After more than a week of silence, MP Yasmin Ratansi has posted a statement on Facebook denying allegations by former employees that she created a “toxic and verbally abusive” environment in her office and that she ignored the immigration files of certain constituents.
In the post, Ratansi writes that “anonymous complaints have surfaced alleging inappropriate behaviour on my part with my staff. I categorically deny this. To the best of my knowledge, no one has filed a complaint about me.
“I sincerely believe that I have always behaved professionally and appropriately. Former members of my staff remain close friends, and I am proud to have mentored many of them over the years.”
Multiple sources alleged to CBC News that they saw Ratansi tell staff to stop working on immigration and family reunification files for some South Asian constituents’ because she felt they were “untrustworthy” or they “lied” because of their ethnicity.
“This is simply false,” Ratansi wrote.
Allegations ‘simply false’
“As many of you know, I have devoted much of my life to building bridges between Canadians of different backgrounds and have been recognized for my work in this regard,” she continued.
“As the first Muslim woman elected to Parliament and through my community work, I am well aware of the challenges visible minorities face in our country. Discrimination against any group of Canadians is simply contrary to my core values.”
The now Independent MP left the Liberal caucus earlier this month after a CBC News investigation revealed that she had been employing her sister in her constituency office for years, in violation of parliamentary rules.
The matter is now before the ethics commissioner. Last week, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s office sent Ratansi a letter of concern and gave her 30 days to respond.
Several former staffers told CBC News Ratansi tried to cover up the relationship by having her sister use a fake first name. The former employees claim they witnessed her sister hiding in a spare office when members of the public came to the constituency office.
“I think it’s horrific that a member of Parliament that’s entrusted to behave honourable and ethically can get away with impunity,” said a former employee on Nov. 9. “It really questions the integrity of the institutions.”
‘Co-operating with the ethics commissioner’
CBC News agreed to protect the identities of the sources, who said they fear harm to their careers and retaliation from Ratansi herself after speaking out.
“As I have stated,” Ratansi said in her Facebook post today, “I erred in having my sister as a paid member of my staff for the past few years.
“I have apologized for this lapse in judgment, addressed the situation, and am cooperating with the Ethics Commissioner.”
In response to Ratansi’s statement today, a former staffer gave this statement to CBC News: “I am disappointed in Yasmin Ratansi and her lack of integrity in denying the allegations against her. She needs to acknowledge that she acted unprofessionally, was a bully and abusive towards her staff.”
Ratansi, a backbencher, is a trained accountant and represented Don Valley East from 2004-2011 and again from 2015 to the present. Up until a few weeks ago, Ratansi was the chair of the standing committee on environment and used to be the vice-chair of the committee overseeing federal government departments’ expenses.
Her sister Zeenat Khatri has worked as her constituency assistant for much of her time in office, according to six former staffers.
Violating parliamentary rules
During her early years as an MP, it was against the rules to hire “immediate family” — including parents, spouses and children — but not siblings. That changed in 2012 when the House’s Board of Internal Economy updated its bylaws, said House director of communications Heather Bradley.
MPs have their own operating budgets and are allowed to pay constituency assistants a maximum salary of $89,700 a year, according to the House of Commons. That means Ratansi could have paid her sister up to $269,100 for three years of salary.
Several former staff members also claim they heard Ratansi casually make comments they considered “racist” by applying stereotypes to Chinese, South Asian and Caribbean constituents and communities.
The four former employees CBC News spoke to also claim Ratansi mistreated some staff by yelling about their work, insulting their appearances and publicly humiliating them.
CBC News spoke to a fifth former employee who said that while Ratansi is opinionated, they never felt they were being mistreated or heard any troubling comments.