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Former Manitoba cabinet minister details alleged sexual assault by former MLA

Former PC cabinet minister Sarah Guillemard, seen here in a November 2022 photo, wrote on social media that she was groped by a former MLA and faced consequences to her political career after she reported him. (CTV pool - image credit)
Former PC cabinet minister Sarah Guillemard, seen here in a November 2022 photo, wrote on social media that she was groped by a former MLA and faced consequences to her political career after she reported him. (CTV pool - image credit)

A former Manitoba Progressive Conservative cabinet minister said on International Women's Day that she was sexually assaulted by a former MLA seven years ago, and that she faced consequences after coming forward.

In posts made Friday to the social media networks Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter), Sarah Guillemard posted a photo of her and some colleagues, stating, "This photo was taken on the evening I was groped by an older & former MLA."

The photo was taken March 5, 2017, and does not show the MLA who assaulted her, said the post by Guillemard, who was the legislative assembly member for the south Winnipeg riding of Fort Richmond from 2016 to 2023.

"The anger and rage was immediate, but so too was the realization that I had little power to do anything about it," she wrote Friday of the 2017 incident.

"This was just before the #MeToo movement, and I was a political nobody."

The post doesn't name the alleged groper, a choice Guillemard later told CBC News she made because her intent was to "encourage continued progress for all workplaces," rather than single one person out.

Guillemard said she told her husband and a few friends about the assault, but at the time there were few other avenues where she could pursue "meaningful consequences."

She spent the next year avoiding the man at various events and bowed out of activities where she knew he would be, she said.

During that time, as she gained more duties and appointments at the legislature, the #MeToo movement was happening around the country.

Beginning with the allegations made against Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, the movement sparked thousands of women to come forward with their own experiences of sexual harassment and abuse.

Policies created at Manitoba Legislature in 2018

In early 2018, the Manitoba Legislature faced its own reckoning after a CBC investigation found former NDP minister Stan Struthers had been accused multiple times of sexual misconduct, and his conduct was an open secret at the legislature.

That spurred the Tory government to create new policies around reporting sexual harassment and creating a safe work environment.

Former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers has apologized after five women told CBC News they were subject to unwanted touching or tickling from him.
Former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers has apologized after five women told CBC News they were subject to unwanted touching or tickling from him.

Former NDP cabinet minister Stan Struthers was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women. A CBC investigation found his behaviour was an open secret at the legislature. (CBC)

Guillemard wrote that after hearing those stories, she shared her own experience with two colleagues.

Her alleged abuser, though no longer an MLA at that point, was frequently at the legislature. She turned to the legislative assembly and the PC Party to tell them what had happened.

The hope was to come up with a plan to "help me feel safe in my workplace," she wrote.

Guillemard wrote that the former MLA faced "consequences" and agreed to restrictions placed on him at the legislature, though she did not give specifics.

However, she said she also faced repercussions as a result.

When her alleged assaulter was set to receive "recognition" at the Manitoba Legislature, two colleagues asked Guillemard not to attend "so he would not feel uncomfortable."

"I was warned it would look awkward if I were the only one not standing to clap for him," she wrote.

Her response was that the former MLA should reconsider receiving the recognition, she wrote.

"It was not my mistake that put him in this situation."

Removed from extra duties: Guillemard

After she refused the request from her colleagues, she was removed from extra duties and responsibilities that she had at the legislature, Guillemard said. Her post didn't disclose which duties or when she was removed.

Guillemard eventually became a cabinet minister in late 2019, when she was appointed to the conservation and climate change portfolio by then premier Brian Pallister.

She opted not to run in the 2023 provincial election.

Guillemard said she was told not to share her story, but then met another woman in the "very same situation."

"And I felt sick to my stomach," she wrote.

She shared her experience with the female staff member, so they knew they had an ally if they needed one, she said.

Following her Friday social media posts, Guillemard said in a statement to CBC News that while progress was made during her time in office, there are still many areas that need work.

She said she knew her rights and how to advocate for them, but the legislative assembly still needs to "fine tune the protections for those who report wrongdoing."

"I believe the people who were involved in my journey learned the error of their ways. Reluctantly," she wrote.

The PC caucus did not respond to a list of questions provided to them regarding Guillemard's post. Instead, Wayne Ewasko, the interim leader of the Opposition, said Guillemard is a friend and has his "unconditional support."

"This is her truth to share in whatever manner she feels appropriate," he wrote in a prepared statement.