Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a review is underway after one of his MPs made an alleged sexist comment to South Surrey-White Rock MP Dianne Watts earlier this month.
According to an article in the National Post, Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio (Saint-Léonard-Saint Michel) joked that Watts, a Conservative MP, was a stripper.
The Post reported Thursday that the MPs were sitting in a closed-door House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and Security on March 8 when Watts’ cellphone went off. The sound of the ringtone – a “jaunty” tone programmed for when her daughter calls – prompted Di Iorio to ask, “Where’s your pole to slide down on?”
Peace Arch News attempted to reach Watts for comment, but was told that she would not be interviewed on the subject.
She issued a statement Thursday:
“A suggestive and very inappropriate comment directed at me was made by a Liberal MP during a Public Safety Committee meeting in March which left me, staff and other members of Parliament feeling very uncomfortable,” Watts said via email.
“There should be no place or time where such comments are acceptable. I now leave it in the hands of the prime minister to take whatever actions he feels appropriate.”
Di Iorio did not respond to a request for comment by PAN.
Questions to the Prime Minister’s Office Thursday received a statement from Charles-Eric Lépine, chief of staff to chief government whip Pablo Rodriguez.
“When the matter was brought to the attention of the whip, he immediately took the appropriate action,” Lépine said via email. “Mr. Di Iorio offered an apology to Ms. Watts and explained no word that he himself uttered was intended to offend; he offered that apology again earlier this week.
“All members agree that any form of inappropriate language or behaviour is unacceptable. Every member of Parliament has the right to a safe and respectful working environment and we take this responsibility seriously.”
The Post reported that after Di Iorio’s remark was made, Watts responded with “‘I beg your pardon?’ And he repeated it!”
“Clearly, when a comment is made to a woman about sliding down a pole, clearly that’s, you know, a reference to a stripper pole, and I think that’s how everybody took it. It was disturbing,” she told The Post, adding that Di Iorio approached her after the two-hour meeting.
“I’m paraphrasing… but he said, ‘if you were offended, I didn’t mean it,’” Watts said.
Trudeau was asked about the comment, which was made on International Women’s Day, during a news conference Friday in Boisbriand, Que.
“One of the things that we brought in a number of years ago around issues such as this, as part of my commitment to gender equality, to harassment-free workplace, is… an actual process that will be there to deal with issues of this sort,” Trudeau said.
“That process is now properly underway.”