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Cleared of sex-assault complaint, Sklavounos to return to Quebec legislature

Sklavounos to return to Quebec legislature

MONTREAL — A member of the Quebec legislature recently cleared of sexual assault allegations that prompted his ouster from the Liberal caucus promised Thursday to be more careful with regard to his “passionate” and “spontaneous” behaviour.

In making his first public comments in more than three months, Gerry Sklavounos announced he’ll return to the legislature next week but he did not address the allegations that led to his political hiatus.

A woman alleged last fall that Sklavounos, 42, assaulted her twice in 2014 when she was 19 and working as a hostess at a Quebec City restaurant.

That led Premier Philippe Couillard to kick him out of caucus.

The file was referred to the Crown, which announced last week no crime had taken place and said Sklavounos would not be charged.

The criminal complaint triggered other allegations of improprieties involving Sklavounos against employees at the national assembly.

Sklavounos refused Thursday to address the nature of his relationship with Alice Paquet, the woman who accused him of sexual assault, and he did not mention her name once.

For her part, Paquet took to Facebook to say she would reply in due course.

The Canadian Press does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent. In this case, Paquet spoke publicly about her case and appeared on TV talking about it.

Sklavounos, the former Liberal deputy house leader, said he reflected deeply on his behaviour toward employees at the legislature.

He offered “sincere regret for anybody I may have offended or whose feelings I may have hurt,” adding that, “I’ll be more reserved in the future.”

Sklavounos, who was accompanied by his wife Janneke at the news conference in his Montreal riding of Laurier-Dorion, described himself as “spontaneous” and “friendly.” 

“I’m a passionate guy,” he said. “I like to talk, I like to make people laugh, I like to be the clown, I like to charm. Occasionally, I like to give a polite compliment.

“What I realized is depending on where you are, sometimes that’s not appropriate.”

Opposition parties blasted his comments, with the Parti Quebecois accusing Sklavounos of not recognizing his inappropriate behaviour and instead blaming women for misinterpreting his gestures or remarks.

Quebec solidaire said the remarks only trivialize the issue and reduce objectionable behaviour to a “joke” without consequences.

Couillard said recently he wouldn’t consider readmitting Sklavounos to the fold until he felt convinced the longtime politician demonstrated a “personal initiative” to correct his behaviour and show good conduct toward women.

Sklavounos said he hunkered down at home after his Oct. 20 removal from caucus and conducted a “deep personal introspection” surrounded by people ready to help him.

He also said he identified as a Liberal at heart but that the decision about his return to the party caucus is out of his hands.

On Thursday, the premier said no decision has been taken.

“The first people I want to talk to is the Liberal caucus, my colleagues,” Couillard told reporters in Bromont, Que.

“Mr. Sklavounos can sit as an Independent in the near future. His return to the Liberal caucus is neither automatic nor immediate.”

Sklavounos has represented Laurier-Dorion since 2007 and some members of the Liberal riding association stood with him Thursday.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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