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Liberal whip warns unfair 'trial' taking place over Raj Saini harassment allegations

Liberal whip Mark Holland has insisted that the "buck stops" with him as he faced fresh questions about his party's handling of complaints against Raj Saini

Liberal whip Mark Holland has insisted that the "buck stops" with him as he faced fresh questions about his party's handling of complaints against Kitchener Centre election candidate Raj Saini.

Speaking at a virtual news conference, Holland confirmed he was personally made aware of allegations of harassment against Saini, a former Liberal MP who bowed out of the race for re-election on Saturday.

But he declined to comment on whether he had contacted the Prime Minister's Office about a complaint that Saini had harassed a female member of his staff.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has refused to confirm whether he was personally aware of complaints about Saini.

His party whip on Wednesday took responsibility for the party's handling of the matter.

"As the person who is responsible, the buck stops with me," Holland said. "I had the opportunity to look at the case.”

Holland insisted that the investigation into complaints about Saini's conduct, which looked into the "veracity" of the claims, was "thorough and complete" and had left him "with no questions."

"I have extraordinary confidence in that process," he said.

He said the complainant was given "all the options of where to go" to pursue the matter. This is believed to have included the option of mediation.

Saini faced allegations that he harassed a female member of staff, who then attempted suicide. The former MP vehemently denies the allegations, which were originally reported by the CBC and have not been independently verified by The Canadian Press.

Saini has said he cannot discuss the details because of privacy concerns.

The House of Commons' most senior official is set to launch a review into the handling of the investigation to see if "there are any shortcomings" in the way it was conducted.

Charles Robert, clerk of the House of Commons, is to look into how the investigation was carried out following questions from the Conservatives and NDP about why the woman who alleged she was harassed by Saini was not interviewed.

The Clerk confirmed he was launching a probe in a letter to Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel Garner.

Rempel Garner had asked Robert to look into whether the House of Commons’ policy on workplace harassment was enough to end a "culture of sexual misconduct" in Parliament.

In his reply, seen by The Canadian Press, the clerk said he had asked the chief human resources officer "to assess whether there are any shortcomings present in the policy or its application and to propose appropriate changes, if needed."

The results of the evaluation would be looked at by a parliamentary committee after the election.

The Liberal whip said he had "complete confidence in the process that was undertaken" and that complaints of harassment are taken "exceptionally seriously."

Holland expressed concern that a public "trial" is taking place, with key people involved unable to speak out.

"There is no fair hearing of the facts because the matter is behind an iron wall," he said.

"The trial that is happening with these matters I think is unfortunate," Holland added. "People’s careers are on the line. It's exceptionally important that we be careful how we treat these things."

The NDP accused the Liberals of "defending their friends" and not standing up for women who come forward with harassment allegations.

Rachel Blaney, NDP candidate for North Island-Powell River, said Holland's remarks were the latest in a clear pattern: "women come forward, and Justin Trudeau and Liberal men defend their friends."

She said the woman who made the allegations should have been interviewed during the inquiry.

"Last week, Justin Trudeau spent days defending a flawed investigation that excluded the survivor of alleged sexual and physical harassment by Liberal MP Raj Saini," said Blaney, the NDP whip in the last Parliament.

"When Mr. Saini finally resigned, Mr. Trudeau only said he was 'frustrated' that he no longer has a candidate in that riding.

"Today, Mr. Trudeau's whip Mark Holland claimed that process 'thorough and complete' even though it didn’t even allow the survivor to tell her story."

The Conservatives said they hoped "the House of Commons investigation brings some form of justice and closure for the victims."

"Mr. Holland's comments today raise further questions about why Justin Trudeau continued to defend Mr. Saini and why he was approved as a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada,” said Mathew Clancy, Conservative spokesman.

Despite Saini pulling out of the race, Elections Canada said his name will remain on the ballot as the deadline has already passed.

Trudeau said if Saini is re-elected in Kitchener Centre, he will not be a part of the Liberal caucus.

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