OTTAWA — The presumption of innocence is "strictly" a legal construct that shouldn't stop Canadians from believing women who come forward with allegations of assault, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Thursday.
While some members of his caucus stood behind him with incredulous looks, Singh told reporters there are "different issues" at play when women step forward with accusations.
"If you are asking me when I was a lawyer in a legal lens, there is a discussion or presumption of innocence — but that is strictly about the procedures in court," he said.
"When it comes to creating a just society, we need to look at the reality that we have to believe survivors if we want to tackle violence against women, if we want to shift a culture that for too long women have been silent about the ongoing violence that they experienced in their lives."
The "sad reality" is that a majority of women have experienced some form of gender-based violence, Singh added.
The NDP leader had called on Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown to resign after a CTV News report Wednesday featured two women alleging inappropriate sexual behaviour. One was a high school student when she said Brown asked her to perform oral sex on him. Another young woman, who worked in his constituency office during her university summer breaks, said Brown kissed her and was sexually aggressive.
"He was in a position of power, that is totally inappropriate," Singh said.
However, Singh wasn't sure whether Sports and Person with Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr — who faces allegations he behaved inappropriately with women during his time in the Alberta legislature — should be fired. The NDP leader said he didn't yet know the "full details" of the allegations.
But, Singh said, the first step is to believe survivors.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked Thursday in Davos, Switzerland, where he was concluding his last day of meetings at the World Economic Forum, about allegations regarding Hehr.
A woman identified as Kristin Raworth on Twitter tweeted that while working there she was told to avoid being in an elevator with Hehr. "He would make comments. He would make you feel unsafe," she said. "In an elevator with me and only me, [he] said 'you're yummy.'"
Trudeau responded that he hadn't spoken with Hehr yet and would have something to say before his plane departed from Switzerland. There is still no word from his office and his flight is scheduled to depart at 4:30 p.m. E.T.
In August, Trudeau asked another Liberal MP from Calgary, Darshan Kang, to resign following allegations of sexual harassment.
Singh was asked whether he thought the Board of Internal Economy — the committee of MPs that administers the House of Commons and decides behind closed doors which MPs' legal bills get paid and whether compensation is extended to victims — should deal with allegations of sexual misconduct out the open.
He suggested that should be up to the complainants.
Ontario NDP leader: 'I really have two words about the justice system: Jian Ghomeshi'
"Right now, we have a very legal system that is driven by the courts. I think we need to have a survivor-focused approach and make sure we respect what the survivors wishes are. If the survivor wishes to proceed with a legal case that's the right of the survivor. If there is an alternative form of resolution, it should be survivor driven."
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also weighed in to the discussion telling reporters in Toronto that the justice system is failing women.
"I really have two words about the justice system: Jian Ghomeshi," she said. "...that's why lots of women don't come forward, especially as it relates to workplace issues. So let's not pretend that we have a justice system that is actually protecting women and making sure that women see justice. That's something we have a big problem with here."
With files from Ryan Maloney