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Commissiong letter of apology to woman released under Pati

Rolfe Commissiong (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

An apology sent by Rolfe Commissiong to a woman he made “highly disrespectful” remarks to has been released under public access to information.

Mr Commissiong sent the letter to the unnamed woman on January 30, when he was still the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East.

He copied the document to Dennis Lister, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, and Shernette Wolffe, the Clerk to the Legislature.

David Burt was asked about a harassment allegation against Mr Commissiong at a press conference on August 27.

The Premier responded that he “was made aware of these complaints at no time earlier than” August 19, 2020.

Mr Commissiong announced the next day he would not run for Parliament in the October General Election because he did not want to be a “distraction”.

He said the incident happened two years earlier and alleged it had only been made public because of “political motives of undisclosed parties who are seeking to discredit me and the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party for their own ends”.

Mr Commissiong wrote in the letter, which was censored by the Legislature’s Pati official: “I wish to convey to you my unreserved apology in relation to the comments made to you by me on [redacted] during a phone call that I had with you on that day.

“[Redacted], you did not deserve to hear those remarks which were highly disrespectful of you as a woman.

“I took licence with [redacted] and in retrospect I feel ashamed for having done so. It was in bad taste and I take full responsibility for them.”

Mr Commissiong, who served as the MP for Constituency 21 for eight years, added: “Would I have liked to have known that my daughter or granddaughter or wife, for that matter, was the recipient of those types of remarks by someone in their respective workplaces, through no fault of their own?

“No, I would not.”

He thanked the woman for giving him the opportunity to apologise and to bring a close to the matter and wished her well.

Mr Commissiong said in August that he and the woman entered into a legally binding confidentiality agreement which stopping him from discussing what happened.

He added: "The matter has been settled and it is closed.

“I understand that last week was the first time the Premier was made aware and he immediately addressed the issue with me.”

Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, ran in the safe PLP Pembroke South East seat in the election in a switch from Warwick North East, a more marginal seat.

But the harassment incident came up again after the PLP’s election win when Mr Burt appointed Mr Commissiong the Government Senate Leader and the community affairs and sports minister in his new Cabinet.

Social Justice Bermuda, a pressure group, slammed the decision and Mr Burt backtracked and asked Mr Commissiong for his immediate resignation.

Mr Burt later made the resignation letter - which Mr Commissiong later denied he had written - public.

Mr Commissiong was said to have written: “I apologise to you for not being completely honest and forthright to a question asked prior to my appointment and I am sorry that my appointment has become a burden to the Government.”

Mr Commissiong said he signed the letter under “extreme duress” and that its release was unethical.

The Royal Gazette applied to the Legislature in early September for the release of records on Mr Commissiong and any complaints made about him, including communications between the Speaker of the House and any other person.

The time frame for the request was December 2012 to date.

The apology letter was released by the Pati officer for the Legislature last week, who said it had been censored to protect the identity of the complainant.

The official said “other requested records were identified” but were exempted from disclosure because they were “information received in confidence” and it was not in the public interest to release them.

The Gazette will appeal the decision to withhold records.

Mr Commissiong and Mr Lister declined to comment yesterday.

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