Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
The former Speaker of the Yukon legislature has broken his silence about his sudden departure from his post and the Yukon Party caucus.
In a statement posted to Facebook Thursday, David Laxton said an allegation of sexual harassment at the legislature has been made against him. He is calling for an independent investigation into the matter.
The allegation flows from an incident that took place at the office, during business hours, said the now-independent MLA for Porter Creek Centre.
Laxton said he hugged and kissed a “long time (sic) acquaintance” when she was leaving his office, then walked her to the foyer, where he hugged and kissed her again.
“Numerous other people” were present in the foyer at the time, he said.
“I would like to stress that I am deeply sorry if the woman in question was offended or made to feel uncomfortable by my actions,” said Laxton.
He added he was “shocked and distraught” when he heard about the accusation on May 9, and stepped down the following day, “out of respect for the government’s zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment.”
While this is what Laxton says happened, the woman at the centre of the allegation has not made a public statement.
In his Facebook post, Laxton calls the sexual harassment allegation “false.”
“I deeply apologize if I made the woman in question uncomfortable in any way – that was certainly not my intention,” he said.
It is worth noting that Laxton’s hugs and kisses may be considered sexual harassment under the Yukon Human Rights Act, whether or not the gesture was intended to harass.
The act says, “No person shall … make a demand or a sexual solicitation or advance that one knows or ought reasonably to know is unwelcome.”
According to the Yukon Human Rights Commission, which administers the act, sexual harassment is “deliberate and unwelcome behaviour, and can be offensive sexual comments, gestures or physical contact that are unwanted or offensive.”
The commission goes on to say that, “Harassing actions need not be intentional in order to be considered harassment.”
Complaints made to the commission are protected. They are made public when they go to the Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication for a public hearing.
There were no hearings scheduled as of this morning.
It’s unclear at this time if Laxton’s “acquaintance” is a government employee.
Grievances filed to the Yukon Employees’ Union, which represents government employees, are also private.
Nigel Allan, a spokesperson for the Public Service Commission, the department that handles human resources for the government, would not confirm or deny that a sexual harassment complaint was made from within the government.
So far, “nothing has come through the Public Service Commission,” said Allan.
Premier Darrell Pasloski has known about the allegation since May 9, according to a statement from the Yukon Party caucus released Thursday.
“Out of respect for the privacy of the complainant who had not come forward to me directly or publicly, I was not able to make further public comment,” Pasloski said in the release.
“To make the allegations public before the complainant or Mr. Laxton had done so would have been disrespectful and inappropriate.”
Pasloski notes that his government takes “all accusations about sexual harassment extremely seriously.”
The cabinet would not comment on whether there will be an independent investigation into the allegation, as Laxton has requested, nor on who might carry out such a probe.
“At this point, there’s really nothing more we can add aside from the statement from the premier,” said cabinet spokesperson Elaine Schiman.
No criminal charges have yet been laid against Laxton.
But if he was charged, and even if he was convicted, it would not necessarily affect his status as an MLA, Floyd McCormick, clerk of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, said Thursday.
However, said McCormick, “the legislative assembly as a body has the authority to discipline its own members, including suspending them from the service of the legislative assembly, or even declaring their seat vacant.
“But I think we’re quite a long ways from anything like that occurring.”
As for whether Laxton will run again as the Yukon Party candidate in Porter Creek Centre, his constituents will have to wait and see.
Laxton announced he would seek reelection in his riding a week before he resigned as Speaker and left the Yukon Party.
He has yet to indicate if he will run again for any party. He is refusing comment aside from the statement he issued Thursday.
Laxton failed to attend the legislature last week after announcing his resignations. He did return this week, sitting on the opposition side of the house.
Yukon Party president Linda Hillier could not be reached for comment today on where things go from here.
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