Allegations of sexual harassment against former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown, and of sexual assault against Brown’s friend, former party President Rick Dykstra exposed a wide rift in the party over the last few days. That rift separates the old guard in the party, including most of its sitting MPP’s, and the younger, more urban membership, many of whom were recruited by and allied with Brown and the team he assembled in a bid to win power over the Liberal Party under Kathleen Wynne.
One of the starkest representations of that rift came from allegations of physical intimidation against Lanark Frontenac Lennox and Addington MPP Randy Hillier that stems from an incident that took place in Ottawa back in March of 2016.
Under new electoral boundaries, Hillier will be running in the new riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston. Goldie Ghamari is the PC candidate in the adjacent riding of Carleton, also a new riding. Late on Sunday night (January 27) just after Party President Rick Dykstra resigned, Ghamari put out the following two tweets:
“Two years ago, a sitting [Progressive Conservative] MPP harassed me, intimidated me, & used his body to bully & scare me out of getting involved in politics. I gave him an opportunity to apologise and recognise that his actions were wrong. He chose to deny it ever happened.” and “My story breaks tomorrow. I urge this person to step forward, acknowledge their actions, and apologise for what they did to me. When I complained about their behaviour, I was told this is ‘not surprising’ given this person's history.”
It did not take long for Randy Hillier to come forward and acknowledge that he was the MPP that Ghamari was referring to. He immediately sent her an email, which she also posted on her twitter feed.
It reads, in part “I was outside for a smoke at the Ottawa Convention Centre in 2016. We briefly exchanged pleasantries and small talk and then parted ways. It was only when you brought your claims forward two years ago that I learned of who you were at the time. I never denied the interaction, but I will confirm there was never any physical contact nor do I recall any unkind words exchanged. I’m truly very sorry if you felt intimidated while we shared a smoke ...”
In the article that Goldie Ghamari was referring to in her tweets, which came out in the Ottawa Citizen on Monday, she describes a different kind of encounter.
She said that it took place in the evening of March 16, 2016. She went outside to get some fresh air and check her messages when he walked up, slung an arm around her shoulders and pulled her in close.
“He was smoking, his cigarette was in his left hand, and it was clear that he was drunk. It was just very obvious from the way he was walking and I could smell the alcohol on his breath, his fingers were digging into my shoulder and his cigarette was still in his hand as well.”
Again, according to her account, as reported in the Ottawa Citizen, Hillier then asked her if she was “Goldie from Nepean who is running against Lisa”.
At the time, due to riding redistribution, Lisa MacLeod had yet to decide if she was going to run in the new Carleton riding or in the Nepean riding, both of which contained parts of her soon to be eliminated riding, and Goldie Ghamari was known to be considering challenging for the nomination in Carleton, the more rural and thus more safe Conservative seat.
In 2016, Ghamari was a member of the riding executive from Nepean, but since there were many Nepean PC’s who wanted to attend this particular convention, she had been invited to represent a weaker PC riding, Kingston and the Islands. Her name tag also used her given name Golsa, even though she goes by Goldie.
Her name tag, “Golsa from Kingston and the Islands” was not what Hillier expected.
“He seemed sort of shocked and he grabbed my name tag, and looked at it and then he was like, ‘Huh,’ and then he just walked away.” she said, adding that “the exchanges was brief, but frightening.”
She told the Citizen that she subsequently approached a senior party office, gave her account of what had happened, and asked for a written apology from Hillier.
The party official then talked to Hillier, who said he had indeed spoken to Ghamari that day, but the encounter happened in the afternoon, not the evening, and he never touched her.
The party officials then contacted the Convention Centre to see if the encounter was caught on any video footage. The results were mixed. There is video of Ghamari and Hillier exiting the building at around the same time, in the evening, and of Ghamari re-entering the building a few minutes later, lending credence to Ghamari’s claim about the time of the encounter. But the video is limited and there is no there is no footage of them together, and there were no eye witnesses available.
There are two incompatible accounts of what had happened, Hillier says it was a non-physical friendly moment in the afternoon, and Ghamari says it was a physical, visceral and intimidating encounter in the evening.
At this point the investigation had run its course as far as the party was concerned.
The official wo dealt with the matter, Nic Pappalardo, told the Citizen in an email this past Sunday (April 28) that “I suggested to her that under the circumstances, the ball was in her court and that she was free to launch a formal complaint under any applicable law or standard in the appropriate forum and that we would fully cooperate. Given her legal background, I had no doubt she understood her options. That was our last exchange on the subject.”
On November 2, 2016, Goldie Ghamari was chosen as the PC candidate for the riding of Carleton, winning a contest with one other candidate.
There was considerable controversy around her selection, as two potential candidates were not ratified by the riding association executive, which, Ghamari’s critics claim, had been stacked with her loyalists.
One of the potential candidates reportedly made a “racial comment” regarding Ghamari.
Last summer, 8 months after Ghamari was nominated, MPP Lisa MacLeod made some headlines questioning the suitability of Ghamari as a candidate in Carleton.
In an email to supporters that was leaked to the press, MPP MacLeod wrote,“For 22 years John Baird and I have kept Carleton deep Tory Blue and now that is at risk. I chose a tougher, urban seat and I do not regret the choice, but I am gutted by what comes next in Carleton as I not only believe the current candidate will not win but worse, if she does win, she will not be a suitable representative for my constituents who I remain loyal to.”
MacLeod acknowleged that she wrote the email, according to the National Post.
MPP’s Lisa MacLeod and Randy Hillier were among the first members of the Conservative caucus to call for Patrick Brown to resign last week, doing so even before the story broke on CTV news.
On Saturday (January 27), MacLeod came forward to say she had approached the party executive about rumours she had heard in the fall of 2017 about Patrick Brown’s history, concerned it might become a problem, but had been ignored.
The next day, (Sunday, January 28) Ghamari tweeted about her 2016 encounter with Hillier, making it public for the first time, and the Citizen article came out the next day.
On Monday evening (January 29) the Ontario Conservative Party announced that they will be hiring an outside investigator to take a fresh look at what happened on March 16/2016 between two of its own candidates for the upcoming election, Goldie Ghamari and Randy Hillier.
As a result, Hillier would not speak to the matter when his office was contacted on Tuesday (January 30), but Dave Shostal in Hillier’s Perth constituency office said “Randy stands by what he told the press on Monday when he spoke to reporters.”
In one of those exchanges, Hillier said that the fact this incident is coming forward at this time is anything but a coincidence.
“The record is clear that Ms. Ghamari was a candidate that was selected by Patrick Brown. There was some level of dispute and consternation with her nomination. We know with what has transpired recently in the party that there were those people who were supportive of Brown and people who were less supportive. And it’s clear Ms. Ghamari and I were on different sides of this divide.” he told the Ottawa Citizen.
For her part, Ghamari told the Citizen that her timing has more to do with the broader historical moment than partly politics. She did not want to put the encounter at the level of “any sort of inappropriate sexual behaviour ... but I think in the sense of how women are generally treated in certain industries and certain professions, it’s something that unfortunately is far too common ... I’m glad that it’s coming out, in all different areas, because I think it’s important for everyone to be treated respectfully. I think it’s important for everyone to be treated as equals. And I think everyone should have a fair chance to do whatever they want to do based on their merits and their capabilities.”
Both Lisa MacLeod and Randy Hillier are former candidates for the PC party leadership.
According to Dave Shostal, the fact that interim leader Vic Fedeli, announced on Tuesday that he will not be seeking the leadership, “does open things up for some potential candidates. I have read the same media reports as everyone else, which say that Lisa is considering running. I can say that Randy is also thinking about it,” he said.
Randy Hillier finished fourth on the first ballot in the 2009 leadership contest that chose Tim Hudak as leader. He threw his support to Hudak before the second ballot.
Lisa MacLeod ran in the contest that chose Patrick Brown. She eventually stepped out of the race, and threw her support to Vic Fedeli.