TVO investigating sexual harassment allegation against Steve Paikin
Public broadcaster says host is alleged to have made inappropriate comments to former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson. But three people who worked on Thomson’s campaign say they have no knowledge that such an incident happened.
Former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson is accusing TVO host Steve Paikin of sexually harassing her, and says her entire campaign team knew about it.
A TVO official announced Monday the station is launching an independent third-party investigation into the allegation and Paikin will continue to host The Agenda as “evidence to date” does not justify removing him pending the investigation outcome.
Thomson wrote on her website Friday that she and her executive assistant had lunch with the host of a political talk show during the 2010 mayoral race to discuss another appearance. She said she had previously been on the show with “the other top four candidates… and it helped my numbers in the polls.”
Three people who worked on her campaign say they have no knowledge of such an incident occurring.
Thomson did not identify the host by name, but TVO confirmed she is referring to Paikin and TVO’s flagship program The Agenda. Paikin declined to comment.
“Not five minutes into the lunch, the host asked me if I would sleep with him,” Thomson wrote on Women’s Post, the website she publishes. “My assistant almost spit his drink all over the table.”
She said she “politely” declined his offer, then went to the washroom and called her campaign manager, who advised her to leave, which she did.
Mayor John Tory’s sons worked on Thomson’s campaign and both said they have no recollection of Thomson’s allegations.
John Tory Jr. was an advisor to her campaign beginning in February 2010, and George Tory was her campaign co-manager from August 2010 onwards.
“I have no knowledge of any such incidents other than what I read in the Star today,” George Tory said in an email. Thomson’s other co-manager did not respond to an interview request from the Star.
It’s not clear when the alleged incident took place.
Thomson sent Paikin an email, obtained by the Star, which said her executive assistant went back to their office after lunch and told the “entire campaign team… you weren’t interested in discussing the show but instead wanted to sleep with me.”
The email to Paikin was sent about the same time Thomson published her story late last week.
Wendy Stewart was Thomson’s campaign manager until the end of June 2010. She said she also has no knowledge of the alleged incident.
Thomson did not respond to requests for comment.
On her website, Thomson said she spoke to her executive assistant after the alleged incident and he said he “questioned the talk show host to see if asking directly for sex actually worked for him. The host said that it worked 50 per cent of the time.”
When reached by the Star, the executive assistant would not comment.
Thomson first appeared on the Agenda Sept. 7, 2010, TVO confirmed.
After she declined to sleep with Paikin, Thomson said she was not invited back on The Agenda, however male candidates did appear again.
“They didn’t have to sleep with him to get back on his show,” Thomson wrote. “The host made it harder for me to compete with the men I was up against because they were invited to appear on his show while I wasn’t.”
On Sept. 28, 2010, Thomson withdrew from the election. Less than two weeks later, she appeared on The Agenda as part of a panel. The episode was called “Us, Them and Rob Ford,” TVO spokesperson Sara Goldvine said. About a year later, Sept. 22, 2011, Thomson was on The Agenda again as part of a panel to tell Steve Paikin “who is best for Toronto.”
Last Saturday, Paikin notified TVO of the email Thomson sent to him, said TVO CEO Lisa de Wilde in a statement Monday. Thomson’s email alleges he uses his position “to try to get women to have sex” with him.
TVO has launched an independent third party investigation into Paikin, and he will continue to host The Agenda.
“Based on evidence to date, TVO sees no reason to remove Mr. Paikin from his role of host for The Agenda pending the outcome of the investigation,” de Wilde said.
It is unusual for someone accused of sexual harassment to remain in their position, said Frances Mote, managing director of Toronto-based Niagara Street HR Consulting Inc., noting most often the employee will go on an administrative leave while the investigation is ongoing and be reinstated if they’re found to be innocent.
“The person making the accusation and the people around him need to feel that they can come forward,” Mote said. Bell Media, for example, suspended CTV News reporter Paul Bliss last month after a woman accused him of sexual misconduct.
But because the accusation against Paikin is not coming from a TVO employee, he doesn’t need to be removed from the workplace, said employment lawyer Howard Levitt, senior partner at Levitt LLP.
“There’s less of a reason to suspend someone for an investigation when the person making the accusation doesn’t work there,” Levitt said. “When someone is removed, there’s a presumption of guilt, which TVO is clearly not making here.”
Thomson ran for mayor against Rob Ford in 2010 and later accused him of grabbing her from behind. Thomson alleged the incident, which Ford denied, occurred at an event in 2013.
In 2002, she offered to sleep with former media baron Conrad Black in exchange for an interview. In 2013, she told the Star the comment was made as a joke.
Thomson also ran for councillor in Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina) in 2014, but came third to Councillor Joe Cressy.