Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party hired an investigator to examine a complaint from PC candidate Goldie Ghamari over what she cited as physical harassment from MPP Randy Hillier, the Ottawa Citizen reported on Monday.
Ghamari tweeted on Sunday night that two years ago she was harassed by a sitting Member of Provincial Parliament, challenging him to come out before the story broke on what occurred.
The politician in question, Mr. Hillier, responded to her tweet saying that, while the pair had met at the Progressive Conservative convention in March of 2016, they had never physically interacted nor did he inflict any unpleasant words.
The Ottawa Citizen journalist that published the story, David Reevely, said that he received an anonymous Twitter message last week that lead him to ask questions of Ghamari, starting last Thursday.
“The two politicians tell versions of events that disagree in important ways and the Progressive Conservative party wants to get to the bottom of it,” Mr. Reevely wrote in the exclusive report.
Ghamari posted Reevely’s article to her Twitter, saying that “physical intimidation [and] harassment is never [okay]”, explaining that it was an issue “all too prevalent in politics.”
“I am relieved that
#PCPO has re-opened this issue. I look forward to the outcome of this independent investigation. Very proud to be PC,” Ghamari wrote.
“While Ms. Ghamari declined to pursue her complaint at the time, the party has now hired a third-party investigator to provide clarity on what occurred that evening,” a high-ranking Ontario PC Party official told Reevely on condition of anonymity.
“We will provide further details upon its completion,” the official said, who Reevely said did not want to be named because there no currently designated spokesperson from the PCs amid the party chaos.
Ghamari explained in her Sunday post on Twitter that Hillier “harassed me, intimidated me, [and] used his body to bully [and] scare me out of getting involved in politics.”
“I gave him an opportunity to apologize and recognize that his actions were wrong,” she wrote, typing that he made the choice to “deny it ever happened.”
Ghamari, a PC candidate for the provincial riding of Carleton, said Sunday night that her story “breaks tomorrow”, urging the harasser to “step forward, acknowledge their actions, and apologize for what they did to me.”
“When I complained about their [behavior], I was told this is ‘not surprising’ given this person’s history.”
However, Hillier denied the Ghamari’s statement, saying that the pair “briefly exchanged pleasantries and small talk” before parting ways while at the PC Party convention in 2016.
The MPP said he never denied they met, but confirmed “there was never any physical contact nor do I recall any unkind words exchanged.”
A Twitter user claiming to be Hillier’s son corroborated his statement, questioning how “smoking and joking could be considered intimidation.”
Ghamari is a small business owner, international trade lawyer, and community volunteer among other roles, according to her campaign website.
She immigrated to Canada with her family in 1986 from Iran when she was one, but since gained a law degree and a honors bachelor in political science from the University of Toronto.
The following is the Ottawa Citizen report from David Reevely, detailing Ghamari’s account of the harassment from Hellier.
In Ghamari’s telling, Hillier noticed her outside the convention centre in the evening of March 5, 2016. She was getting fresh air and checking her messages; he was having a cigarette. He walked up, slung an arm around her shoulders and pulled her in close. Hillier is tall, stocky and solid. Ghamari is slight — five-foot-two and 110 pounds, she says.
“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,” she said. “His fingers were digging into my shoulder and his cigarette was still in his hand as well, so when he’s doing that … it was almost right in my face.”
At the time, Ghamari was on the fringes of the Progressive Conservative party, considering running for office but not declared yet. Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod and Carleton-Mississippi Mills MPP Jack MacLaren were close to open war for control of the Tory operation in Eastern Ontario. (MacLaren was an early Brown supporter and ally who’d been elevated in the caucus after Brown’s win; stories about a dirty comedy act he put on at a charity fundraiser were still a month away.) MacLeod’s riding was being cut up in a redistribution and she hadn’t yet said whether she intended to run in Nepean or Carleton.
In some quarters, Ghamari’s interest in running before MacLeod had made her choice was seen as gauche. She certainly was not part of MacLeod’s circle. Even after Ghamari won, MacLeod criticized her as a bad choice for the party who put a fairly safe seat at risk.
“Are you Goldie from Nepean?” Ghamari said Hillier asked. “Are you running against Lisa?”
Ghamari was surprised and confused and didn’t recognize the MPP, she said, and said no, she wasn’t.
Ghamari goes by “Goldie” but her legal name is Golsa. Also, the convention limited the number of delegates from each riding, but as is common at these things, she attended as a ringer from a riding that wasn’t using all of its allotted spots. So instead of saying that she was Goldie from Nepean, she said, her convention badge said she was Golsa from Kingston and the Islands.
“He seemed sort of shocked and he grabbed my lanyard, my name tag, and looked at it and then he was like, ‘Huh,’ and then he just walked away.”
The exchange was brief but frightening, she said.
“It doesn’t seem like a lot but that physical contact was unwanted, I didn’t know who this person was, and it was very obvious that he was intimidating me using his body,” Ghamari said. “The way the cigarette was so close to my face, and just with him being right in my face, it was just a very — I feel like if it was someone else, another woman, she would have been incredibly intimidated and might not even have run (for office).”
Hillier’s convention badge identified him as Randy and said he was an automatic delegate, as all MPPs were. That helped her identify him afterward, Ghamari said.
“I believe that it is inappropriate for someone to go up to a perfect stranger, make very intimate physical contact, where pretty much the entire side of their bodies are touching, put them in a one-armed bear-hug, bring them in close, lean in close to their face — literally within a centimetre — and have a very intimidating presence and inquire as to one’s intentions,” Ghamari said. “Especially if you don’t know that person, you don’t know how they heard about these intentions. I just think it was inappropriate.”
Hillier’s account, conveyed in an interview Monday, is different in key ways. He and Ghamari did encounter each other outside the convention centre, he said, but it was in the afternoon and the sun was still up (sunset that day was about 6 p.m.).
“There was some small chatter and pleasantries exchanged. And there was (nothing) further — I found out who she was, because up until that moment, I had no idea who she was,” Hillier said.
He’d had a beer or two but was sober at the time, he said.
“Of course — you know. It’s, at conventions, and not just conventions, I do enjoy a beer,” he said. “There was business to be done, as well as social time, so there’s no falling over drunk or anything like that.”
He never touched her or came close to it, he said: “I didn’t get closer than five feet to her.”
The two also have different versions of how the party dealt with the situation.
Ghamari said she mentioned the incident to a friend who was also involved in the party. The friend put her in touch with Bob Stanley, the party executive director (until this past weekend, when interim leader Vic Fedeli dismissed him), who set up a conference call with Nicolas Pappalardo, who was then Brown’s chief of staff (he resigned in February 2017 to rejoin his family business in Toronto).
Ghamari’s recordings of the calls have the two senior party officials questioning her for details and saying all the right things. A party MPP physically accosting someone is not OK, they told her, and promised to investigate.
She wanted a written apology saying it was wrong for Hillier to have touched her, she said, and that would be enough.
In another call among the three, Ghamari said Pappalardo reported to her that he’d asked Hillier what happened and Hillier told Pappalardo that yes, he’d spoken to Ghamari, but he never touched her. Also, he said he’d had some drinks at the convention in the evening, but their encounter was in the afternoon, not after dark. He was willing to apologize if he’d said anything to offend or concern her, but that was all.
Since Hillier had denied anything untoward happened, Pappalardo wasn’t sure what to do, Ghamari said.
Let’s see if there’s security-camera footage, Ghamari suggested, because it’ll back me up. Pappalardo and Stanley agreed. Stanley, who’d overseen the Ottawa convention, said he’d get in touch with the Shaw Centre.
The convention centre does have an extensive security-camera operation, Stanley reported, and it keeps recordings for several weeks. But the evidence on the tape was mixed.
It did show Ghamari and Hillier separately heading out the doors of the convention centre in the evening, lending support to Ghamari’s account, Stanley said. But any interaction between them outside was in a blind spot, not captured by any camera. This boiled down to a he-said-she-said story.
“I was just basically told if I wanted to take it to court, I could take it to court, and that’s up to me,” Ghamari said.
Hillier agrees that Pappalardo talked to him about Ghamari’s complaint, though he said nobody asked him for an apology.
“I was approached by Nic Pappalardo after the convention, the chief of staff of the party,” Hillier said. “He told me there was an allegation from a young woman that a middle-aged man, they didn’t know who the person was, but a middle-aged man who somewhat had a similar description to me, had intimidated a young woman in the Ontario Landowners Association hospitality suite at the convention.
“Now, of course, anyone who knows me knows that I wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near an Ontario Landowners Association hospitality suite, nor would I be welcomed.”
Hillier was instrumental in founding the rural-populist landowners’ association but broke with them after he was elected to the legislature. In 2014, he worried publicly that Tory leadership contestants who courted their support were giving credence to a fringe element, made up of “nutbars.”
The landowners’ association does not come up on the recordings I’ve heard of her conversations with Stanley and Pappalardo. All the details she gives them are about an incident outside the convention centre. Pappalardo, in an email exchange Monday, said he didn’t remember who brought up the landowners’ suite. He said he remembers Ghamari’s complaint as focusing on something that happened during a smoke break.
Hillier and Pappalardo had a followup conversation, Hillier said.
“He told me that they reviewed all the security tapes from the convention centre and also inquired from other people who was at the Ontario Landowners Association hospitality suite, and my version of the facts were borne out,” Hillier said. “That was the end of it, essentially.”
In his Monday email, Pappalardo said “the video did show them both exiting the building in the evening and going off camera. She is seen coming back in a few minutes later.” But he agreed that whatever might have happened between them, there’s no security footage of it.
“At that time, I explained to Ms. Ghamari that Mr. Hillier had denied the incident and that I was unable to find any helpful video evidence,” Pappalardo said. “We had also concluded there were no identifiable eye witnesses. 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.”
According to Hillier, Ghamari is resurrecting an old complaint for political reasons.
“We know that there’s a lot of turmoil in the party at the moment. But clearly, one would, I think it would be reasonable to believe that there’s some political motivations behind these new allegations at this time,” Hillier said. “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.”
Ghamari said she was reluctant to talk about the incident, but it’s part of an important discussion.
“I would not put this at the level of any sort of inappropriate sexual behaviour. I don’t ever want it to be perceived that way,” she said.
“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 and I think part of the reason why women might not get into these industries as much is because of behaviour like this. 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.”
More details to follow. Image of Goldie Ghamari from her Vote Goldie Facebook page.