Arguably, Patrick Brown went from premier-in-waiting to persona non grata at Queen’s Park overnight. His resignation as Progressive Conservative leader had to take place given the allegations of sexual misconduct levied against him and the impending election campaign. Presumption of innocence or not, the optics of a leader facing that kind of scrutiny doesn’t hold up at election time. Politics is a fickle business. But, what can be learned from this story?
Certainly, the party will go on — perhaps in a better position given some Tories’ not-so-secret misgivings of the leader’s politics. Early polls in the days that followed have backed up that contention.
As for Brown, though he’ll never be able to make whole for what he has lost, he’ll have defamation law at his avail should the evidence point to him clearing his name. Given his prominence, he’ll likely have an outlet to share his side of the story. Whether he is believed or not will be up to the public.
Political leaders of all stripes have commended the courage of the women who came forward to CTV News with their stories. Indeed, no person should ever be in a situation they’re made a victim of abuse of power, nor should anyone ever be afraid to speak out against improprieties and injustice.
The uncomfortable part of this ordeal, for many, is that no media story yet has adequately addressed — that may never see the light of day, for that matter — is the context of how these accusations came forward.
Without question, the #MeToo movement has empowered people who have felt victimized to come forward. That may have inspired the two women in this situation to come forward, but #MeToo has been trending for months and Brown has been a public figure for as long. Context really hasn’t been offered for when the women came forward or what motivated them to do so — and that may be why some are meeting this news with cynicism. Have CTV and other agencies been chasing this for some time? What knowledge has Brown had and what chance had he been given to address allegations before the news was spread across the country? In such a public case, those details are important, and there was a way to offer more of that context while still protecting possible victims.
One can understand the women not coming forward earlier for fear of reprisal and one can also understand the hesitation to file a police report because investigations can be hurtful and they can be messy. In politics, particularly for positions of leadership, however, there usually aren’t too many rocks unturned as candidates are vetted — and it’s a pretty tight-knit world where campaign staffers and constituency workers know one another and talk. It’s hard to think there wouldn’t have been one red flag, particularly if two separate women are sharing stories about him now. In reflection, maybe the landscape and people’s attitudes about such abuse have really shifted that much in three years.
Unfortunately, as it now stands, the reporting has both ruined Brown’s life and called into question the veracity and character of the women accusing him. Eventually, someone could be rightly exonerated and someone scorned — though not quickly enough for the political machine — or the truth could lie in between. In any case, more information is necessary and that’s a problem. As a society, we need to get to a point where we can trust our judicial system as the fair arbiter of truth, while providing due process and respect for all involved.