By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
In the ring, Senator Patrick Brazeau was out-boxed in March by Justin Trudeau, and on Tuesday he was Twitter-swarmed into submission after calling a female The Canadian Press reporter a “bitch” during an online spat.
The Conservative Quebec Senator, however, faces potentially more humiliating circumstances if he loses another battle he’s been quietly fighting in Federal Court for over a year involving a former junior staffer with an Aboriginal organization and allegations of “drunk” sexual harassment.
On Wednesday morning, Brazeau personally apologized to The Canadian Press reporter Jennifer Ditchburn for calling her a bitch on Twitter Tuesday in response to an article she wrote about the Senator’s abysmal attendance record.
“While u smile Jen, others suffer. Change the D to a B in your last name and we’re even! Don’t mean it but needs saying (sic),” wrote Brazeau.
Ditchburn reported that Brazeau, 37, missed 25 per cent of the Senate’s 72 sittings between June 2011 and April 2012. During that same time span, Brazeau also missed 65 per cent of the Aboriginal peoples Senate committee of which he is a member.
Brazeau said on Twitter that personal reasons were behind his absences.
Pundits and journalists have savaged Brazeau on Twitter and in print, some have even accused him of misogyny.
The Senator, who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, is fighting far more potentially explosive battle in Federal Court.
A former female junior staffer who worked for the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) while Brazeau was its national chief wants the Federal Court to overturn a Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) decision to not hear her sexual harassment complaint against the Senator because the organization fell outside its jurisdiction.
Alisa Lombard, who is now a lawyer, is trying to convince the Federal Court that the CHRC erred in its decision because CAP is an Aboriginal organization dealing exclusively in federal issues.
She initially filed her complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal decided the complaint fell outside its jurisdiction.
A botched kiss, along with the events that led to it and the text messages that followed, formed the basis of Lombard’s a sexual harassment complaint which was filed with the human rights bodies.
While APTN National News first reported on the case last year, a number of documents have since been filed with the court and, taken together, offer a revealing snap-shot of the Aboriginal organization under the leadership of Brazeau, who was appointed the Senate in December 2008.
None of the allegations have yet been proven in court.
Brazeau’s lawyer Andrew Lister, founding partner with Ottawa law firm Lister-Beaupre, could not be reached for comment.
Lombard’s lawyer Maxime Faille, a partner with Ottawa law firm Gowlings, could not be reached for comment.
The sexual harassment complaint stemmed from one alcohol-drenched office Christmas party on Dec. 20, 2007. The incident is detailed in several documents, including two human rights complaints, a third-party investigation report, and a letter written by Lombard to CAP’s board, which were all filed in Federal Court.
A third-party investigation initiated by CAP into the sexual harassment complaint found that the three allegations that made up the complaint, if taken separately, may not constitute sexual harassment.
“Taken as a trio, the three key allegations in this complaint, if proven, would form a course of conduct or pattern of behaviour that would constitute sexual harassment,” the investigation by ADR Chambers found.
The investigators described the incident as a “sexually charged series of events at a Christmas party where both parties (and all witnesses) were drinking.”
According to Lombard’s account, much of it which is supported by the third-party investigation, the night began with wine, beer and shots at a bar on Montreal Rd. Called Caps.
The drinking started at about 5 p.m. and Brazeau found himself sitting next to Lombard who was drinking wine along with a “shot or two,” according to the documents.
“I noticed that additional drinks continued to be brought to me. I suspect it was Mr. Brazeau because when I inquired as to my bill, he expressed that I should not worry about it,” wrote Lombard. “I did not drink the additional glasses of wine.”
The conversation, which initially centred on work-related issues, turned to the personal when the then-married Brazeau started discussing his marital difficulties with Lombard, according to her human rights complaints.
Brazeau also wanted to talk about Lombard’s boyfriend and at one point asked her, “Have you ever cheated on your boyfriend?” Lombard alleged, according to the court documents.
“During the course of the discussion, he would speak about work and his ability to ensure my overall advancement,” states Lombard.
The investigator’s report states that “Mr. Brazeau drank heavily” that night and the “conversation on the subject alleged happened.”
The investigators noted that, “it was not an appropriate conversation for a superior to be having with any staff. As chief, Mr. Brazeau ought to recognize that his position of authority creates a power imbalance with any subordinate.”
The investigators, however, said it was unclear whether Brazeau would have realized the subject matter of the conversation was making Lombard uncomfortable.
“Ms. Lombard says she told Mr. Brazeau she didn’t like the question and he in turn totally denies that and says she was a willing participant,” the investigators wrote.
Later, standing outside the bar, a “drunk” Brazeau, allegedly grabbed Lombard by the back of the head and pulled her toward his lips for a kiss.
Lombard stated that she turned and “froze.”
His lips missed their target, landing on her cheek. Brazeau then made a “mouawh” sound.
“It all happened very quickly. I backed away and said, ‘what the hell?” stated Lombard in one of the human rights complaint forms filed in Federal Court.
The investigators found Lombard’s account of the kiss to be credible. The report noted that Brazeau “was very drunk and slurring his speech at this time.”
The investigators found that the kiss “was certainly stupid and inappropriate,” and a rather a “goofy Christmas-time kiss from a happy inebriated party-goer.”
The next day, Lombard said she missed 15 calls on her cell phone from an unknown number.
“For fear that it was Patrick, I didn’t answer. I felt sick to my stomach,” she stated, in one of the human rights complaints.
Then Brazeau, who had forgotten his winter boots that evening, began texting her “Pas de botte d’hiver.”
Lombard stated she believes the text messages were a double-entendre based an inside office joke and a colloquial French expression “une bonne botte,” meaning a “good lay.”
She said Brazeau sent her the message three times.
The investigators found the messages could not constitute sexual harassment because it was unclear whether the messages meant more than what they stated on the surface.
“Alcohol fuelled much of what took place in the incidents described and we believe that alcohol likely ultimately propelled the CAP’s most senior member to make a stupid move,” the investigators concluded.
“However innocent the action (and it may well have been innocent), it does not take away the impact that this had on the complainant. She was genuinely hurt by what appeared to her at least to be a course of action (with the text messages) of harassment against her,” the investigators said.
They also noted that Lombard continued to work for CAP after the incident and invited Brazeau to the home of her mother for a lobster supper.
Lombard, however, stated in a submission to the CHRC, which is also filed in court, that the investigators never met with any of the witnesses she suggested.
“The firm was retained and paid by…CAP,” the submission stated.
Lombard also stated in her Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint form, filed in court, that a week after she sent her letter of complaint to CAP’s board, her supervisor told her that her corporate email account would be cancelled and she would be out of a job by April 31, 2008.
“I was punished for the behaviour of my employer’s manager,” wrote Lombard. “I was warned that physical harm may be caused to my personal belongings by a colleague.”
In the letter to CAP’s board, filed with the court, Lombard stated that the sexual harassment complaint from the Christmas party was just “one of the harassment incidences” which she faced during her time working for the organization.
“The drunken phone calls by upper management, inappropriate and unprovoked late night drunken phone calls and voice messages and inadvertent sexual comments and advances are too numerous to recall and recount,” she wrote in the letter dated March 24, 2008.
In one of her human rights complaints, she described CAP’s office environment as toxic, awash in alcohol, with ‘bullying,” swearing and “frequent sexual harassment.”
She wrote that a “significantly intoxicated” Brazeau once narrowly escaped arrest during a business trip in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The entire staff was later reprimanded by the chief’s advisor,” wrote Lombard.
She said staff were sometimes “summarily dismissed” when Brazeau “became displeased.”