An independent investigation has cleared a veteran journalist with Ontario’s public broadcaster of sexual harassment allegations, saying Steve Paikin was more credible than the Toronto woman who made the accusations against him.
In a report released Friday, investigator Rachel Turnpenney said while there is no doubt Sarah Thomson genuinely believes Paikin propositioned her, the evidence brought forward by Thomson and others does not support her account of what happened.
“The investigator had doubts surrounding Thomson’s ability to accurately observe and recount the events in question,” the report said.
“She tended to make leaps without sufficient evidence to do so and she linked evidence together without factual foundation. Thomson’s evidence also veered towards being exaggerated and untrue.”
Paikin, meanwhile, “was consistent in his evidence that he believes nothing of a sexual nature was said (or implied),” the report said.
The investigation was commissioned by Ontario’s public broadcaster in February after Thomson, a former Toronto mayoral candidate, made a series of allegations on her website Women’s Post.
She alleged Paikin, host of TVOntario’s flagship current events program “The Agenda,” made a sexual advance towards her over lunch in 2010 and that she “politely” declined the offer. She then suggested that she was barred from appearing on his show as a result of her refusal.
She further alleged that Paikin made a sexualized comment at a political event two years later.
Paikin addressed the issue in a Facebook post a few days after the posts emerged, saying the allegations were “bogus” but that he had alerted his employer. He continued to host the show during the investigation, which spanned 11 weeks and involved interviews with 21 witnesses.
He tweeted a brief response to the report Friday and declined to comment further.
“While the last 11 weeks have been pretty difficult, I’m relieved to read this report. My deepest thanks to all who believed me,” he wrote.
Thomson did not immediately respond to a request for comment but posted emails and Facebook messages on her website that she said corroborated her account.
The messages, from Thomson’s then-assistant who she said was present at the 2010 lunch, were deemed problematic by the investigator, as was the rest of that witness’s evidence.
Turnpenney said the former assistant could not recall sending the email, and suggested to her that in at least one of the Facebook messages, he was simply trying to “play along.”
Messages he sent to others appeared to disprove Thomson’s account, and he was “unable to provide a credible explanation for why he had taken conflicting positions,” Turnpenney said.
Thomson’s assertion that she was blocked from appearing on “The Agenda” following the lunch was also inaccurate, the investigator said, citing a September 2011 appearance. What’s more, Turnpenney wrote, Paikin does not determine who comes on the show.
“Paikin is not the ultimate gatekeeper for guests on ‘The Agenda.’ Further there is no evidence that Paikin attempted to interfere with or block a producer from booking Thomson on ‘The Agenda,’” she wrote.
As for the 2012 allegations, Turnpenney said Thomson could not place herself, Paikin and a person she named as a witness at the same event.
“The date and location of the event was unclear to the investigator and remained so at the time of drafting this report,” she said. “Thomson could have potentially offered some evidence in the form of hotel receipts or other expenses/records but did not do so.”
TVO’s CEO, Lisa de Wilde, said in a statement that the broadcaster is proud of Paikin’s work and the investigation is now closed.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press