for early December.
You don't know me. It is perfectly reasonable for you to wonder about me and my claims. I am an involved and fairly visible member in my local community and many here do know me. I'm not hiding in the fringes afraid to speak out. I am speaking out. I have verified my claims, and there have been witnesses. In a political election climate, harassment just isn't that bad it would seem. Even if it means being met in parking lots and warned you'll be “taught some manners” by a strange man literally waiting for you in the dark. Even if it means you have to endure being aggressively touched, held on to, grabbed, crowded and leaned against by someone you have explicitly told to stay away from you. Even if it means being targeted by someone who ought to have earned the public trust, and systematically intimidated. Even if it means being surrounded by groups of men yelling at you to shut up and that I have no business in their community. Even if it means enduring malice and disregard for my safety, my family, not because I am important, but because I am a pest that is presumably in the way. I don’t fool myself that I matter to them, except that my voice must be quieted to suit their purposes and his ambition.
For the first time in my life, since May of this year, being a Liberal has been a liability for me. The party I have supported and since I cast my first ballot, the party who have won a monumental and important victory in our country's history in this federal election, is a party that I have lost my connection with, who I feel abandoned by since earlier this year. The Liberal victory, for me, has been bittersweet. I welcome our new PM Trudeau with what-would-have-been-glee-now-muted-happiness. I would have been overjoyed, and a part of me, despite all of this, is still swept up in the tide of optimism in Canada. There is an undercurrent though, for me, in this last six months. A man, a politician--in the party I supported, a party which outwardly upholds women’s rights, justice, peace, accountability--is a bully, a harasser, an intimidator, and his behaviour has impacted me very personally, in very difficult manners, and as yet it has been ignored and swept under the carpet by his party.
Who wants to read about a bad Liberal in this climate of hope, of energy, of infectious charisma? It would seem no one. But I'm still here. I have been harassed. I am still effected by this systematic intimidation. This situation has transpired over the last six months and it still upsets me almost every day. This candidate did not win the seat in our riding. I am thankful at least for this, for giving more power to an individual such as this would be tragic in its consequences; I truly believe this based on my own experiences. However I am told he is already planning his ascent once again in our community and in politics in our country. This is hearsay, but it scares me very much nonetheless.
There is a commercial on television which depicts a woman, her shoulders being rubbed by an employer, an expression of confusion on her face, and of shame. The audience is told that she is being harassed and it isn’t okay. This commercial has special significance suddenly. I understand it, and I know how difficult it is to recognize it and say it out loud. The only thing that is evident, that is palpable, and that is very, very present when you are being harassed, is the fear that comes with it. Fear which is meant to cripple and submit you.
I did not ask to be harassed. I didn’t do anything to ask for what has happened to me. We are given manuals to follow along by when it comes to being harassed. Understanding harassment, unwanted behaviour, touching, attention, verbal and physical intimidation; this is a systemic and gradual approach meant to wear someone down, and it does. What also wears a person down is the process by which we must report harassment. I am someone who, I would have thought would have no problem being listened to (and I state this without egotism). I am involved in my community, and somewhat well-known, but I have been ignored for the most part by those in a position to stop this behaviour. I have been supported of course by my friends, my neighbours, my family, and fellow recipients of similar harassment and intimidation by this man and his campaign--a sad club to belong to.
The Liberal Party should know what their candidate has done to people in this riding. He and his campaign, and its tactics in our Milton Riding should be investigated and the situation resolved. Until then, I am here, and I have been targeted, harassed, intimidated, ignored, and it hurts deeply. As a woman, a journalist, a community advocate, I will continue to say it out loud, to document it, because this is what I do.
By Stacey Newman