In defence of Ruby Dhalla
Ruby Dhalla, the colorful, controversial and passionate Member of Parliament for the Toronto area riding of Brampton Springdale, isn’t giving up easily. Nor should she.
Facing an onslaught of charges — all unproven and some highly questionable, to say the least — she’s vowed she’ll fight back against allegations of having mistreated three immigrant women who worked as caregivers to her mother.
Ms. Dhalla has stepped down as the Opposition critic for multiculturalism and says she’s the victim of a conspiracy. She calls the complaints “complete nonsense” and has asked the parliamentary ethics office to look into them.
The essence of the accusations is that the women were underpaid, forced to do extra tasks such as shoveling snow and cleaning the MPs’ chain of chiropactic offices, and that they had their passports taken away.
This case bears all the marks of a frameup. It’s an incendiary example of partisan exploitation of political correctness, with the facts buried somewhere in a misama of half truths and vague assertions. For instance:
- Why did the women wait a year after leaving the Dhalla family household to air their complaints? And then only after attending a town hall meeting of two Ontario provincial Liberal cabinet mnisters?
- Why did Intercede, the federally-funded immigrant help agency that says it had a complaint from one of the women about her passport being taken from her, not report it to authorities in Ottawa?
- Why did no one take action under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, which clearly spells out the rights of domestic workers?
The most sordid aspect of this puzzling case is the glee with which the Conservative MPs have leapt onto it. In an orchestrated smear campaign, one Tory MP after another used Question Period to lob contrived queries to Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. What would the government do about this awful situation? Wasn’t it just another example of Liberal arrogance? Of course, Mr. Kenney replied, the Harper government cares very much for the welfare of foreign women brought into Canada under the government’s Live-In Caregivers program.
The Tories are dying to find a way of cutting into the edge the Liberals hold n the ethnic and newcomer vote.
We can get ready for an even sorrier spectacle when the House of Commons’ Immigration committee calls the three women and Ms. Dhalla to testify — under oath — about the case.
“We’ll certainly be inviting those nannies to come and talk about their experiences,” says David Tilson, the committee’s Tory chair.
Will the women be able to back up their complaints? Will they even show up?
Judging from how a House committee mishandled its hearings on Karlheinz Schreiber’s dealings with ex-PM Brian Mulroney, you can expect a blizzard of irrelevant partisanship that will do more to muddy the situation than to clarify it.
Hiring immigrant workers can be a risky business for politicians. In the U.S., several prominent politicians have fallen afoul of the regulations, bringing much embarrasment on themselves.
The accusation that Ms. Ruby and/or her family has mistreated domestic employees is serious, and warrants proper investigation as to whether there has been any violation of provincial or federal legislation. Just as any other complaint of this type should be dealt with.
But that’s not what’s happening.
Instead, there’s the usual rush to judgement that if one has been accused, one must be guilty.
The National Post says “the mere fact” that two women have complained about Ms. Dhalla’s treatment of them “will likely ruin her political career.”
Perhaps not. The Toronto Star has a story here saying that most people in her riding are reserving judgment.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is leaving it to Bob Rae to respond on behalf of the party.
“I’ve seen a lot of lynch-mob activity,” Rae says, “and this is just another example.”
For my part, I’ve followed Ms. Dhalla’s career closely since she was first elected — by a handful of votes – in 2004. I encouraged her to take a run at the leadership after Stephane Dion resigned — even if only to build her profile.
In an article I wrote for the multicultural magazine AMOI I picked her as a future Canadian Barack Obama. I noted that at 35, she has twenty or thirty years ahead of her to find her fit in Canadian public life.
It would be a shame if all this promise goes down the drain — especially if, as seems entirely possible, the only ones to gain in the end are not the caregivers or the constituents of Ms. Dhalla, but her political enemies who drool at the chance to knock off a bright, assertive female role model for the multicultural community.