John Tory called his affair with a co-worker a “misjudgment”. It also sparked a debate about power and consent

According to a report by the Toronto Star, John Tory admitted to being in a relationship with a younger staffer and said he will step down as mayor.  Power imbalances in workplace relationships can make it difficult—in fact, some experts would say impossible—to fully and freely consent.  (Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press - photo credit)

According to a report by the Toronto Star, John Tory admitted to being in a relationship with a younger staffer and said he will step down as mayor. Power imbalances in workplace relationships can make it difficult—in fact, some experts would say impossible—to fully and freely consent. (Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press – photo credit)

John Tory’s resignation as Toronto mayor over his affair with a younger staffer has raised questions as to why an adult relationship is news and whether he should have said he was stepping down.

Tory, who is 68 and has been married for more than 40 years, confirmed to the Toronto Star that the relationship with the 31-year-old former employee began when he was the woman’s boss, and he called it a “grave mistake in the Judgement .”

But more important than Tory’s marital status or the age difference, according to some experts, is the discrepancy in their level of power and the fact that he was her boss. A situation that can make it difficult – some would say impossible – to fully and freely consent.

“How do you voluntarily consent when someone is your boss, has the power to fire you, give you raises, make sure you can move up the company, make sure you connect with people?” asked Farrah Khan, CEO of Possibility Seeds, a gender equality consultancy.

CLOCK | Tory admits “serious miscalculation”:

“performance difference”

Khan says it’s possible for someone in such a relationship not to even realize there is a power imbalance.

“Because at the time you might think you’re different, especially,” Khan said. “But in the end there is a power imbalance.” She says that in a relationship like Tory’s with his associate, the blame and responsibility rests with the person in power.

“A person in a position of power — political power, employer power, wealth … they have to take responsibility for their actions,” she said. “But the person who wears it often is the person who was the employee … and it can affect their whole life.”

May Truonga

May Truonga

Toronto’s code of conduct for council members doesn’t specifically prohibit relationships between colleagues, and labor lawyer Hermie Abraham says many companies and organizations have no policies or guidelines at all about romantic relationships.

“So you’re going to run into a lot of those gray areas when you have issues that come up but don’t have a way to deal with them,” she said.

David Rider, the head of the Toronto Star’s city hall office, tweeted that he got some of it negative feedback following the publication of the story last Friday – essentially accusing the star of simply coming out with Tory’s affair and ruining his family. The former employee has not commented publicly since the news broke.

Rider told the CBCs Ontario today on Monday that he and his colleagues thought a great deal about whether the story was in the public interest – and ultimately decided that it was the power dynamic that mattered.

“The main thing was that they worked together, with him essentially being in control of their careers while they were in this relationship,” he said.

Abraham, who owns Toronto law firm Advocation, says she doesn’t believe a subordinate is always incapable of giving consent.

“Not everyone is a victim of circumstance just because they are with someone who is on a higher level or even older than them,” she said.

mike day

mike day

When individuals choose to enter into a relationship with a power imbalance, they must disclose that relationship, says Abraham, and the person who is a subordinate or the person who is a boss must move so they are not in the same reporting structure.

But she cautions against assuming the subordinate was pushed into the relationship.

“I feel like you can have a consensual relationship even if there’s a power dynamic,” she said. “I think we need to hear from people how they view the relationship, rather than imposing our own views and judgments on what that relationship is.”

Abraham says this sells the people making decisions about relationships they want to have. Because there are many types of dynamics that can potentially create the impression of imbalance in a relationship, she says any of them could be used to challenge a relationship.

“People can say that about relationships between men and women because they don’t feel like there’s an equal distribution of power. You can say that about mixed race relationships. We do not know it.”

CLOCK | Tory says he will step down after revelations about his affair:

Consent concept is “fluent”

Muneeza Sheikh, a senior partner at Levitt Sheikh who practices in labor, employment and human rights law, believes the concept of consent is still “fluid” in many Canadian workplaces, which she considers “problematic” given the number marked by reported cases of workplace harassment being dealt with by attorneys, she says.

A recent study for the Canadian Women’s Foundation found that 55 percent of people in Canada do not fully understand consenting to sexual activity

“Often we see that in a reporting relationship, even if it’s not necessarily a direct reporting relationship, as a subordinate you feel compelled to give in to your boss’s pleas — whether it’s, ‘Let’s have lunch together, let’s have dinner together’” said Sheikh.

If those lunches and dinners grow into a relationship, there might be questions about how the relationship really started.

Submitted by Muneeza Sheikh

Submitted by Muneeza Sheikh

Sheikh, who also works as the integrity officer for the city of Brampton, Ontario, says at this point that a conversation with the subordinate may be needed “to determine if you were in that relationship because you felt like you couldn’t no.” say? Or is that nothing more than just meeting at work, which of course could happen.

She also says that as a human rights and labor lawyer, it’s important not to make assumptions.

“When we have an employee who says, ‘Look, I was happy with the relationship, I was happy with the arrangement,’ then I mean, we’re not the vice squad, are we? We just want to make sure everything is guaranteed is legal.”

However, learning about a senior in a relationship with a subordinate can have an impact on other employees.

“The effects of that could have long-lasting negative and toxic effects in the workplace because the perception could very well be that there was that relationship, that maybe there were certain benefits being afforded to the employee, who you know, he or she had a relationship with,” said Sheikh.

She also noted that there are other implications when these types of situations involve an elected official.

“Public accountability is a real thing,” she said. “They also choose you because of who you are. And you have to embody that.”


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