It was over a week ago that I weighed in on the case of the Liberal-turned-Independent MP for Kitchener South – Hespeler Marwan Tabbara, his arrest and all the claims that no one knew anything. As I expressed at the time, given my experience from my time working on Parliament Hill, I had a very hard time believing that no one knew anything or that Tabbara’s activities over time hadn’t raised any red flags with anyone. It simply didn’t ring true with my lived experience and years of knowing people in all parties. Well this morning the CBC has come out with a report that basically amounts to the other shoe dropping to the ground and as it turns out, it’s fallen with the impact of a steel-toed boot to the groin:
Wow folks, that story. CBC details allegations dating back to the 2015 election campaign, when Tabarra was first elected. Those allegations included “inappropriate touching and unwelcome sexual comments directed at a female staffer” and according to CBC’s reporting, they were able to confirm that a Liberal Party internal investigation determined that “some of the allegations were substantiated, but has not been able to learn whether Tabbara faced any consequences.” That whole situation looks even worse considering what he is now charged with and the context that these allegations add to the behaviours alleged in those charges.
You can add to that context the fact that Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual misconduct in the workplace, something that he’s leaned on as proof that he’s working to snuff out that kind of inacceptable bahaviour in his party. The story points out that knowledge of this incident went all the way right into the Prime Ministers office, which is notable. The fact that these allegations were made two elections ago and they allegedly found “some of the allegations were substantiated”, how in the heck do you explain that Tabarra managed to stay in that caucus?
Furthermore, not only did he not get any punishment that was apparent to the naked eye, he was allowed to run again and was even given the position of chair of the House of Commons committee on International Human Rights. MPs literally scrap and fight for years to become the chair of a House of Commons committee, it’s a position of importance and prestige. And after the Liberals knew about that case and their pledges to have zero-tolerance for such awful behaviour, they gave Tabbara that plum seat. That looks more like they were either rewarding bad behaviour than punishing it, quite the opposite of zero-tolerance.
Another salient point from the CBC piece was a line that speaks to this situation: “The Liberal Party may not have been warned about the criminal charges — but it did know about the misconduct allegations dating back to 2015.” When the Tabbara charges came out a couple weeks ago the Liberals feigned ignorance, saying they had no clue about and were surprised by his behaviours, something which I expressed my skepticism about. Now that we know this, I refuse to believe that they weren’t paying closer attention to this guy. Seriously, not only did they know this and do nothing, they let him run again. Remember, these allegations took place two elections ago and given that the allegations that lead to criminal charges in Guelph took place this year, I wonder if Mr. Tabbara would have had the means and time on his hands to do what was alleged there if he wasn’t an MP at the time. It’s legitimate to ask if these original allegations had led to actual action by the Liberals back then if what is alleged to have happened this year would have even happened.
All of this is to say that if anything, the Liberals can’t say that there were no red flags out there about Tabbara’s behaviour. Their reaction shouldn’t have been “wait, that guy did something?”. Given what we now know thanks to good reporting from CBC, their reaction should have been “wait, that guy again?”. The Liberals had a huge red flag on this MP, one that walked right in their door, jumping up and down demanding their attention. And even though they found that “some of the allegations were substantiated”, it’s not publicly clear that there was any punishment. The fact that this is only coming to light now, that there was no apparent punishment for Tabbara, that he got promoted to a position of status in Parliament and was allowed to run on Team Trudeau again in 2019, I feel safe in assuming there was no punishment at all. Or as the Liberal leader has put it before, a “zero-tolerance policy”. I’ll say it again, the Liberals have a lot to answer for here and with these new details, they have that many more questions to answer. This is another example of this government saying one thing loudly and doing the opposite as quietly as possible. Not only is it a bad look politically, it gives cover to those who have allegedly behaved badly. That’s on the Liberal leader and his party, and they need to answer for it. Because it’s 2020, although that was the standard in 2015 too.