BRAMPTON, ONT., TORONTO and OTTAWA After days of being haunted by allegations that she mistreated caregivers, Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla emerged Friday and said she is the victim of a conspiracy to end her political career.
“Who's really behind them and who orchestrated or assisted or enabled these former employees of her brother to suddenly come forward one year after the last of them worked providing care for her mother?” asked her lawyer, Howard Levitt.
Ms. Dhalla told reporters that both the caregivers were hired by her brother, Neil Dhalla, and that she understands the trials of immigrants, having been raised by an immigrant mother.
“Anyone who has ever entered our home has always been treated with love, with care, with compassion and respect,” Ms. Dhalla said at her constituency office in Brampton. “As such, the allegations that have been brought forward against myself have come as a big shock and have been devastating to both myself and my family, friends and supporters.”
She asked Canadians to “hold judgment and give my family the privacy as we go through this due process.”
Mr. Levitt said that receipts and other documents, which he held up at the conference, show not only that the allegations are false, but that his client had nothing to do with the employment of the caregivers.
“I'm not going to permit Ruby Dhalla to deal with her brother's issue or potentially her mother's issue. … It's not her issue,” he said. “She was not the employer.”
He called the claim that the caregivers cleaned the family's chiropractic clinics “absolute nonsense,” and showed documents from contract cleaners who did the task daily.
“It's easy to make allegations. ... But again, the allegations are absolute nonsense,” he said.
Ms. Dhalla appeared to bristle as Mr. Levitt reminded reporters that he had advised her not to discuss the matter. She opened her mouth to respond to questions from reporters, only to be cut off by her lawyer.
The allegations first emerged on April 25 at a public meeting and then in a Toronto newspaper earlier this week. Two caregivers claimed they were forced to work in Ms. Dhalla's family home, and were paid $250 a week for 16-hour days of household chores.
Magdalene Gordo, 31, compared the job with slavery; Richelyn Tongson, 37, said Ms. Dhalla withheld her passport for weeks.
Ms. Dhalla stepped down from her post as the Liberal Party's youth and multiculturalism critic this week, and a third worker came forward with similar allegations.
The executive director of Intercede, a Toronto-based agency that helps domestic workers, said she spoke with Ms. Dhalla about a year ago, after Ms. Tongson complained to them that her passport was being illegally withheld. Agatha Mason said she called Ms. Dhalla and told her to return the caregiver's passport or she would involve the police.
Ms. Mason said the conversation with Ms. Dhalla stood out in her mind because its tone was so unpleasant and because she was kept waiting on hold for some time.
Mr. Levitt said it's untrue that the caregivers were made to shovel snow and held up a witness statement from the person who has been doing it for five years. He also showed boarding passes, which he said prove that Ms. Dhalla was not staying in the family home while Ms. Gordo was employed there.
“Make no mistake, Ruby Dhalla has been the victim of this,” he said.
Ms. Mason said she hopes the focus can shift to the larger issue – first and foremost being problems with the federal Live-In Caregiver Program.
Ms. Dhalla's dramatic appearance comes a day after a Conservative MP announced that the two caregivers who allege they were mistreated will be called to testify before a Commons committee next week as other federal parties seize the chance to prolong Liberal woes.
“The immigration committee is going to be studying the topic of migrant workers,” David Tilson, the committee's chairman, told reporters Thursday afternoon. “We'll certainly be inviting those particular nannies to come and talk about their experiences.”
Ms. Dhalla will also be asked to testify, Mr. Tilson said. And Ontario provincial Labour Minister Peter Fonseca and Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, who Mr. Tilson said failed to act on the allegations they first heard at a meeting in Toronto on April 25, may be called.
“It's very suspicious that [Mr. Fonseca] has known about it for some time and did nothing,” Mr. Tilson said. Of the two Ontario cabinet ministers, Mr. Fonseca is more vulnerable on the issue since his portfolio includes overseeing workers' rights.
The two women, both Filipino immigrants who have found other employment since leaving the Dhalla home, will not be compelled to appear before the committee.
The other federal parties continued to use the controversy to attack Ms. Dhalla, who won her Brampton-Springdale riding by fewer than 1,000 votes last year.
Bloc Québécois MP Pierre Paquette said that the allegations against Ms. Dhalla will have to be fully investigated, and could cause her to lose her position in the Liberal Party.
“I don't want to judge her before all the facts are known, but if they turn out to be true, I think that the only solution for her and for [Liberal Leader Michael] Ignatieff will be her exit from caucus,” Mr. Paquette said.
Mr. Ignatieff, in Toronto Friday to launch his book, said Ms. Dhalla's decision to ask Parliament's Ethics Commissioner to investigate the allegations was “a great thing to do” and added that he was “working closely with her” to sort out the issue.
The office of the Ethics Commissioner is still reviewing Ms. Dhalla's request for an investigation into the allegations.
With reports from Nicki Thomas and Michael Valpy