OTTAWA — Admitting to serial infidelity and other “inappropriate” online exchanges, former cabinet minister Tony Clement revealed Thursday he contacted police last summer after someone offered to pay a woman to hand over his “intimate and personal information,” further fuelling a scandal that has raised questions about both national security and the ethics of sexting.
On Tuesday evening Clement confessed he had shared sexually explicit photos and a video with an account he believed belonged to a consenting woman, but which in fact belonged to a “foreign actor” who then demanded money. He had contacted the RCMP immediately, he said. He resigned that evening from his critic and committee roles within the Conservative caucus. Global News reported that night the person had demanded Clement pay them 50,000 euros.
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer initially said he “took Tony at his word” that it had been an isolated incident, but as allegations swirled about Clement’s online behaviour he later asked Clement, the 57-year-old MP for the Ontario riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, to resign from caucus.
On Thursday the MP posted an open letter to his constituents on his website. “During a period of personal difficulty and weakness I engaged in inappropriate exchanges that crossed lines that should never have been crossed. These exchanges led to acts of infidelity,” Clement wrote. He also revealed a previous attempt to obtain material that would compromise him.
During the summer, Clement wrote, an anonymous social media account offered money to a woman with whom he was interacting in exchange for betraying his confidences, leading him to contact the Ontario Provincial Police. OPP Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne confirmed to the National Post that Clement had contacted them in the summer of 2018, but would not offer further details. A spokesman for Scheer said Thursday Clement had not disclosed that incident or his contact with the OPP to the party.
Months later came the extortion attempt.
In November 2017, Clement became one of two Conservatives appointed to a special committee of parliamentarians tasked with overseeing the work of Canada’s spy agencies. Its members are given thorough security briefings, rendering them responsible for sensitive information about national security information and theoretically making them potential targets for blackmail. They are expected to disclose any changes to their personal lives that could affect their clearance. There is no public indication that either incident was related to Clement’s role on the committee, but even so, as security experts such as Carleton University professor Stephanie Carvin have told the National Post, questions of judgement raised by this case are important because if agencies feel they can’t fully trust members of the committee “it will damage its credibility.” The RCMP confirmed an investigation was underway but declined to comment further.
The Toronto Star reported Clement had informed the Privy Council Office, the highest office in the civil service, of the extortion attempt that led him to contact the RCMP. It was not immediately clear whether he had also informed the PCO of the incident in the summer.
Parliament Hill was initially in shock — although Clement was known to be unusually active on social media, several people who had worked with him for years expressed disappointment that any lines had been crossed. “Most people thought the volume of ‘Instagram-liking’ was strange, but I don’t think many would have predicted him taking it to this next level,” said one Conservative source, calling it “a cautionary tale for his fellow colleagues.”
Shortly after Clement published his open letter Thursday, the Star reported that two unnamed women had participated in consenting intimate relationships with the married MP — both of which had started online and one of which had resulted in a physical affair, according to the women’s accounts. Clement did not immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment.
“While these exchanges were entirely consensual and mutual, they were absolutely wrong and should never have occurred,” Clement said in the letter, admitting he failed his wife and failed to meet the “high standard” expected of Members of Parliament. “I apologize to the women with whom the exchanges occurred, and I also apologize to anyone else who felt in any way that I crossed online boundaries that made them feel uncomfortable, even without my knowing. I am deeply sorry.”
Reacting to the letter, Scheer told reporters on Thursday afternoon he was glad to see Clement take responsibility for his actions. “I don’t think too many people need to be told that it’s inappropriate to send explicit photos and videos to people you’ve never met,” he said. “These types of things happen in every profession. In politics it happens in every party. There are people who have lapses in judgment.”
Clement is a heavy user of social media, frequently posting on Twitter and “liking” posts on Instagram.
He is married to lawyer and author Lynne Golding.
In the wake of Clement’s initial revelations Wednesday, several young women had used social media to state publicly they’d felt uncomfortable when Clement had contacted them via a social platform or liked their posts late at night, although none alleged that the content of those isolated direct messages was sexual.
“There are varying degrees of creepy and inappropriate behaviour when it comes to social media,” said Claire McWatt, who shared such a story on Twitter. She told the Post she remembered hearing from Clement, whom she did not know, at 1 a.m. one night five or six years ago, when she was 22 or 23. His attempt to engage in late-night, private chit-chat stuck with her as a “weird” incident. Others shared similar accounts.
“What we need now is for the men who are being creepy to recognize the difference between what is appropriate and what isn’t, and to make that the focus of the discourse,” said McWatt. “Because every single day, politicians engage online and somehow don’t manage to be weird.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press
• Email: [email protected] | Twitter: mariedanielles
Here is a full copy of the letter MP Tony Clement posted on his website on Thursday:
This is Tony Clement and this message is for my constituents in Parry Sound—Muskoka.
I have had the tremendous honour and privilege of serving as your Member of Parliament since 2006, a trust that has been renewed through four consecutive federal elections. Whether on the government or opposition side of the aisle, whether serving at the Cabinet table or on the back bench, my top priority has always been, and continues to be, working for the people and communities of Parry Sound—Muskoka. I have done so tirelessly, with passion and enjoyment from the first moment I received the honour to work on your behalf.
I have always aimed to serve with humility and today, I am writing to you directly to address a number of poor decisions in my personal and private life. During a period of personal difficulty and weakness I engaged in inappropriate exchanges that crossed lines that should never have been crossed. These exchanges led to acts of infidelity. One inappropriate exchange led to a woman being offered money by an anonymous social media account in exchange for the disclosure of intimate and personal information. I immediately reported this personal matter to the OPP last summer. Most recently, another inappropriate exchange led to foreign actors attempting to use my indiscretion for financial extortion which, without hesitation or second thought, I immediately reported to the RCMP. While these exchanges were entirely consensual and mutual, they were absolutely wrong and should never have occurred.
In conducting myself this way I’ve let down myself, my family, my friends and supporters, my community, my work colleagues, and my staff — basically everyone I care about and who care about me. Pride and vanity got the better of me, and shame held me back from getting back to the path of good. I apologize to the women with whom the exchanges occurred, and I also apologize to anyone else who felt in any way that I crossed online boundaries that made them feel uncomfortable, even without my knowing. I am deeply sorry.
I want to be clear that at no time have these personal lapses impacted or involved my day to day work as a Member of Parliament on behalf of our communities. That said, I offer you no excuses for my conduct. I take full responsibility. Members of Parliament are expected to set a high standard, a standard I have failed to meet.
In particular, I have failed the most important person in my life, my wife who has been with me through the many ups and downs of public service. She has made many sacrifices along the way in order to build a loving home and a wonderful family. I cannot undo the pain and hurt my actions have caused. All I can do is own up to what I have done and commit myself to rebuilding our trust, however long that may take. The mistakes I have made in my personal life, for those who know me, do not reflect who I am. I am resolved to refocus, to work hard, and to heal the damage I have caused to those most important in my life.
I love my job and I love my family. I am committed to getting the professional help I need to continue serving my family, my community and my country in whatever ways I can. I wish to sincerely thank the many members of our community who have reached out to convey their thoughts and prayers to me. I can assure the residents of Parry Sound—Muskoka that my offices remain open and at your service, and that I will continue to uphold the responsibilities of being your Member of Parliament.
M.P., Parry Sound—Muskoka