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Harassment allegations deserved an investigation

Brenda Seymour made numerous sexual harassment allegations against the Spaniard’s Bay Fire Department, including but not limited to the porn video.

The Mayor issued an apology to Ms. Seymour. This implies the SBFD is guilty of all the allegations, not just the porn video.

The video was so wrong. But does she deserve an apology for all the allegations?

Yes, if all the allegations are true.

Are all the allegations true? We don’t know because there was no investigation.

There are many unanswered questions. We specifically don’t know why 20 firefighters resigned, although it’s implied it was because of the sexual harassment allegations. That’s a very serious charge.

As a no-brainer, Brenda Seymour deserves to have all the allegations investigated by a neutral, experienced investigator with specialized knowledge. The people named in her complaint should have an opportunity to respond. Findings should be made and recommendations implemented.

At least I thought this was a no brainer. I was not expecting the heated opposition to this idea from some members of the “I DO NOT Support Sexual Harassment” Facebook page, which has more than 700 members and was started in response to and in support of Brenda Seymour’s allegations.

I was added to this page and when I stated an investigation is needed before blame is laid, the responses were hostile. It was stated when a woman alleges sexual harassment, “you believe her.” “There is NO question as to guilt or sides to take.” This proposes the SPFD is guilty; no questions asked.

No one disagreed and I was shocked. Some people don’t get involved in online debates; I respect that. However, perhaps some worried they would be personally attacked if they disagreed. No wonder. I was told online that - My comments were “bulls**t, I was a “jerk,” “out to lunch” and a “trouble maker (or “s**t disturber.” I can’t recall and can’t check because I removed myself from the site and it is now closed to the public). And my favourite; I expose my children to porn!

I commented about the irony of the personal attacks on an anti-harassment site. No one responded, online.

Do people believe sexual harassment allegations should be accepted, no questions asked? I am abhorred by this. But I think I understand the rationale behind it.

First, women experience workplace sexual harassment, especially with increased numbers of women in the trades. Women want it to stop.

Second, an investigation tests the truth of the allegations.
Third, sexual harassment hurts; an investigation may prolong or increase the pain.

These reasons are valid. But an investigation is absolutely necessary for two reasons.

Firstly, women rightfully demand workplace equality. As such, we must also accept equality in the process that would apply to any serious accusation.

If you were accused of violating the law and the accusation could ruin your career and personal reputation, you would not support a system that denies you the right to respond. If it’s unfair for you, it’s unfair for everyone. That’s the trouble with equality; it applies to everyone equally.

Finding guilt without an opportunity to respond is a dictatorship, not a democracy. Canada is built on the rule of law. The law applies equally and consistently to everyone regardless of gender, race or religion. People lose faith if we manipulate the system to treat people differently. Paradoxically, a woman will be doubted if we accept her allegations, no questions asked. Equality slides backwards if we demand preferential treatment. We should call it a fight for superiority if we want different standards.

Woman can handle an investigation. We aren’t weak or defenseless. We have the law; we have strength; we have a voice. We aren’t afraid to be treated like men. That’s what we want.

Secondly, investigations are necessary to ensure no one is wrongly accused. No fair and just society allows someone to be accused without a right to respond in a proper investigation. You have a legal right to defend against a speeding ticket, but not a workplace sexual harassment allegation? The place where you earn your living and support your family?

Everyone involved deserves an investigation; no questions asked.


Maria Lewis writes from Carbonear

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