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Amid Ghomeshi scandal, Ontario’s Wynne muses on sexual-harassment study

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, right, speaks next to Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz at a Beijing news conference on Oct. 30, 2014.

ANDY WONG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday she is "open" to studying the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, in light of the allegations surrounding Jian Ghomeshi.

(The Jian Ghomeshi scandal: What we know so far)

The radio host was fired by the CBC after it said "graphic evidence" emerged that Ghomeshi had caused "physical injury" to a woman.

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As many as nine women have alleged in media reports that Ghomeshi abused them physically and or sexually, and three women have now filed abuse complaints with police.

Ghomeshi has said he has engaged in "rough" sex, but that it was always consensual, and said he was fired as a CBC Radio host because of the risk that his sex life would become public as a result of what he calls "a campaign of false allegations." The CBC has also hired an independent investigator to look at how it handled complaints from at least one former employee about Ghomeshi.

The allegations against Ghomeshi have not been proven in court.

In the Ontario legislature Monday, Progressive Conservative Laurie Scott mentioned the co-worker's allegations and called on the Premier to strike an all-party committee to study sexual harassment in the workplace.

Wynne wouldn't commit to striking a committee, but said she is open to doing whatever needs to be done on this "very serious and disturbing issue."

"It affects all of us in all of our work situations across society, quite frankly, and it affects every single one of us in the sense that we all have to be vigilant and not pretend that somehow this issue has been resolved because it's 2014 and we have moved on," Wynne said during Question Period.

"It's very real. What has happened over the last week has made it clear that it's very real and we have to continue to be vigilant in every way that we can in all parts of our lives."

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Scott said the allegations against Ghomeshi are "bringing to light many other instances where complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace have not been taken seriously in Ontario."

"You see with Jian Ghomeshi [allegations], that's just brought it to the news that there are still lots of problems in the workplace that need to be dealt with," she said after Question Period.

The issue is featuring prominently in the news, and an all-party committee could examine "where the system is broken," Scott said.

Tracy MacCharles, the minister responsible for women's issues, encouraged victims of sexual violence to report to police, and when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, she said, it's important to prevent those incidents from happening in the first place.

"While I can't comment on the specific case that I think we're all here because of, I think the silver lining, if there is one, is to raise that awareness of what's available and to focus on how unacceptable sexual and domestic violence is," she said.

Workplaces are required to have a discrimination-harassment prevention program and most employers have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to discrimination and harassment prevention, MacCharles said. Gender-based harassment is a form of discrimination and is a prohibited ground under the Ontario Human Rights Code, she said.

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NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she has "no problem" with a committee being formed, but she said the government needs to do more to stand up for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.

"We can have a committee, but until these incidences, these occurrences, are taken seriously and the people who are undertaking this kind of activity in terms of sexual harassment are dealt with with the strongest measures then these things are going to continue to happen," she said.

"If you don't actually deal with them strongly each and every time you're sending a message that it's okay … What does that say to the victims who came forward? What does that say to all of those victims out there who are not coming forward?"

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