Is it conceivable that Jagmeet Singh has a legal duty to accommodate Erin Weir in NDP caucus?
The Erin Weir saga took another unexpected turn today on CTV Question Period.
The Regina-Lewvan MP said that he hasn't ruled out legal action after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh expelled him from caucus last week.
Weir said that he bears no ill will toward Singh for setting up a process to investigate complaints of sexual harassment.
But the Saskatchewan MP and bachelor also claimed that the leader didn't consider how it might be exploited by those with "rivalries and axes to grind".
"I do approach women that I am interested in, but I want to be clear that the findings here really are about being a bit of a close-talker, of physical proximity, and engaging people in conversation more than they may have wished to speak with me," Weir told CTV Question Period.
Weir didn't reveal what form any legal action might take, simply saying that he's "exploring different options".
Last week, Singh said that an independent investigator concluded that "the evidence" sustained one claim of harassment and three claims of sexual harassment.
"In regards to the sustained claims of sexual harassment, which the investigator defined as acts of a sexual nature 'that might reasonably be expected to cause offence', it was found that Mr. Weir failed to read non-verbal cues in social situations and that his behaviour resulted in significant negative impacts on the complainants," Singh said in a statement. "The report found that when Mr. Weir was told his advances were unwanted, he stopped."
Singh said he considered "various corrective resolutions including conciliation". However, Weir's decision to speak to the media appears to have led Singh to kick him out of caucus.
Weir jumped into politics at a young age
Let's take a moment to examine the political career of Erin Weir.
In his early 20s, Weir ran as a New Democrat and lost against Ralph Goodale, then the finance minister and now the public safety minister in Justin Trudeau's cabinet.
At the age of 30, Weir ran for the leadership of the Saskatchewan NDP. This came at the urging of two senior and respected figures in the party, former Manitoba premier Howard Pawley and former NDP MP and ex-journalist Dick Proctor.
Weir also worked at an economist with the United Steelworkers. He was elected to Parliament for the first time in 2015. He has since helped expose massive problems with the federal payroll system called Phoenix.
In this era of #metoo, political parties are required to demonstrate zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
To do otherwise is to risk political annihilation.
But what if there's another side to this story that media outlets aren't reporting?
Weir has been described as "socially awkward". He has acknowledged that he made women feel uncomfortable.
"The findings of what's described as sexual harassment don't arise from upholding any one particular complaint," Weir told Maclean's. "It's kind of a generalized finding based on putting them together. A few different people felt uncomfortable with me being a bit of a close-talker."
He's pledged to take action to try to improve his behaviour.
As I've watched Weir on TV and heard him on the radio, he's come across as remarkably steady throughout this affair. He hasn't exhibited the type of distress one might expect from a politician whose career could be in tatters.
On Reddit, one person wrote: "Weir is my MP and when you do meet him, he actually seems like he's on the autism spectrum."
I'm not a medical doctor. I'm not a clinician or a psychiatric expert or an expert in autism. And I've never met Weir. So I'm in no position to evaluate whether this constituent's statement might be true.
Discrimination can take many forms
It's worth taking a step back and looking at the big picture of discrimination against people with this condition.
According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, autism spectrum disorder is "a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior" and "occurs in all ethnic, racial, and economic groups".
One of the hallmarks is difficulty with social communication and interaction. Another indication is having difficulties with back and forth conversation.
People on the spectrum have have "a lasting intense interest in certain topics, such as numbers, details or facts".
There are high-functioning people on the spectrum, such as author and professor Temple Grandin, whereas others have severe difficulty even speaking let alone functioning in a work environment.
In 1999, Grandin wrote a helpful list of jobs that are suitable for people on the spectrum. More information is available on the Temple Grandin website.
Under Canadian human rights law, grounds for discrimination include "disability" and "genetic characteristics".
According to the NIMH, "research suggests that genes can act together with influences from the environment to affect development in ways that lead to ASD."
Employers and service providers are obliged to adjust rules, policies, and practices to ensure that people with disabilities are accommodated.
This is known as the "duty to accommodate".
"It is also important to consider that there is a reasonable limit to how far your employer or service provider has to go to accommodate your needs," the Canadian Human Rights Commission states on its website. "Sometimes accommodation is not possible because it would cost too much, or create health or safety risks. This is known as undue hardship."
In 2009, the Autism Society of Canada proposed a Canadian Charter of Rights for Persons with Autism.
And in 2014, CBC News carried a report about people on the high-functioning end of the spectrum who've experienced difficulties in the federal workplace.
An expert on the subject, Suzanne Ford was quoted as saying that these high-functioning federal employees and contractors couldn't read social cues and didn't recognize when people were angry at them.
At the time, Ford said that one in 68 people are on the spectrum.
There are 338 members of Parliament and 105 senators. The odds suggest at least one of them will be somewhere on the spectrum if Ford's number is correct.
Jagmeet Singh is seen as champion of human rights
Keep in mind that Jagmeet Singh won the leadership of the NDP because of his outspoken advocacy for human rights.
He galvanized support from younger party members, including many people of colour, with his opposition to racial profiling and other forms of discrimination.
On the Canadian left, human rights are often thought of in the context of discrimination against people on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.
Tall, healthy, able-bodied, well-educated white males with high-paying jobs like Weir are not normally seen as victims of prejudice.
But discrimination can also occur against people on the basis of a disability or their genetic characteristics. It can take place when an employer fails to meet his or her legal obligation to accommodate someone on these grounds.
Section 9 of the Canadian Human Rights Act states that it is "a discriminatory practice for an employee organization on a prohibited ground of discrimination...to expel or suspend a member of the organization". (Italics added.)
If Weir ever chooses to make this case before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal—that he was discriminated against on the basis of genetic characteristics and that the NDP caucus is an employee organization—it would be a very public test of Singh's claim of being a champion of human rights.
A hearing focusing on this might also provide more transparency for Canadians who have not been given access to the NDP caucus investigator's report. Some of them remain befuddled by a finding of sexual harassment against Weir for what's being construed by his defenders on social media as awkward social behaviour.