Raj Saini, the Liberal candidate for Kitchener Centre, is ending his campaign for re-election, after a series of allegations of unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments were made public this week.
In a statement released Saturday, Saini again denied all the allegations as “unequivocally false” but said he would no longer be running to win his seat.
“For everyone’s health and safety, I have taken the painful decision to end my campaign for the 44th Parliament,” the statement said.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had initially defended his party’s decision to allow Saini to run, saying “there have been rigorous processes undertaken” after an allegation was made against Saini.
But in a statement released by the Liberals on Saturday, the party reversed course.
“Yesterday, a review process was initiated after new information was directly provided to the Liberal Party of Canada. Mr. Saini will no longer be a Liberal candidate,” the statement reads.
The end of Saini’s campaign comes after the deadline to file nomination forms with Elections Canada, meaning the Liberals will not be able to field another candidate.
WATCH | Trudeau says system for dealing with harassment still not good enough:
The Liberals under Trudeau have insisted they have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct, although they allowed MP Marwan Tabbara to run in the 2019 federal election despite having been subject to a party investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made against him in the previous mandate.
Speaking after the TVA French-language debate Thursday, Trudeau said there was deep outrage among Canadians that harassment continued to take place in Canadian institutions.
“The answer is always imperfect to say, ‘You know there’s a process we have to follow,” he said.
Sources allege four separate instances of inappropriate behaviour
CBC News reported the allegations against Saini Tuesday, after seven sources with knowledge of the claims spoke about four different instances of the then member of Parliament allegedly making unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate comments toward Liberal staffers.
CBC News agreed not to identify the sources with direct knowledge of the allegations because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter or were concerned about career reprisals.
Saini denied on Tuesday ever acting inappropriately. He said an “independent third-party review” of his office conducted through the House of Commons last summer cleared him of harassment allegations.
He maintained that denial Sunday, writing in his statement: “I have never acted inappropriately towards staff, volunteers, or constituents. As a trained professional, and as someone who values integrity, I have always maintained appropriate boundaries and fostered a working environment of respect, professionalism, and inclusivity, to which my staff and campaign team have publicly attested earlier this week.”
Saini’s campaign released a statement earlier this week on behalf of unnamed “female and male staff” offering support for Saini.
Several sources said four female staffers reported to a senior Liberal that Saini was acting inappropriately toward them, including “touching” or being “handsy,” during a Liberal holiday party in 2015.
A senior member of the government brought those concerns to the Prime Minister’s Office and Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, sources said. The Liberal Party told CBC News in a statement earlier this week that “it has no record or knowledge of the matter.”
Other sources said one staffer was uncomfortable with Saini following her around at subsequent events, and another about being called into the office late at night.
Another involved a former senior staffer who wrote to Saini to say she was going to take her own life in his office by overdosing on pills in March 2020, according to a written complaint to the human rights commission. She said Saini alerted mental health services, and paramedics were sent to his office to attend to her. She was admitted to hospital. She said Saini put his hand on her thigh several times during car trips.
The staffer sent a series of text messages and emails to Saini demanding an apology or else threatening to sue, file an HR complaint or go public with her claims if Saini did not apologize, according to a letter written by a House of Commons lawyer. Saini contacted the House of Commons’ legal team and police, who warned the senior staffer, who was on sick leave after the suicide attempt, to stop contacting Saini.
Saini says he was only ever aware of this allegation.