#UsToo: Uprooting assault, harassment and the culture of silence in the NDP

Recently a young member of the NDP came forward with the story of her rape. Her predator? A former Saskatchewan NDP provincial candidate and party vice-president.

What happened in Saskatchewan

In her account, she details the years of sexual harassment that she endured, beginning prior to the 2015 federal election, shortly after her assailant was nominated. She talks about the suggestive text messages that she received, asking her—a teenager—for nude photographs, which then led to her assault this past August. It is an intimate and heartbreaking look at how her pain went undetected (or, perhaps, unacknowledged) by the party she’s cared so deeply for and the people, primarily men, in positions of power in the Saskatchewan NDP.­

Unfortunately, it is also because people are sometimes afraid of hurting the Party, or the reprisals they will suffer if they do

It’s important to recognize that a network of young activists were aware of this particular survivor’s harassment, and they are aware of the harassment that other, specifically young, members of the NDP have been subjected to. But out of fear of the reaction of their colleagues and higher-ups, they don’t come forward. This is certainly not because they don’t want to, but rather because they don’t feel that their experiences (or the experiences of others) will be believed until someone is brave enough to blow a whistle and the story hits the media circuit and blows up.

Unfortunately, it is also because people are sometimes afraid of hurting the Party, or the reprisals they will suffer if they do. Within political parties, the message most often given to victims of abuse is gaslighting, telling them to swallow it, or at the very most deal with it internally. Anything taken up in public or through the judiciary system amounts to the thing that political operatives avoid at all costs: bad press for the Party.

The Party

From a multitude of cases known by Courage members alone, abuse and violence is often covered up by people who value protecting the Party and its politicians more than justice for less “important” Party operatives. We feel confident extrapolating from these repeated stories that this problem is endemic, that the NDP has a role to play in ending the hierarchal structure that perpetrates rape culture and enables abuse, and that this statement’s function as a “call out” is valid.

Sexual assault and harassment do not exist in a vacuum. When the status of people in powerful positions as candidates, Members of Parliament, elected Party officials, or management-level political operatives are valued more than the voices of volunteers, riding association members, and lower level political staff, we create a political culture that perpetuates fear and fosters silence. The reward for silence in the political world is a clean reputation, career advancement, or the opportunity to maybe, hopefully, seek out an electoral nomination in the future.

Next to the culture of silence, a sexist and racist political culture ensures that there are very few female and Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) candidates to begin with. When people do decide to put their names on ballots they are often subject to egregious scrutiny, misogyny and racism. Which is to say, if you are a woman, queer, trans or BIPOC and you want to be a politician, you are more afraid of political reprisal than white straight men are. Also, there will often be a powerful male in the Party machine who is taking credit for your rise, and who is congratulating himself for “carving out” space for you.

We do not agree that the Party can say that it has adopted a feminist, human rights, or labour rights based approach…

It is important to note that this culture is not specific to the NDP. We know it to be replicated among all Parties and other intensely hierarchical structures that value loyalty. However, it is also important to state that the NDP is a party of professed feminists, labour rights advocates, and human rights defenders. Notwithstanding accusations of hypocrisy, the Party has done almost nothing to entrench systems and processes in respect to these principles within its own structures. In short, while we agree that these may be the “politics” of the Party, we do not agree that the Party can say that it has adopted a feminist, human rights, or labour rights based approach until it develops systemic ways to protect against violence, violations and abuse. This is part of the reason Courage foregrounds and values a return to grassroots democracy, and transformative power shifting within the NDP.


This is an important moment. Women, trans, and nonbinary folks have been peppering social media with the hashtag #MeToo, sharing personal stories of assault and harassment en masse. While this recent movement is in response to the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, it is crucial that we address toxic masculinity where we experience it. We are declaring #UsToo (referring to our members who know this abuse from within the Party) and actively pursuing solutions that will eliminate sexual violence from our collective experiences as non-men and members of the NDP.

Of course, men also suffer harassment, abuse, and the negative impacts of cisheteropatriarchy. (Although it is important to note that femininity and the feminine are oppressed by patriarchy while the masculinity and the masculine are privileged.) We are aware of many stories where mens’ labour rights are being abused, or they are suffering harassment from their bosses within the Party and those abuses are also covered up. However, Courage believes that the intersections of misogyny, racism and transphobia compound to make politics less safe for women, trans and nonbinary people than for cis men, and less safe for BIPOC than for white people. To deny that this is a gendered problem is to deny the problem altogether.

Unrealistic expectations

Space must be made by Party officials for non-men and BIPOC to express ourselves and speak to the sexual violence, harassment, and abuse that we encounter as members of our political movement. Our accounts must be believed and swift action taken to mitigate future threats of violence within the political sphere. “Everyday” sexism, misogyny, and racism must be treated seriously and training to detect and deal with that oppression must be routinely mandated at every level of operations, especially among managers and politicians.

Meetings, retreats, and conventions are not safe places for those of us who experience threats, violence and harassment

Anti-harassment policies are only effective so long as they are acted upon; however, we must go even further and dismantle the patriarchal systems, such as the “old boys club”, that promote misogyny and sexism, and sustain problematic patterns of harassment. Simply put: meetings, retreats, and conventions are not safe places for those of us who experience threats, violence and harassment to engage in freely without consequence. Older men monopolize convention and council microphones, and use condescending terms like “sister” to bully women into submission and discourage dissent. Those who do speak up at conventions are reprimanded, either by not being voted into executive positions, having slates brought together to make sure they cannot be elected, or having other riding executives told to try and get them back into “the Party line”. Caucus meetings happen concurrently, forcing folks who identify with more than one equity-seeking group to choose which is “more important” for them to attend.

Parliaments, legislatures, political offices and campaigns are also tremendously unsafe and unregulated spaces. Parliament is not subject to the labour code of Canada and no harassment policy exists to protect staffers from sexual abuse. The only reprisal offered is court, which is very public, particularly when a politician (perhaps a beloved one) is the perpetrator. When cases are brought to court, politicians can use “parliamentary privilege” to defend themselves from charges of labour violations. Interns have no protections at all. Campaigns are notorious for running on the inhumanely long hours demanded from campaign staff. The emotional, frenetic and panicked nature of campaign spaces often overshadows the needs of staff and volunteers all in the name of the “greater good”.

As women, trans and nonbinary people, we are constantly aware of our surroundings, and actively avoid the men our whisper networks tell us are dangerous. Some of us, usually staff, are recruited to play interference in protecting known predators from public reprisal. Within these halls of power, we are routinely “tested” on our ability to be “one of the boys” and to act aggressively in a conflict-driven profession. Our complaints are routinely devalued within a workplace that demands absurd displays of masculine strength in the “fight” against opposing Parties. This must change.

Taking responsibility

Our toxic political culture is experienced, but too often goes unnamed.

The onus is not on us—labourers, volunteers, and interns—to control our environments. Responsibility lies at the feet of the NDP to ensure that the places in which our work is done are safe, are free of violence, and are friendly to young women, older women, trans, nonbinary folks, and parents. To imply that we need to dress a certain way to be respected, or that we must conduct ourselves inauthentically in political spaces to be treated with dignity is to blame and shame the victim. To sweep reported and rumoured instances of sexual violence under the rug is to allow predators to escape unscathed, reputation intact, and deflate the validity of our experiences.

It comes as no surprise to those Courage members with years of experience within the NDP, that a woman was raped on the Saskatchewan NDP’s watch. Our toxic political culture is experienced, but too often goes unnamed. If rank-and-file New Democrats fail to believe that the problem even exists, then they haven’t been listening.

It’s the job of the Party, and every person who holds power, no matter where they stand on the organizational “ladder”, to recognize and validate us and fix the problem. Otherwise the NDP risks losing a variety of talented, diverse activists to movements that will allow us to speak up. Additionally, they will be exposed.

As society itself becomes more comfortable with public exposures of rape culture, violence and other violations, that were until recently unheard of, it will be only a matter of time before the NDP finds itself the focus of historical and current-day scandals and cover-ups.

Courage wishes to take this moment to invite all NDPers who have suffered abuse, and who agree with our Basis of Unity to join our movement, and we wish to say three simple but meaningful words to all NDPers who have experienced abuse: we believe you.

Amending Internal Democracy in the NDP


A lot of issues might seem more pressing. But functional democratic policies that give power to grassroots members to decide how we work together are the foundation that makes effective action possible. As such, Courage has prioritized working for crucial reforms to the NDP constitution that would give more decisionmaking power to members – and make it more difficult for the party to override the democratic will of the members.

If the NDP is going to achieve social justice, economic equality and ecological sustainability, we need to put democracy back into the centre of the party!


In May, Courage released a statement outlining our vision for putting democracy back in the NDP. In summary, our goals on this front revolve around:

(1) Allowing rank-and-file members the opportunity to set the NDP’s agenda between Conventions, instead of treating them merely as sources of funding;

(2) Ensuring that Electoral District Associations (EDAs), not the Leader’s office, are the ultimate decision-makers when it comes to candidate selection, and that any attempt to override the EDA’s selection is transparent and subject to accountability;

(3) Creating the mechanisms within the NDP to hold leadership to account when they drift away from the stances adopted by members; and

(4) Allowing progressive grassroots movements outside the Party to interact with the NDP in more meaningful and impactful ways.

In pursuit of this vision, we intend to present the resolutions below for a vote in the upcoming February Convention.

The resolutions would amend the NDP’s Constitution such that:

(1) The Party leadership cannot remove candidates unless they acquire the approval of Federal Council;

(2) Agendas for Council meetings are open to policy submissions from members and movements between conventions, provided there is EDA support; and

(3) The Party leadership is obligated to survey members annually to get feedback and to help set the Party’s agenda between Conventions more democratically.

Courage has been working on these resolutions internally for several months. However, we see them as something that anyone invested in moving the NDP leftward can benefit from. As such, we welcome any suggestion that would improve them. In the end, our hope is that all efforts pursuing internal democracy would be united to one.

If you’d like to help pass these resolutions, email

In solidarity,



Resolution #1: EDA Engagement

WHEREAS the Party seeks to promote internal democracy and grassroots leadership;

BE IT RESOLVED that the following be added to Section 2.a of Article VI of the Constitution:

(iv) notifying all EDA Presidents of an upcoming Council meetings and its subject matter;

(v) circulating Council minutes to all EDA Presidents;

(vi) adding to Council’s agenda any item that three or more EDA Presidents wish discussed or voted on;

(vii) ensuring that Party members have access to the names and emails of all members of Federal Council, and that the Policy Manual is available to the public, at all times.

Resolution #2: EDA Autonomy

WHEREAS the Party seeks to promote internal democracy and grassroots leadership;

BE IT RESOLVED that the following be added to Article XV of the Constitution

(3) Once nominated by an EDA, a candidate may only be barred or removed from candidacy if one or more of the following is true:

(a) The candidate resigns of their own accord.

(b) The candidate violates civil or criminal laws, or Elections Canada’s regulations, in such a way that would prevent them from continuing as a candidate.

(c) Council resolves, after hearing from the candidate, that the candidate has committed acts or made statements in violation of the Party’s Constitution or core values.

Resolution #3: Member Engagement

WHEREAS the Party seeks to promote internal democracy and grassroots leadership;

WHEREAS members wish to convey their views to each other on a range of issues;

WHEREAS knowing the views of the membership will provide useful information to party leaders;

BE IT RESOLVED that the Constitution be amended to include the following article

Article XVII
Member Engagement

    (1) Members shall be surveyed annually for their views regarding Party direction.
    (2) Questions to the survey endorsed by five or more Electoral District Association Presidents must be added to the annual survey.
    (3) Survey responses shall be summarized in a report within a reasonable timeframe and shared with all members.
    (4) It is the responsibility of the President to ensure the obligations of this clause are fulfilled.

» Click here to sign on to this amendment

Singh’s victory is historic, but this is no time for wait-and-see

Jagmeet’s Singh’s decisive victory in the New Democratic Party leadership race is unquestionably an historic event. Never before has a major federal political party in this country been led by a person of colour. Furthermore, Singh won by mobilizing thousands of people who before, might never have seen themselves as taking part in the NDP.

If members cannot democratize the party and empower the grassroots, the presence of thousands of new members will be meaningless.

If the party can build on that resonance, and embody the aspirations of those tens of thousands, it could be powerfully revitalized as a political force in this country. However, the “if” is a big one. Singh’s victory is also a victory for the party establishment’s status quo, which is dead-set on running a deeply centralized and anti-democratic party. The bellwethers here are Brad Lavigne, who recently cashed in his relationships with BC politicians to become a lobbyist, and James Pratt, who was charged with removing mildly pro-Palestinian candidates in 2015 through intimidation tactics.

Singh’s appeal can win the NDP a few new seats, but if members cannot democratize the party and empower the grassroots, the presence of thousands of new members will be meaningless.

Promises worth remembering

Jagmeet Singh campaigned on several encouraging promises, many of which he was pushed to make thanks to the work of social movements and activists from all campaigns. These policies were popular amongst an NDP membership hungry for democratic socialist policies, and we should hold Singh to these promises, which include:

As we know, because something is promised in a winning leadership campaign doesn’t mean that the party will use its considerable media platform and election campaigning to actually promote those policies.

It will be a vigilant and organized membership that will ensure that the boldest proposals actually become the core of the NDP’s identity.

Quite the opposite. Jack Layton, for example, won a similar first-ballot victory in his leadership contest while agreeing with the spirit of the New Politics Initiative (and with the backing of some of the NPI’s key proponents), which called for deep democratic reforms to the party. Instead, once Layton took the reigns, the party became even more centralized, undemocratic and disconnected from its membership, leading to current and ongoing crisis of member involvement.

It will be a vigilant and organized membership – not a wait-and-see attitude or a deference to the leadership – that will ensure that Singh’s boldest proposals actually become the core of the NDP’s identity.

The necessity of a transformative agenda

There are many key issues where Singh’s campaign has been less visionary and more vague.

The NDP must make up for these gaps. Transitioning  to a post-carbon economy, decommodifying housing, and enacting redistributive policies that tackle income inequality — these tasks cannot be left to the whims of party leadership.

The NDP must be a serious voice in pushing for the needs of our political, economic and ecological moment:

The bad news

And then there are issues where Singh must be held accountable. These include:

  • A total lack of a plan for party democracy (unlike Ashton, Angus, and Courage)
  • The presence of individuals who presided over the party’s drift to the right and worse
  • His silence about Tara Hart’s account of her assault by Wab Kinew, and Kinew’s denials (Update: Singh now says he believes Tara Hart, but has not said if that changed his position with in relation to Kinew.)
  • His alignment with the retrograde views of the NDP’s foreign policy critic
  • His proposal to scrap Old Age Security (OAS) in favour of a means-tested benefit understandably raised serious controversy within a party committed to universal social programs. Any proposed changes to pension benefits will require more thought and discussion among party members to ensure both broad coverage and sufficient financial support.
  • Opposition to privatization does not appear once in Singh’s campaign materials. Stopping the Liberals’ billions in infrastructure bank giveaways ought to be a priority, and the NDP should campaign to reverse the privatization of the last few decades.
From the beginning, it was clear that no single leadership candidate was going to do everything that needed to be done.

With that said, it is important that criticism of Singh, when required, be rooted in verifiable facts and his policies. We should aspire to not only abstain from invoking racist ideas, but actively challenge any dog-whistle rhetoric around religion, culture or skin colour. The leadership campaign showed us that there is a lot of learning to be done among NDP supporters around how to be effectively anti-racist. We all have a role to play in making left-wing and NDP organizing a welcoming space for everyone.

Organizing: the way forward

From the beginning, it was clear that no single leadership candidate was going to do everything that needed to be done. Nor could they; the establishment would be too powerful to overcome without the help of an organized force promoting an alternative agenda.

The reason we started Courage was because we knew that we – NDP members; the left at large – had to do it ourselves. We plan to.

No matter who you supported for leader, if you want to help build the power of social movements and an activist, grassroots, democratic, and solidly left and progressive party, then join us! 

To find out more about becoming a Courage member, click here!